Behind-the-scenes of Cover Design

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Written by Kevin Barrett Kane 2 years ago

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Designing the cover of a book is often one of the most important jobs in the publication process. The reality of the world is that we often do judge books by their cover, and for this reason, the design of a cover can make or break a title’s success.

One of the luxuries of being small team is that the cover design is often a collaborative process. When I first begin to design the cover, I try to include everyone on the team, including the author, as a simple way to get everyone involved with the creation of the final product, and to create excitement about the upcoming release.

The cover design process for Eliot Peper’s new book, Uncommon Stock Power Play, and the subsequent redesign of Uncommon Stock Version 1.0, was one that embraced the level of collaboration that would only be possible with a startup mentality. As Eliot was finishing up his manuscript, we began our conversations about the potential new design of the entire series. Eliot described the cover “goals” in the following brief:

Cover Goal 1: hit our major selling points. I see these as: tech/startups, action/thriller, Mara as a kickass character. Do you agree/disagree? Any points to add/refute?

Cover Goal 2: stay true to 1.0. It should look and feel like the sequel and preserve the design feel of 1.0.

Cover Goal 3: up the ante. It’s the 2nd in the trilogy and the stakes are being raised. 2.0 focuses more on thriller/conspiracy elements than business advice elements. It’s a thriller in a startup setting rather than the other way around.

 As I began brainstorming how best to accomplish these goals, I quickly realized that it would be incredibly difficult to accomplish both 2 and 3. The original design for US Version 1.0 was completed long before I joined the team, and designed by the extraordinary designer/author Jason Gurley (jasongurley.com). The “8-bit cover,” as we call it, is strong both graphically and conceptually, but the reality I faced when designing the second installment in the series was that it was going to be nearly impossible to iterate off of for not just one, but two more books in The Uncommon Series. With this realization, it seemed more appropriate to readdress the identity of the series in its entirety, rather than to riff off of the design of Version 1.0.

With the help of FG Press’s CEO, Dane McDonald, who happens to be an exceptionally gifted photographer, we planned a photo shoot for Uncommon Stock Power Play, and were able to achieve some really amazing results.

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After several iterations of designs around the chosen photograph, I recognized the potential of iterating on the cover in new and exciting ways, and sent the following note to the team:

My most important job as a designer is to insist on consistency. Do I believe that we would iterate on the 8-bit cover in an exciting and engaging way? Yes. 

At the same time, though, I agree with the sentiment that the cover for V1 may not do justice to the interior contents of the book, and that the cover may be a bit misleading.

The most important job of a cover is to visually represent the elements of the contained information. Though this cover does contain elements from the story, it does so in a very minimalist way. If Uncommon Stock Version 1.0 was a book written in a minimalist style, I might make a case for this cover design, but unfortunately, we know that this is not at all true. Uncommon Stock is a startup “thriller” and is in no ways a minimalist text. The reality of the original cover is that it is not very thrilling, as beautiful and simple as it is. Please feel free to argue with me about this.

I’m not sure if the cover for Power Play that we have started working on is necessarily better at conveying the content of the book than the 8-bit cover, but I do know one thing: it is thrilling! It is an image that makes me uneasy and interested. It is an unconventional image, and certainly a provoking one. Unlike the cover for V1, I believe it sets a precedent for other covers in this series. It seems to say “I dare you to be more exciting than a gun, an espresso, a dog-eared page, and a ridiculously over-priced laptop!” The image makes me uneasy in its stillness. When you take a minute to drop yourself into its still-life like perfection (from alignment to clarity), there is a palpable sense of potential energy. This effect, I believe, is what makes Uncommon Stock (and most good thrillers) tick. The inevitability of action is what keeps you turning the page. 

Once we recognized that the new cover design had successfully achieved the initial goals and was more appropriate for the contents of the writing, the next step was to shoot a new cover for Version 1.0. What follows is the email I sent out to the team the night before our second cover shoot for V1—as I mention below, our first attempt failed to capture an equally exciting image as the final cover for Power Play, so we were forced to re-shoot. It is interesting to look back on these notes now to see what vision we maintained and what elements we changed during the creative process.

As you know, we have a cover shoot for Uncommon Stock tomorrow. Our first shoot for V1 yielded some pretty cool results but in the end we decided that the composition was not “thriller-y” enough.

The overall concept is to keep a similarly complex, textured background with a birds-eye-view still life as we have in Power Play. 

For V1 we were thinking of having a background of fallen yellow and red leaves on a Boulder sidewalk with props that allude to being a student at the University of Colorado and one “thriller item.” This item is where we are stuck, as the text of V1 does not have Mara wielding any kind of weapon. We do not necessarily have to include props from the text, but I’m wondering if, since the Power Play cover and contents relies so heavily on the gun, the cover for V1 will feel disconnected if it includes something like a knife. Thoughts?

Another idea I had for V1 is to add an extra thriller element by incorporating props from some of the more risk-prone sports that Mara engages in such as mountain biking, climbing and running. I will bring items from both activities to the shoot tomorrow to use. 

An initial attraction to using fake blood splattered on some term sheets or elsewhere in the comp is another idea I would not like to eliminate. 

That’s my thinking for now. Come to the shoot tomorrow with props, ideas, and lots of energy! Looking forward to your thoughts. 

So, after much conversation back and forth, and the essential coordination between photography, design, and story, we ended up with two covers for The Uncommon Series that we are incredibly proud of.

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