Design Made Easy

Design is a process that can often have a very crooked path—one that meanders towards it’s goal, taking twists and turns, or branching into alternate directions. Sometimes the entire approach or goal can entirely change along the way. And there’s no knowing beforehand how things will evolve.

So it’s so great to have a project like this. We knew exactly what we wanted from the very start, and then took a fairly direct path towards it. It’s like the joy of walking into a clothing store knowing exactly what your seeking, finding it within a few minutes, and trying it on only to find that it’s a perfect fit.

Ice Cap is Chris Knopf’s very funny mystery featuring Jackie Swaitkowski—it’s a very fun read. Set during winter out in the Hamptons, Jackie has made the transition from lackadaisical, pot-smoking real estate lawyer to obsessive, pot-smoking criminal defense attorney.

I wanted to keep the look of Chris’s first book, Bad Bird, which was wonderfully illustrated by the very talented Simon Williams.

For the new book, my idea was a snowman on the beach in winter. I did the crude sketch below.

The editor and publisher were not 100% sold on the concept. They wanted try an image of Jackie standing on the tip of an iceberg sticking out of the water.

At that point, Simon took over and produced these two great sketches below.

Upon seeing Simon’s version of the snow man idea, the publisher and editor loved it. We all especially love the dagger/carrot in the heart and the broken arm. And a few short weeks later, everyone was even more delighted when the final visual came in.

How to Package the First of a Series

Hush Money is Chuck Greaves’s very funny debut featuring lawyer Jack MacTaggart, who gets caught up in the high-stakes world of professional equestrian show-jumping.

The publisher, editor and I initially met to discuss the visual and all agreed that we wanted to emphasize the horse angle. We wanted a fun, bright vibe, and somewhat realistic artwork.

The illustrations of John Harwood seemed perfect. He’s so great at making things look hyper-realistic, and creates such nice lighting. John’s very early sketches are below — I liked his ideas very much.

But I felt that the art needed to be far more simple and unified—it looked too complicated. John agreed, and turned in the revised sketches below, which I thought were perfect!

But upon seeing these, the publisher and editor realized that we’d all made a huge mistake! The problem wasn’t the sketch, but with our direction. This is the first in a series and future books will not necessarily be about horses. Secondly, this approach made the book look as if it was purely a horse story, and the book has a broader appeal.

John understood the concern, and came up with the below sketches. I loved the three-quarter view of the briefcase as did everyone else. John got working on the final.

I got working on choosing typefaces, which you can see below.

A few weeks later the final was completed. I love John’s final art, and think that the  visual has exactly the feel and vibe that we were seeking, and will lend itself very well to becoming a series look. Of course, the next book will be next year, so there’s no guarantee of keeping the look, but at least we’ll have the option.

Brad Parks, ebooks, and chapter zero

I’m just beginning work on Brad Park’s next novel The Good Cop, which will be published in Winter 2013. The cover is currently with an out-of-house designer that I’m extremely excited about, but I won’t say any more on that just yet. I have not even seen first drafts at this stage.

But having Brad Parks on my mind got me thinking about Brad’s short story “The Nightgown,” which was published 2 months ago as an ebook-only edition.

The interesting thing about this cover is that the creation of the nightgown image was achieved simply by inverting the somewhat ordinary image below. Simply hitting the inverse button in Photoshop changed the background to black and gave the dress those nice pale beige and gold tones. Then I just overlaid the newspaper story into the interior space of the dress.

Re-reading my description above of how simple this was makes it seem as if my dad’s understanding of my job were true. I can hear his voice now “These days all you have to do is push a few buttons and the computer does it all.” 

In contrast, I recall Andy Martin, Publisher of Minotaur Books and Pete Wolverton, Associate Publisher of Thomas Dunne Books both looking over my shoulder in awe as I made changes to a complex layered photoshop file. It was like they were seeing magic at work. Pete broke the silence by saying “that was like the scenes in ‘The Matrix’ where they are able to manipulate computer code into reality.”

But let’s get back to publications that are ebook-only, meaning publications with no corresponding print edition. This is a book cover blog — so it’s what will this mean to the world of book covers?

Many claim that a predominantly ebook world will mean the death of cover design, the end of a need for designers. Yet from what I’ve seen nothing could be further from the truth. A design is one of the first things everyone starts clamoring for when its announced that we’ll be doing an ebook-only publication.

Nor do I see the visual becoming less important. Mankind’s earliest books had covers of gold and precious jewels inlaid into their exteriors. It seems that people simply have a great desire for attractive covers on our books. This isn’t surprising since the cover is often the gateway into a book, an entry, a threshold that is crossed on your way into a work. The cover is chapter zero.

For an ebook, it’s somewhat odd to even call it “cover” — what is it covering? Plus, in the digital arena the so-called cover may eventually be animated, incorporate audio, etc, and the words “book cover” seem an inadequate name. Just as the term “dust jacket” became out-of-date, I think that we too now need a better name. I say that we just start referring to it as “the visual.”

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong is the new novel featuring Shanghai’s Inspector Chen Cao against a backdrop of environmental pollution.

Booklist gave the book a starred review saying “This environmental mystery is also an example of hard-hitting investigative reporting. Qiu, a poet, novelist, and former native of Shanghai, presents a compelling portrait of the far-ranging effects of chemical dumping into bodies of water, which officials in China have ignored for decade.”

To create the book jacket —

Step 1: Determine the goal of the cover. In this case I knew that I wanted to convey exotic setting and a dark and moody vibe.

Step 2: Gathered your ingredients.

Step 3: Gently mix.

A Simple Murder

Set in Shaker community in the years following American Independence, A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns is a fascinating read.

Library Journal did a wonderful Q&A with the author, and Kirkus Reviews has a nice review of the book.

The book is fantastic at taking the reader inside of the Shaker community — it all feels so real and present — and I wanted the jacket to capture that feeling, so I wanted photography for the cover.

Shakers store their chairs by hanging them upside-down from peg rails along the wall, and that was my vision for the cover. There is something unsettling about the chair being upended.

I’ve known the photographer Bill Miles for years, and I absolutely love the work that he has done for colleagues here at St. Martin’s Press. Bill was perfect for the book, and very excited about the project when I contacted him.

We needed to obtain the chair and several other Shaker props. Bill had someone that could construct a small wall with a peg rail in his studio. But Bill and I were both nervous about everything looking completely authentic, as well as the costs involved.

We were both starting to have doubts. Bill said he’d phone me right back. A short while later he called to say that the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts had graciously agreed to have him come for a visit and do the shoot on-location.

I stayed in New York, and through the wonders of modern technology Bill emailed jpgs from his cellphone of possible props and setups — some of which are below.

I loved Bill’s cap on the windowsill. I was torn between keeping the original chair idea or changing our plan. But we only had time to shoot one setup, and I decided to keep the chair concept. We quickly decide exactly which props and setup to shoot and Bill got to work.

A few days later the final art came in, and it was absolutely beautiful. I love the gorgeous lighting and shadows of the image. I’m so pleased with this cover. Maybe the cap on the windowsill will be a future cover.