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Secrets of The Book Designer: Creating Something from Nothing

4 November 2017

From The Literary Hub:

In designing a book cover, the how is more important than the what. The way something is visually rendered—in the form of typography, image, shape, pattern, color, etc.— is more important than what it symbolically represents. While content and meaning are obviously valuable, they come second to emotion and execution. First, the book has to be picked up. If the design does not get you there, the fact that the cover may perfectly encapsulate the text is irrelevant. It’s what the cover feels like that matters.

This is especially true for contemporary fiction, where more often than not a jacket simply needs to look big, important, and “warm”—this last term being a catch-all for “approachable,” “human,” and “covetable.” Something that is “warm” feels good and real. Conceptually straightforward, this can be tricky to achieve.

. . . .

The problem is always how to start.

So instead of waiting until the end of a design process I can’t begin to add this feeling of reality, I use a physical process to initiate and influence my design. Rather than seek out a library of visual references to copy and modify (endlessly and helplessly scrolling through Pinterest), I look through the manuscript to find material and procedural references. On the most basic level, this means if the book is about water, I play with water.

. . . .

Physically experimenting makes me feel productive, even if nothing immediately comes of it. I can either stare anxiously at a blank computer screen, or I can assign myself a task. Given the choice, I’d rather spend a day carving type out of a block of foam, ripping up paper, or playing with layers of transparency on a light box.

Sometimes the process is successful. Sometimes it’s not. But if I physically make something, I can look at it from different angles, pinch it, twist it, crumple it up. Occasionally this will produce unexpected and exciting results. I’ll end up with a design I did not plan for.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Somehow, PG believes not all cover designers work in this way.


21 Comments to “Secrets of The Book Designer: Creating Something from Nothing”

  1. I don’t. But hey, whatever works.

  2. The typical trad-pub budget for a book cover is $1k-$2.5k. If that’s what I was being paid, I could imagine incorporating experimental sculpture into my workflow… but most of the indie authors I work with don’t have that kind of scratch to sink into a cover.

    I personally prefer working from a client brief over the actual manuscript, as I’ve found that the writer’s perception of their own work doesn’t always line up with the way it reads.

    • Agreed. The brief can give you the scene they think might grab a reader to find out how the scene came to be.

  3. …and yet, the books I’ve paid the most for, and value most highly, have plain covers with no artwork or fancy fonts.

    I buy books for their contents, not “bibliophilic experience.”

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      My favorite way of having a “bibliophilic experience” is by reading the book. And, besides, color images don’t translate well to a black & white e-Ink screen.

  4. My most recent cover used a Canstock image I bought for $5.91. In fact, the image was the original inspiration for the book. I bought it because I wanted to write a story about that character. I used the free version of Paint.NET and the online Pixlr editor to crop it.

  5. I find this really interesting. I’m in the throes of designing my own cover. I think I have published nine different covers on one novel so far. No one needs to tell me I should just roll over and buy a cover.

    When I was in the 1st or 2nd grade I was sent to sit in the hall as punishment for coloring a cow with a red crayon. It looked good to me, and I had seen lots of real cows. Since then, I’ve been told many times that I am have no graphic sense and colorblind people have no place in the visual arts. I was also told I was markedly unmusical, although I listen to music all the time and play several instruments for my own pleasure.

    Perhaps I should have learned my lesson then and quit trying. But I haven’t. I like to design covers and graphics almost as much as I enjoy writing books. Gimp is a fascinating tool. So is Visio. Between them, I have spent many pleasant hours creating visuals for my books. The covers for my non-fiction have been from my publisher, but the internal graphics are all mine, and I always look forward to working on the graphic aspect of my books.

    The notion that a cover should be warm and approachable is something for me to mull over and work on. It took me ten years to get the knack of designing building software and twenty more to get good at it. I wonder how long it will take me to learn how to build books.

    Will I get practical and quit being sent out in the hall for red cows? Maybe. But it’s still too much fun…

    • Why would anyone have a problem with red cows? Lots of cows are red.

      • Asserting that point was when I was sent to the hall. 🙂

        • Aww 🙂 Did you grow up in a town far from the farms? I grew up in a semi-rural area (small neighborhood in driving distance of farms). At least one classmate had show horses she rode in competitions.

          In my middle school science class the teacher said a cow had two stomachs. I turned to the student sitting next to me and said, “Oh, so Mr. Social Studies Teacher was wrong. He said they had three stomachs.”

          Mr. Science Teacher heard me, and paused. “Mr. Social Studies Teacher grew up on a farm. One of the cow’s stomachs is divided, so perhaps that’s counted as the third one. I’ll accept that answer on the test.”

          I was impressed, because Mr. Science Teacher was known to be super strict, with a stick up his butt. I didn’t expect him to accept contradiction from someone who was not a designated expert in his field, in this case the social studies teacher. Mr. Science Teacher’s reaction was a lesson in itself about credentials vs. education, and how they don’t necessarily go together. He respected his colleague’s practical knowledge.

          I prefer to take art advice from people whose aesthetics match mine. If you can draw like Botticelli, I’ll listen to you. If you draw like Picasso, I won’t. If someone is just ignorant — no red cows — such a person can safely go on the ignore list 🙂

    • Slowly learning the power of Gimp myself. (Very slowly, I may have less “artistic talent” than you.)

      I can empathize with the cow story – I once had a bit of an argument with someone that only knew the black Angus breed. Whereas I grew up around white face Herefords pretty exclusively. (For those who don’t know, those are pretty much the color of fresh mud, except for the face, underbelly, and hocks.

      • I grew up with Jerseys, Guernseys, and Holsteins. White face Herefords are still mostly red to my eye. We had a neighbor who ran Black Angus. Meat from beef cattle with its tender meat and white fat is attractive, but we lived on tough cull dairy with bright yellow fat when I was growing up, and I still like the taste, but not so much the texture.

        Gimp is a thing. The developers are way ahead of the document writers, which makes for a vicious learning curve. But I am continually surprised by its power. I find the most useful documentation on YouTube. I’m frequently surprised by shortcuts and alternative methods that seem obvious, but never occurred to me.

        • I’m right in the middle of that GIMP learning curve. But I’m starting to come to terms with the program and the tutorial videos.

          I hope I can show off my first nice fantasy cover created in GIMP soon… May I ask questions if in dire need?

    • Your story reminds me of this excellent song

  6. Herefords are RED, esp in sunlight as are some of the ginger colored cows and bulls.

    The teacher got an F

    And lookit you run Democritus.

    So much for teachers who douse the enthusiasm of children

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