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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.


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.



James McCorry said...

Are you going to publish the Maryland Campaign-Carman- edited by Clemens? Its a beautiful dust jacket. Is a book on South Mountain in the future.? Thanks James McCorry PS- A dust jacket well done is a major selling tool for any author but especially history. Keep up the great work.

TPS said...

Hello James,

Thanks for stopping by. I was wondering if anyone would ask, since we have not formally announced this title yet.

Yes, we are publishing Carmen's massive Maryland Campaign manuscript, edited and annotated by Tom Clemens in two volumes next year (one in the spring--South Mountain--and one in the fall--Antietam and the aftermath). Tom has spent two decades tracking down every line of Carman's work. His citation will be in footnotes, rather than end notes. It is a masterpiece, in my opinion. And this way, each book will be reasonably priced, full of maps, and hopefully enjoyable.

Thanks again for asking.


Chris Evans said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for talking about these things. I love collecting books and enjoy talking about Hardcover vs Softcover, Dust Jackets, and Footnotes vs Endnotes. I find it interesting. I just love owning and reading my books.
Look forward to the other installments,

Jane Johansson said...

Perhaps I am broaching a delicate topic, and if so I will understand if you don't address this. In 2008 an edited version of the Carmen manuscript was published by Routledge. How will your edition differ from that one?

TPS said...

Hello Jane,

I hope this finds you well. Nothing delicate about it. Here are several reasons, just off the top of my head. I am sure there are many others.

First, Mr. Pierro's work was published in one large volume without the in-depth footnotes or the knowledge base that Dr. Clemens brings to the table with his two decades of dedicated study. No offense to Mr. Pierro, but the authors are world's apart in their expertise on the Maryland Campaign, as virtually everyone in the Civil War field will attest.

Second, Mr. Pierro's study does not include a single tactical map. It is impossible to understand any battle, let alone South Mountain and Antietam, without maps. Our product will have at least two or three dozen cartographic originals (the number is not yet set). There is no excuse for not including maps in a book like this. Both Carman and readers of Civil War books deserve better treatment.

Third, Mr. Pierro's effort does not include mini-biographies of everyone named in the Carman manuscript; Dr. Clemens' does.

Fourth, Dr. Clemens has tracked down the source for nearly every sentence of Carman's 1,800-page manuscript.

Fifth, Pierro's volume was priced at $95.00--which prices it out of the hands of 95% of the reading public who would otherwise purchase the book. We are publishing this massive study in a matched two-volume set (Vol. 1 in the Spring of 2010, and Vol. 2 in the Fall of 2010), each volume priced attractively at about $35.00each.

Sixth, Pierro's publisher (a good house with a great reputation) aimed the book primarily at an academic or library audience--or it would never have published this manuscript in the manner it did, with that ungodly price tag. There is virtually no marketing to support the book. Our work will be presented aggressively into every market, from Amazon to general book stores, to parks, individuals, overseas, etc., and we will support the author with radio and TV interviews, print reviews, book signings, and much more. (We do this for all our authors. Almost no other presses do what we do.)

I hope that helps answer your question. Thanks for asking, Jane, and thanks for coming by.


J David Petruzzi said...

I bought Pierro's volume, as you know, but when Tom's comes out Pierro's will be virtually useless. I guess I'll donate it to the local library.

Beautiful cover on those volumes. Wow. Rivals the Sickles book :)


Jim Rosebrock said...

I am a volunteer and guide at Antietam. I have the Pierro version of Carmen and it is OK as far as it goes but am really looking forward to the publication of Tom's work. Like you Ted, the importanace of the maps cannot be over emphasized. Layout, location and quality in the maps will really be important. I know and respect the quality of your publications going back to the Civil War regiment series and really am excited by the dust cover here. I am confidant that this is the version of Carmen that Maryland Campaign followers have been waiting for. Good luck.

TPS said...

Thanks for the comments, JD and Jim. (Jim, first time I have seen you here. I hope you will return and comment often. If you want to get our monthly e-letter about all our titles and authors, with updated news, send your email to us at customerservice@savasbeatie.com)

Clemens' annotated Carman is creating a lot of buzz and we have not even formally announced it.

Your observation: "I am confident that this is the version of Carmen that Maryland Campaign followers have been waiting for," is nicely stated and we sure hope so!


Jane Johansson said...

It has certainly taken me awhile to check back and read your response to my comment. Your edition of the Carmen manuscript sounds like it will be excellent. Having more detailed notes and including a series of maps, will enhance the manuscript considerably! Also, no one will complain about the more attractive, lower price. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question so thoroughly.