People say, don’t judge a book by its cover but most of them aren’t authors. For many readers, a cover is all they have to go by when they’re choosing a new book. The front surface (and its back) of a book, is the face of a story. The graphic offers clues to it. In a way, readers are digesting a book long before opening it. Yes, a book is first judged by its cover.
Clearly, a good graphic (and title) won’t guarantee the book will hit a home run in the literary world, but it does get one to first base. I decided to have a predominantly black cover for mine because it made the right statement for its narrative. The cover graphic looks like how the story feels as it’s being read. If I made it a pink one covered with hearts, it’d say the wrong thing to the wrong readers. I didn’t want that. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to designing and choosing the right graphic for a book — a thriller-styled novel.
It sounds like a simple process but mine didn’t go that way — and black wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t even my second or fifth one. It took time to experiment with many wrong graphics to get to one that mattered. The earlier versions looked nothing like the finished cover!
Cover designs weren’t considered until well after the book was finished, eight years after the writing project started. The first mock-up was a representation of a key scene in the novel. It was a nighttime picture, set in a secluded bush area, well away from the lights of civilisation. There are trees, grass and a lightning bolt jutting downwards in the distant background. The image proved to be a difficult cover shot because it became messy when placing a title over it. The graphic looked like spaghetti and cobwebs and the title just got lost in it. I moved on.
I started shooting new material with a teddy bear, just like the one described in the final chapter of the book. There was that bracelet on its wrist and the all-important SIM card. It kinda worked but the fluffiness of the bear softened the cover. It made it look like the book was written for children. I tried to harden it up by showing less of the bear and accentuating the bracelet but it didn’t work. I abandoned that idea that worked on the title instead.
After doing the titling research with strangers, using a simple single-shot layout, I became hooked on the idea of using a simplified, dark theme. It felt right — and the abundance of space gave me the flexibility to fit words anywhere on top of it. The trick was finding the right lightning bolt shape (the one I used in the mock-ups was lo-res and not mine to use). I had a few of my own but none worked. I went back to designing an entirely new graphic.
The story isn’t just about rain, lightning, teddy bears or bracelets. The greater story is about sex and sexual abstinence. I found some old material in my photo library (a woman’s chest), placed the shot onto the screen, and then dropped it into black and white. The cover then made perfect sense. I added a crucifix, coloured it red, and then placed the title on the surface. It worked but there was one element left to add. I wanted that storm element on the cover. I tried a lightning bolt inclusion but it ruined the cover. I opted for a small splash instead. A droplet with a rain tracer accompanied it. The spot colour was added to the droplet to balance the scene. The evolution was complete.
Nine years after I sat down to write SEETHINGS, this cover appeared on the shelves.
The irony was those shelves had become virtual ones during the time of the project. E-books and e-stores had replaced traditional ones. Readers can now pick up copies of my books and begin reading them before they are able to lock their front door to visit their favourite bookstore. Oh well, the principle of designing book covers is still the same. People scroll through the catalogues and still stop when something catches their eye. Getting them to stop scrolling is the book reaching first base. Taking home plate (or hitting a home run) requires more than a good cover. The story behind it has to match.
See you next time –Michael (Dark Adult Fiction Author)
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer who specialises in taking pictures of lightning may be the only witness.
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