Behind the Scenes: Cover Design for Finding Myself in Britain (Part 1)

The winner! Illustrated and designed by Vivian Hansen.

The winner! Illustrated and designed by Vivian Hansen.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“A picture tells a thousand words.”

In the case of my first book, I’m happy if you judge it by its cover, because it’s just so darn good. When I first received the design, I loved pulling it up on my phone and watching the person’s face as they saw at it for the first time. Again and again, they would flash a smile and often they’d exclaim in delight. Here’s part one in how the cover came to be.

When I was a commissioning/acquisitions editor at two big corporate publishing houses, we had whole teams of designers working on the covers, designing them and/or hiring out artists or photographers to provide the original artwork and photographs. How many cover designs we’d receive per project would vary – sometimes we’d have three or four variations on a particular cover, but one Stateside designer was known for his huge creativity, giving us ten to fifteen completely different designs.

Times have changed, although I suspect the massive publishers continue in this fashion. But Authentic Media, the publisher of Finding Myself in Britain, didn’t have its own design department in-house, so was able to explore other options. The MD, Steve Mitchell, is innovative and creative, and follows the publishing trends and has a sense of what’s new and what’s possible in this strange new world. I’m so glad I followed his lead throughout the process.

The cover needs to be available about six months before publication, so the design process needs to start at least nine months before. I had previously shown Steve an amazing painting of our church that Steve Bjorkman had carefully crafted in a mind-blowingly rapid manner when he and his wife were visiting the UK one year, and Authentic-Steve wondered if a cover might emerge from it. Here’s one of the covers Authentic-Steve had designed with the painting by Artist-Steve, which although we thought was fun, we knew wasn’t exactly right.

Artwork by Steve Bjorkman. One of his paintings does appear in my book, which delights me.

Artwork by Steve Bjorkman. One of his paintings does appear in my book, which delights me.

So Authentic-Steve committed instead to have the design created through 99 Designs. I had heard him speak of the good experience he’d had in the design of other books, such as Chris Juby’s @BibleIntro, so knew a little of how the website works. The publisher signs up for a package – bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. The higher the package, the more expensive (but still reasonable), and the more designs you have to choose from. After the contest starts, any interested designer who is signed up with 99 Designs can submit a design within the 7-day window. When the contest is closed, the publisher/author chooses a design and can ask for tweaks. The winning designer then receives the fee.

I see a lot of benefits of this system, but admittedly they favor the publisher. One is having access to designers from all of the world. Another is the huge number and variety of designs that are submitted with only having to pay for a flat fee. But from the designers’ point of view, it’s a lot of work that you might not get paid for – I did feel bad for the stellar designs created that we didn’t use. Yet it gives designers the access to potential work that they’d otherwise not be considered for. For instance, we’d have never found the winning designer without this website.

My publisher put together the cover brief (you can see it here), which was a short summary of the book (a couple of paragraphs and an outline of the contents) and then for the design elements, he said:

We aren’t looking anything too twee or formulaic e.g. flags.

I wanted to put down more suggestions about what ways to take the cover visually, but Steve rightly pushed back, saying, “You’ve got to trust the process.” This is where authors need good and wise publishers – we think we know what’s best for our book-baby, but we don’t. I’m so glad we weren’t directive, and trusted the designers to do what they’re good at – designing. (And yes, the winning design does employ flags!)

We received 96 designs from 42 designers for the contest. Some of the covers made me cringe – one in particular made me think of 50 Shades of Britain – but many were excellent and a couple were outstanding. Of course, anything to do with art and creation is subjective, so what I thought was fabulous wasn’t always the same as what others thought. But we all agreed on the winning design.

I don’t think I should cut and paste over some of the designs that didn’t get selected because of copyright issues, but you can see examples here and here. Most of the designs have been taken down, but you get a feel for the diversity of options we had. I liked the feel of #92 and #90, but they are more typical of what one would expect for my book; the winner simply outshone them. Several of the people at my publisher liked the cover by LilaM, but I thought it looked twee (US: cringey), and like a woman during the thirties or forties.

In part two on behind the scenes of the cover design, I’ll interview the winner of the contest, Vivian Hansen.

1 Response

  1. Pingback : Amy Boucher Pye » Behind the Scenes: Interview with Vivian Hansen, Cover Designer for Finding Myself in Britain (Part 2)

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