I’ve decided to do a blog today about covers. There is an old adage that says ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but it is something we all do, whether we are aware of it or not. I think you can tell a lot about a book by its cover, and in an age of ebooks as well as paperbacks, a cover has to look as striking in black and white on a kindle screen as it does on the shelf of a bookshop. I learned this the hard way, by sending my good friend, fellow Choc Lit author, fellow Drac Society member and award-winning cover designer Berni Stevens my first attempt at a book cover.
‘Oh it’s fine,’ I told her. ‘I know a bit about Photoshop. Take a look at this.’ The cover was, in retrospect, absolutely hideous; three random women, clagged together on a rectangle, supposedly defining the three timelines in my first novel, The Memory of Snow.
‘Errrr, no,’ said Berni, very patiently. ‘Try something like this instead.’ And that, dear reader, is how I have an awesome cover for Snow. All Berni’s work.
Berni has her second Choc Lit novel, Revenge is Sweet, due out in July – the long-awaited (for me anyway!) vampiric sequel to Dance until Dawn. She has designed her own cover – properly – and I have to say it is stunning. So, intrigued as I was by the process, and adoring my own beautifully designed Berni-covers below, I thought I’d pose her a few questions on cover design:
First of all, what attracted you to cover design as a career?
Initially I wanted to go to dance college, but my father had very strong ideas about that and said a very firm ‘No.’ He wasn’t that impressed by art college either, but I won that round.
My first job was a rather disastrous three months in a very small advertising company in the Haymarket. We decided to part company and my second job was for a medium-sized publisher in Mayfair. I loved the industry from the word go. It combined two of my passions – art and books. My second job was for HarperCollins as a promotion designer, which at first I enjoyed as I got to illustrate, art direct photo shoots, and design huge pieces of point-of-sale material. Then everything changed, and bookshops suddenly weren’t taking point-of-sale any more. I found I was being given an existing cover design and told to ‘blow it up’ for a poster. I no longer got the chance to actually design. It was boring and I hated it. So I side-stepped into cover design – much better J
Have you worked for any big names you can divulge?
I’m assuming you mean authors? A few, yes. Iain Banks, Patricia Cornwell, Nora Roberts, Diana Palmer, Anne Rice, Laurell K Hamilton, Lulu, Ben Elton, George Alagiah, Jeff Green, Jenny Éclair, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan … and you of course!
Why thank you – I’ve worked with a very good cover designer as well. Now, what’s your favourite part of the process?
I love fine-tuning the design at high res stage. It’s a very delicate process and as much like illustration as design can be on a computer.
How free are you to make decisions on covers?
Not at all. The decisions are not mine to make. The covers have to go through a lot of meetings with sales, bookshops, marketing etc.,
and believe me, everyone has a different opinion.
Do you read the book first?
If I have time, yes. It doesn’t always help though, sometimes it’s better to just read a synopsis.
What is the craziest thing you have been asked to put on a cover?…
Young men in spangled leotards, with a geography teacher standing on a rock surrounded by a turquoise sea, whilst a mermaid looks on, and a multi-coloured dragon flies overhead.
(All for one cover). The author is a huge Terry Pratchett fan so that explains it. Except his covers are (or were) done by illustrator Josh Kirby and cost a small fortune (well over £1500 each).
…and did you do it?
I’m going to attempt it – watch this space!
Can’t wait! So what is the largest number of visuals you’ve ever had to create before the cover was agreed?
28, and then they went back to the visual I did first. I don’t design for them any more! (A very well known publishing house too).
Is it as easy as throwing some photos onto a blank page and pressing ‘save’ (I know the answer to this one – but I’d like to hear it from someone who knows “a bit more” about Photoshop than I do…)
If only . . . But then if it was, everyone would be doing it and I’d be redundant. It’s like a creative kind of acupuncture – yes anyone can stick needles in – but you have to know where to stick them! J
I never work with just one image, there are always at least three –
usually four, and sometimes the images are copied again and again and resized and replaced. These are all done on separate layers in Photoshop. One of my covers has 35 layers; this will give you some idea just how much work goes into each cover.
Which book would you dearly love to design a cover for?
I would love to design the definitive cover for Dracula. No expense spared – with gold leaf – the works. It would be a dream.
Not surprising, as you’re such an active member of the Dracula Society! So which book/series would you do ‘differently’ if you had the chance?
Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. The current series style is almost Manga and doesn’t fit the books at all. They look ugly in my humble opinion.
Do you prefer writing or designing? Or do you think you’ve got a nice balance in your creative life?
That’s a tough question. I prefer writing when I’m writing – and designing when I’m designing!
How delighted would you be if you had Aidan Turner at your disposal for a photo shoot?
I … er … What? Did someone say Aidan Turner? Very delighted and almost certainly a gibbering heap on the floor of the studio.
If you ever do get Aidan Turner at your disposal for a photo shoot, would you like me as an assistant? (I could hand him a scythe very professionally, I promise.)
Yes of course you can come – but I’m oiling his chest . . .
And finally, do you have any advice to would be cover designers/authors?
My advice to authors would be to always get your book professionally edited and your cover professionally designed. It really shows if you don’t.
My advice to cover designers is, if you have never learnt about kerning – look it up – and learn about it. Again, it shows if the only design you’ve ever done has been on a computer. I can pick out a ‘rookie’ design from several paces. Anyone can buy the software but not everyone can design. (Although plenty think they can).
Sorry if that sounds a little harsh, but I get a lot of requests from people who need my help after they’ve got someone to do their cover.
Thank you for having me on your blog, Kirsty. As my favourite lady vampire would say, ‘It’s been a blast!’
Thanks Berni, great to have you here!
You can see Berni’s fabulous new cover on Amazon as Revenge is Sweet is now available to pre-order. I wonder if she was day-dreaming about a certain Mr T when she wrote about Will in this series…?