Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Cover design

How random life can be. I have a Twitter friend called Jacqui, who turned out to live only a couple of miles away. Despite walking our dogs in the same places, we never met until we got chatting on Twitter. Since then, I’ve visited Jacqui at her lovely home and learned that her husband is a graphic designer. So when I decided to have a professionally designed cover for No Stranger to Death, I asked Jacqui if he did this type of work. Her reply was the classic ‘No, but I know a man who does’. She gave me a name, Kim McGillivray.

I looked at Kim’s website,, which has many stunning illustrations, including the one above (which may not be reproduced without his permission). For those of you who don’t know already, I’m an Englishwoman married to a Scotsman and living in Scotland. And while I admire Alex Salmond’s political astuteness, I don’t support all his policies. The wit demonstrated by Kim’s depiction of Salmond in a kilt (which he never wears), standing Monroe-like over an air vent decided me. I would approach Kim about doing my book cover.

After an exchange of emails agreeing the business side of things, Kim asked for a copy of the novel. (Having people read it is something I’m going to have to get used to.) Before our first meeting I did some online research about briefing a cover designer. From the many websites by and for indie authors, I gleaned the following advice:

  • Don’t be prescriptive. You choose a designer for his/her creativity, so let them get on with it.
  • Never use the words ‘I like’. A book cover has an important job to do, and personal tastes shouldn’t come into it (so, no turquoise then).

Our first meeting was friendly but business-like. This reminded me a lot of when clients used to brief me to write their website copy, and it felt strange to be on the other side of the process. Kim and I talked about the prominent features of my novel and who I envisage it will most appeal to. We also looked at many examples of book covers, some but not all within the crime fiction genre: ones I feel do their job well and also a few I don’t rate at all. One of the biggest creative challenges facing Kim is to come up with a design which works in wildly differing sizes, from a thumbnail image on a Kindle or tablet to a physical paperback.

Kim has now gone away to do whatever it is he does. Writers all seem to work in different ways; I can’t imagine how an artist approaches his work (maybe I could persuade him to write a guest blog for me on this subject?). However, he followed up our meeting with a note which managed to distill our discussion into a few paragraphs that are spot-on in capturing my aspirations for my first ever book cover. So I know I’m in safe hands.

If you're interested in book-cover design, I recommend a visit to Joel Friedlander's Ebook Cover Design Awards. Below are some book covers which I think are particularly effective. Do you have any favourite book covers? And how much does a book's cover matter to you when you choose to buy it or borrow it from a library?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I know my cover person well, so can say what my ideas are, but it always works out completely different from how I'd imagined. I think you're right, though - their creative process is prob not much different fromm ours, and we'd hate to be told how to write.

    Of the covers you showed, I was drawn to Cool It and Saving Ben but not the others. To be truthful it ISN'T a major things for me when choosing a book, but I know it is for some. The thing to remember when you're self-published (either indie or published through a company - I mean if Amazon is your selling outlet rather than bookshops), is that the cover has to work as a THUMBNAIL, first and foremost. When I was thinking about my first one, I had a look at Amazon and noticed which ones sprang out at me - I told him I wanted black and red. He took it from there....!