It was once true, I suppose, that one couldn’t judge a book by its cover: when all the world’s stories were bound in leather or buckram, or some cheaper alternative; plain hues with gold lettering on the spine; the occasional flourish of bevelled edge or debossed curlicue. Here’s a scene from Eliot's The Mill on the Floss of 1860, in which Mr Tulliver has been listening with increasing horror as Maggie, his daughter, describes the contents of her chosen book to Mr Riley:
“Why, what book is it the wench has got hold on?” [Mr. Tulliver] burst out at last.
“‘The History of the Devil,’ by Daniel Defoe; not quite the right book for a little girl,” said Mr. Riley. “How came it among your books, Tulliver?”
“Why, it’s one o’ the books I bought at Partridge’s sale. They was all bound alike—it’s a good binding, you see—and I thought they’d be all good books. ... [T]here's a lot more of ’em, sermons mostly I think; but they've all got the same covers... But it seems one mustn’t judge by th’ outside. This is a puzzlin’ world.”
Those days are gone, and one has only to inspect the shelves of a bookshop to see illustrations and photographs, carefully-selected fonts and hand-crafted lettering, all to entice the potential purchaser.
“Open me,” these books say. “Read me. I shall give you the feeling you get from looking at my cover. I shall answer the questions it raises. I shall tell you a story to meet your expectations. They’re not all good bindings. They’re not all good books. But I, I am just what you need.”
The process started with my preparing a short document. It outlined the general themes of the novel and noted the colours, scenes and imagery which best capture the text. The final few pages were given over to existing illustrations which came to mind when thinking about the design.
After my initial ramblings, the professionals took over. Anna & Unbound’s John Mitchinson created a brief for Mark, who delivered a first-draft sketch of the cover and suggested a suitable illustrator. Last week I visited Unbound’s offices and discussed the draft with Anna. We sent some additional notes to Mark, and a new draft arrived this morning.
We’re almost there. The current draft needs only a few, fine adjustments before it can be sent to the illustrator, who will turn Mark's sketches into the finished cover. When it's ready, you'll be amongst the first to see it.
So, watch this space. And don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more frequent updates.
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