This post is part of Cover Design Week. To see other posts click the CDW tag below.
Here is a large version of the cover of my short story collection, The Year of the Elm (TYOTE):
You can see a smaller version in the right-hand column on this page, and on the Smashwords page where the collection is currently being sold. [Book removed 01/03/17.]
One of the few practical things I knew when I set about designing the cover was that the small image would be more important than the large image. The reason was that the cover would almost always be shown as a thumbnail to interested readers, rendering subtleties all but indistinguishable.
For that reason, along with aesthetic reasons I’ll get to momentarily, I decided to make the title of the work and my name clearly visible at almost any size, and to make the composition simple enough that it wouldn’t be corrupted by a reduction in size. Whatever you think about the design, I feel confident I achieved this practical goal. I did have to resign myself to the fact that the subtitle would not be visible at reduced size, but I felt that was an acceptable loss. Whether this calls into question the inclusion of a subtitle I’m still not sure.
Making TYOTE available as a physical, print-on-demand (POD) book presents new issues. I’ll still need a legible small-size/thumbnail image, but now I’ll also want the book-size cover (front and back) to be interesting and effective at communicating the contents. Solving these new practical and artistic problems is part of the reason I’m interested in hiring someone to help me with the redesign. I’ve already given the issues some thought, but I’m not sure how to best accomplish these objectives.
Here are the design goals I had for the initial version of the cover, and my take on whether I accomplished them or not:
- Make the title and author’s name visible even at thumbnail size. Accomplished.
- Try to suggest that the collection is literary fiction, rather than genre fiction, humor, memoir, etc. I haven’t had any feedback, but I think I managed to accomplish this.
- Suggest the simple storytelling style used in the collection, if not also the point of view of a child. Again, nobody’s commented on this, but my gut tells me I did okay.
- Include a subtitle that speaks to the contents. I’m still on the fence about this. The subtitle — A Kid in Twelve Stories — is both figurative and literal, but that also means it runs the risk of being a bit clever. I mean it in the literal sense, but I also like the inference that the whole of the work presents a developed character.
- Show an elm leaf on the cover, along with anything else that seems to work/harmonize. This was critical and non-negotiable, even though I wasn’t negotiating with anyone.* The leaf shape is unique and iconic to me, but in morphing the leaf to look like it was lying flat I diminished that impact. I still have some ideas for displaying the leaf in a circular graphic, and that’s something I want to talk with a designer about.
* Had I been working with a publisher, and had they refused to use the leaf on the cover, that would have risen to the level of a deal-breaker for me. (No, I’m not kidding.) As I noted in an earlier post about publishing and how authors are often omitted from the cover-design process for their own books, I’m not good with being marginalized when I feel an emotional connection with something. I can’t care and not care.
With all that in mind, here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish by involving someone else in the redesign:
- I like the original, but it’s sparse. Should something be added? What changes could be made that preserve the original feel, but add depth — particularly to the full-size cover that people will see when they hold the book?
- I have no conviction about the typeface/font I used. I went with something that seemed to fit. I’d be open to something else if it worked for me, but I don’t have the stomach to click through a thousand styles.
- The background just seems weak to me. It’s there, the gradient helps anchor the leaf, the white space at the top helps the title stand out, but it still feels empty somehow. That’s not the effect I want.
- One great tip I was given recently was not to use a frame on the cover. If the book isn’t perfectly square when it’s trimmed in production the cut can be a bit off — even in high-end books — and a frame only calls attention to the deviation.
- I have no idea what should go on the back cover. I don’t have any blurbs, and I don’t want to make any up or beg for any. Right now I’m leaning toward a passage from the book, but I don’t have any convictions here.
- Deal with placement of the ISBN. (More on ISBN’s in an upcoming post.)
- Satisfy CreateSpace’s image-file requirements, so I don’t have to.
So that’s what I’m thinking. Maybe it’s more thought than any cover (or my cover) deserves, maybe I’m overlooking some obvious issues. I don’t know…which is why, again, it makes sense to look for some help. I don’t have much money to spend, I don’t want to do anything radical, but going from e-book to POD does mean having to deal with a lot of new issues.
Because of some ongoing tech problems (my main computer died and I had to order a new motherboard) I’m going to get this done later than I wanted to, but that seems to be the pace of things for me these days. In any case, I’ll follow up and let you know how it goes.
— Mark Barrett
Joleene Naylor says
I like the cover! nice color choices, and the “spare” look gives it a more “literary” feel, but yeah, it could use just a little something for depth. Maybe the silhouette of a tree branch kind of diagonal across it, with a lowered opacity (so it ends up being more of a shadow, maybe? Just a passing random thought.
Not a bad font. If you have a program where you can adjust the kearning you might try taking that down a bit (the space between letters) I am a big fan of Manfried Klein’s work (his fonts are all free, though hesuggests if you make a profit to donate to a worthy charity or something) one that might look good here is Parma Petit (http://www.dafont.com/parmapetit.font?text=The+Year+of+the+Elm the top one ).
yeah, with a frame that thin you’d either want to thicken it considerably or get rid of it for the printed book – I wanted frames on mine, so I just moved them inside the trim area ( like so: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pandora_6666/4055600856/ )
a good synopsis with a hook is nice for the back, just something that is a couple of paragraphs. You can also include an author bio, author photo, or even do something fancy with a repeat of the title, or maybe your leaf over again if you need to fill up space.
anyway, just some random thoughts from the top of my head. ha ha! see, I should be trying to sell you my How to Get a Cheap Book Cover Book! Oh well, I am lousy at marketing 😉
Thanks for taking a look. I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying — and I actually mocked up a cover with a ghosted branch/limb in the background. I think it might have been the right idea, but I didn’t pull it off. More (via email) soon.
As to marketing myself, I’m in your camp. It makes me crazy that there are people who can look at a broken mug, then write Why Buying My Broken Mug Is The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Do! — and people will actually line up to buy the book and a broken mug.
It’s amazing and revolting and depressing all at the same time.
Joleene Naylor says
Yeah, I hate when that happens! it’s right there, but just not quite….
i know! I keep trying to find one of them to do my marketing for me, however, they’re either all avoiding me, or want quadruple sums of money. You’d think they’d owe it as a public service to help some poor muffin once in awhile. They should be going out among the masses and taking us under their wings…. Then again, we’d have to advertise to attract the help… “pick me! pick me! I am the most pathetic!” Guess that puts it back to square one and ruins an otherwise damn fine plan. 😉