Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Yet another lesson in self-publishing: the nitty gritty of the book cover

Only read the following if you like lots of detail…

This was an early idea for the cover of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU:

book cover

But although I felt it represented the story, there was nothing about it that would make it stand out on a bookshop table. Also, there was not a hint of humour in it.

So I talked to my friend Ella, who is funny and creative and who had read the first three chapters of an early draft of the novel, and she suggested that the cover should show a greetings card with the title of the book on it. The greetings card would be home-made and possibly tatty. (This is what I remember – correct me if I am wrong, El.)This idea composted for a while in the heap at the back of my brain, while I looked at book cover designs on the net. One design I saw brought me back to Ella’s idea. I think her idea is brilliant, because it embodies the feeling inherent in the title – which is a declaration of love which is really, really anti-romantic. Who sends someone a card saying “But I told you last year that I loved you”? But I thought there would be more of a disjunct and therefore it would be more effective, if the card was attractive.

So this was the first rough mock-up:

Book cover 001

Dave did the writing because I couldn’t fit it in. I was writing the words horizontally and it was hard to fit those words in a heart shape, so he suggested we use a template with curved lines and trace over it – which was a great idea:

heart template

This is my attempt:

heart writing

Then we roped in our daughter, Zoe:

heart writing 1

Zoe kindly said she would do the writing for us once I had decided on the heart I wanted. It wasn’t this one:

Book cover 022

because those tiny red rosebuds are way too girly and a wee bit soppy, to boot.

And it wasn’t this one: Book cover 018

or this one:

front cover green card

At this stage, Dave – a very patient person - was getting to the end of his tether because I was having ideas, and he was making them happen, but once he had made them, I realised I didn’t want them.  So I turned to Zoe. She and her husband make cards for each other all the time, and she had made her husband a valentine card a couple of years ago, like this:

Book cover 028

although (of course) her card said something loving and romantic inside the heart.

So then Zoe sat down with a sheaf of paper and the template and practised writing the title over and over until she and I were happy with it. Then she wrote inside the card that she or Dave made (I can’t remember who did it in the end!)

Then we had to decide if we wanted it sitting on a shelf like this:

back and front together

so that the left hand side would be the back of the cover.

We dithered with this for a while. All right, I dithered with it. In the end I decided that having it sitting on a shelf made it seem too real, as if there was an actual card like this in the book, when actually, the card with the message on it is conceptual. (This reasoning makes sense to me.)

So then I posted the card to our son Isaac in California, along with a snippet of turquoise card to show the colour of the background I wanted. This was what he emailed to me:


and I swooned.

Then he put on the words I asked him to, and tweaked it until I said stop. I chose that ultra slim font for my name on the front so that it was the card and the title that hit you in the eye, not my name. If I were famous, then my name would be more important than the title. But I’m not.

Then I got all the technical details and specifications for the cover production from the printer and emailed them to Isaac and he said he didn’t have the software to do it, but he knew a man who did - his friend, Matt:

production evening

So Isaac and Matt sorted out the techie stuff together.

I emailed the cover to the printer and Isaac Fedexed me a hard copy over as well – because that’s what they asked for, to check for colour matching. When the first approval copy arrived, it was glossy! AARRGGHH! I had asked for matt. Nothing screams “self-published novel” louder than a glossy cover. (The paper wasn’t right either. But the paper is another story, and not a happy one, and I really don’t want to revisit my paper problems.)

So then the printer used what they call Matt Laminate, and I was happy. To be perfectly truthful, the turquoise is paler than I would have wanted, but blue is notoriously difficult to match, so I made myself happy with what I got.

And I AM very happy. The cover is striking, pretty, spare and clean, and does what I wanted it to do: it matches the contents, and it makes people pick up the book and check it out.

So thank you to Ella, Dave, Zoe, Isaac and Matt, for your help, patience and all round brilliance.

And special thanks to Dave for not murdering me. I can be an infuriating person to work for.


Jean said...

Phew..........goodness, after all the time , effort, sweat and tears you put into writing the book, then you faced this mountain, well congratulations Sue, the end result is just right, your preseverence paid off..........if it had been me , I think I would have given up and bought brown paper and string.
I gave a copy of your book to my friend Hilary at the weekend (first time I have seen her since your book signing at Sheffield!), her first comment on picking it up, was that it looked good .........which has to be the first thought when just browsing for a new book.

Sue Hepworth said...

Hi Jean - thanks for this encouragement. You know...that brown paper and string idea is quite funky and would be a great gimmick, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

The cover is lovely, but I really like the original choice, too. My hand would not be able to resist picking it up and checking it out. Just me. I love outdoorsy pictures and that's a beauty.

Sue Hepworth said...

That's interesting. Isaac took that photo of Dave and me walking down the lane, and I have always liked it. I would have picked up a book with my title and that cover, but it just didn't feel sufficiently striking for the book.