Welcome to the first in an occasional series of posts where we'll look at the elements of effective print design. Our first guinea pig, conveniently, is the next book we'll be releasing through our Missouri Breaks Press imprint: Julep Street, Craig's seventh novel. So, without further ado, here it is:
Julep Street will be released on May 9. And while there are certain creative advantages to an author doing his own design work, settling on a presentation for this book did not come without challenges. For one thing, it's an intensely interior work of fiction; most of the struggles of the protagonist, laid-off newspaper editor Carson McCullough, are against his own sense of regret, loss, and mortality. While there's no shortage of action, most of the physicality is born of Carson's interior degradation. And that can be a difficult theme to capture in any sort of overt way.
When we found this luminous photo of a bridge by Greg Kushmerek, we knew we had a winner. It's almost the perfect image for a book cover, with light and dark to provide contrast with the type. It's alluring (god, that lighting on the undercarriage of the bridge). Thematically, it's a strong fit, too. The bridge in the unnamed, fictitious Kentucky town where Carson lives has literal and metaphorical resonance in his life and in his story. It's the way out that he never took. It's also the vantage point for all the perspective he never appreciated.
For any book that's going to be sold in bookstores and online--and that's pretty much any book—cover creation comes with some built-in practical considerations. The design has to be eye-grabbing enough to demand attention at full size and color. And it has to communicate quickly in an online world where it appears at thumbnail size and often in black-and-white.
Let's see how the Julep Street cover stacks up in the latter environment:
OK, so in black-and-white, it's a dark cover (hard not to be when the image is a nighttime shot). But it's leavened considerably by the lighter movement of the bridge and by the white typography that still pops hard off the image. While nothing beats the gorgeous lighting and contrast of the full-color image, the black-and-white thumbnail version serves its main purpose: to stop a potential reader and say, "Hey, take a closer look at me."
Let's talk a bit about typography
In designing a book cover, the font the designer chooses, the size at which it's rendered, the color, the treatment (lowercase, small caps, all capital letters, whatever) all communicate something about what's on the pages inside.
For Julep Street, we wanted simplicity and elegance. It's a work of commercial fiction, but with a literary bent, so we chose a font (Bodoni Book, one of Craig's favorites) that is clean and well-weighted, that has an elegant italic option (see the lovely endorsement by Louise Beech), and doesn't lose its attractiveness at a larger size.
For a book with a different tone, a different font choice would have been in order. Consider how the combination of typography and imagery helps sell these books, all from different genres and all by authors we greatly admire:
Notice how everything works together to convey a strong sense of what's inside, whether it's romance, adventure, danger, the seamy underbelly of the city, or the poetry of the physical world. The B.J. Daniels book, for instance, is upfront in its intention to court readers of romance: Here's a strapping young cowboy who'd be fun in the sack (hey, why be coy?). Contrast that with the cover for Allen Morris Jones's A Bloom of Bones, a literary novel of quiet lyricism. All five of these covers are effective ambassadors for the work within.
We'd like to think we achieved the same objective with Julep Street: that if you pick up this book, you're going to bear witness to a work that is, in the words of Louise Beech, "full of gorgeous shade and light."
What's your favorite book cover, and why did it resonate with you? Tell us about it in the comments.
Do you have a design project that needs to communicate clearly with its audience? Contact us today. We'd love to work with you.
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