Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How I Design A Book Cover Part 1: Getting the Right Feel

The expression — “don’t judge a book by its cover” is ridiculous! Of course, you'll judge books by their covers. We all do.

But how do you get the right cover for your book? If you’re not a graphic designer you’ll hire the job out, or buy one of the online services on CreateSpace, or something similar.

I’m an illustrator and graphic designer. I produced my first book cover for a small publishing company in the early 1990’s. A lot’s changed since then. But one thing hasn’t…you still need good design. Many book covers today don’t have it, the fault of a freelance marketplace of self-published books and inexperienced cover designers. Also, diminishing resources at publishing houses.

It’s a bit of a free-for-all, really. Some books have lovely artwork with no thought given to where the title and author’s name will eventually go. Others use generic or recycled artwork or photographs which may be attractive but don’t relate to the story.

The best design is an integrated whole which inspires excitement through appropriate illustration and principles of good design. Some book covers are stunningly interesting but also badly designed. Good design is beautiful in itself, even when simplified down to a line drawing. Individual elements are balanced and lead the eye appropriately. The thoughtful artist leaves room for the masthead or title, instead of producing the art and then superimposing titles awkwardly over the painting, or squeezing them in as an after thought.

Color can hide a multitude of design sins, but when you look past the paint what once looked intriguing can look like a mismanaged mess.

I’m creating a book cover for a pulp-style novelette. It will have the feel of the old Astounding and Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine covers, but with some modern elements. 

To begin, I deconstruct old magazine and book covers by creating simple line drawings called thumbnails. These allow me to see which designs are built on solid foundations and which aren’t. 

I do many small thumbnail drawings, pages and pages of them. Each sketch takes no more than ten minutes, and most about five. Here are some examples…
Designs by pulp artists Alex Schomburg and James B. Settles and others

Book cover designs by Stanley Pitt

Various pulp magazines and books, front and back covers

Pulp covers some from the early 20th Century
Once I get a good feel for what the genre cover designers did, and what I like, I can then think about the elements I want on my book cover and where to put them.