Apparently, the cover of David Nicholls’ ‘One Day’ went through fifty incarnations before they settled on the final treatment. Of course, once launched there was no getting away from the block orange silhouetted faces, the black asymmetrical title typeface and the concise tagline which seemed to peer out from every book shop and airport display in the world. Classic design.
Coming up with a cover for your own book is not an altogether different task. The aims are the same as for Nicholls’ publishers (even if it won’t need to be translated into fifty languages): grab attention, convey the story, create instant empathy and scream ‘buy me’. What you may be missing is the resource, budget and expertise Nicholls had at his disposal.
No matter. Remember many book covers have had more thrown at them than Nicholls’and still came out looking awful. J K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy anyone?
The cover for A Matter of Life and Death went through the same process as both Nicholls’ and Rowling’s latest efforts – well, through three or four incarnations, rather than fifty, but the objectives were the same.
First, the author’s idea: a library shot edited to depict a ‘jolly’ funeral. Nope. Time to get the professionals in. Immediately, we were leaving library shots behind – the refuge of the lazy – and aiming a little higher in our cover aspirations. The addition of a tagline – ‘Everybody should be famous for fifteen minutes. After they die’ – lent confidence to the hope we were getting the message across.
Next, a Banksy type treatment, referencing one of the characters in the book. No – too misleading.
Then left-field abstracts – a pint of milk , referencing the song ‘Ernie’ in the book. Forget that – too obtuse.
Back to the literal and an illustrative treatment of a skeleton in a coffin that urged a second look. Yes, we can build on that. But nothing too gothic. So, change the colours to fluorescents for modernity and add a jaunty flourish by giving the skeleton a party hat and an iPad – all that’s left after the ‘celebration of life’ has concluded.
Does it work? Time will tell but remember, appearances are rarely misleading….