Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Dust Jackets: Front Cover Design
This will be the first of four posts about dust jackets, based upon a poll I did last week when I posed this question:
"What element of the dust jacket is the most important to you in making a buying decision?"
There were 44 responses. Here is how they broke down:
The front cover design: 10 (25%)
The flap text information: 17 (42%)
The endorsements: 3 (7%)
I never make a purchasing decision based upon a dust jacket: 14 (35%)
Long before I was in publishing I was a lover of dust jackets, but I was not nearly as critical of the design as I am now. This is largely true because I didn't fully appreciate the importance of the various elements and how, taken together, they advertise, communicate, educate, and ultimately sell a book.
FRONT COVER DESIGN
From my perspective, this is the most important element. A design has to do most of the things mentioned above (advertise, communicate, and educate) within about five seconds. If it takes longer than that to convince potential buyers to pick it up, they usually won't. If they do, and then like it, read more, flip through the book, etc. and ultimately buy it, then the front cover design was the gateway hook that achieved that end. (This is important primarily in the general book trade. The digital age and sales on line make this a tad less important.)
I like to visualize covers even before a manuscript is complete. With the genre locked down (Civil War, Revolution, Current Events, etc.) I like to get a full understanding of the feel, pacing, substance, and depth of the writing itself. Once I do, then I know which designer gets the book.
Primarily, we use two jacket designers with very different styles and approaches. I would like to introduce these two graphic designers to you.
Ian Hughes of Mousemat Design Limited lives in London, England. Ian does a wide variety of covers for a number of publishers, most of whom live in the UK. You can see Ians's outstanding work here: www.mousematdesign.com. We usually use Ian for our 19th-century book covers. For example, he designed our covers for the Savas Beatie Military Atlas Series, Saratoga, Sickles, Shiloh, etc.
Our second designer is Jim Zach of Zgrafix. Jim is a graduate of Iowa State University and a graphic designer par excellence. I met Jim when I lived in Iowa for a short time in the late 1990s. His remarkable and original dust jacket designs and interior design work have been turning heads for many years. We like to use Jim for our "modern"-style titles, like our basic training series, Once a Marine, Confessions of a Military Wife, and so forth.
I often hear from other publishers about how expensive good jackets are to produce. My response to them is exactly the opposite: It is too expensive NOT to produce a good jacket.
If you carefully study our jackets, you will see (in most cases, depending upon available artwork) a layered, complex design that creates a striking element that (hopefully) grabs potential readers. (Personally, I also do that for the authors, because authors work hard to produce a great manuscript. If I gave them a fast and inexpensive design job to save a few bucks, I am demeaning their work. I will never do that.)
The next time you get a chance, study a jacket design carefully. Is it just type on an image? Can you set it back six feet and read it, knowing what it is about? Does it grab you? Does it make you want to pick it up and flip through it?
Think about it.
Next installment: The flap text information.