There were quite a few stumbles in the completion and publication of my debut novel.
Every step had its challenges:
- Developing the idea and trying to find the narrative question that would drive the tension throughout the novel.
- Researching and taking good notes, including bibliographic information so I could find the details I needed to ground the book in reality.
- Sequencing to ensure the novel reached plot points with enough tension for the reader to want to keep reading but without revealing too much of the characters’ motives along the way.
- Editing – by far the most difficult and time-consuming part of the project (except for marketing). Using professional editors helped but I still estimate I must have shaped, re-edited and proofread the book over twenty times!
- Cover design (we’ll come to that in a minute).
- Launch – stymied by COVID restrictions and by my own lack of knowledge as a debut author. I’d gained formal permission to film a launch sequence at a local lighthouse but due to our lockdown restrictions, was unable to complete the shoot.
- Marketing & promotion – an area I never saw myself entering. I don’t enjoy it but it seems it’s an essential part of a 2000’s author arsenal.
To my surprise, although the writing, editing and marketing has taken up so much time and hard work, it was the cover design process that almost stalled the whole project.
I searched pre-made covers, checked recommendations in Facebook groups, scoured the Australian Book Designer Association (ABDA), Reedsy, Fiverr, and other marketplaces, as well as local artists, but most were busy or the cost was too prohibitive.
A good cover is a crucial part of marketing the book. It must be attractive to a reading public, sit well on the shelves (both virtual and physical) and communicate the essence of the story.
Here’s a couple of iterations in the cover design process and why I decided not to go with them.
The waves evoke storminess and a sense of danger but the rest of the image feels ‘blah’. I like the font, especially on the title but the lighthouse is not right. My tale is a uniquely Australian story and I felt the lighthouse did not represent the Australian-ness of the novel at all.
The next cover design was similar but included a figure.
The figure is wrong for the novel. It’s not clear who she is (I have multiple female characters in the novel) and her mournful, prayerful face shows no subtlety.
This was quite a good cover as it does communicate something of the isolation inherent in the book but what is lacking is any sense of the characters. Also, the cover is solely for an e-book and I needed a wrap-around for the paperback version I was producing.
So, where did this leave me?
One day I stumbled across Luke Harris from Working Type Design (http://www.workingtype.com.au/). Luke is a member of ABDA and has produced covers for historical fiction novels before.
Working with Luke was easy and he produced some beautiful covers that he was happy to adjust to make them pop that bit more. He also did both the e-book and produced the In-Design layout for the paperback copy (and adjusted when I needed), and completed the typesetting for publication.
Here’s the final copy.
I had a choice of one character or two. In the end I liked the smaller figure of Isabella in the distance as if fading out of the story and the figure of Kathleen closer to the audience. The period costumes were pitch perfect as well. I also really liked how Luke incorporated Kathleen’s letter in the background.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this insight into the cover design process.
What are your favourite book covers?
Until next time,