The Importance Of Cover Design
One of the other huge joys of self-publishing is choosing how to present your work. Given that mine is difficult to categorise, I was conscious that I needed a strong brand. Of course, cover design is just one element of brand, but it’s a vital one nonetheless. An author has only eight seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so first impressions really do count. Rather than start from scratch, I chose to use elements from the cover of Half-truths and White Lies as building blocks: the font and the strong photographic image, repeated on the spine. The brief I gave cover designer Andrew Candy was that my books should look like a set you’d want to collect. I was thinking of my own bookshelves: the novels of John Irving; Frank Herbert’s Dune series; classic Penguin paperbacks. I wanted that certain something that would make people say, ‘Oh, another Jane Davis.’
I’m always absolutely clear about what I don’t want. My novel, These Fragile Things, is about a family in crisis when teenage daughter Judy claims to be seeing religious visions. But that’s only one element of the storyline and I didn’t want to exclude readers who wouldn’t normally read Christian fiction. I chose a butterfly with a broken wing, which represents transformation and hints at vulnerability.
For the cover of A Funeral for an Owl, perhaps the most literal of all my book covers, I had the image of a boy in mind, and my search for the right face took a long time. I was thinking of Ken Loach’s film adaptation of A Kestrel for a Knave (the wonderful Kes), and U2’s album cover for Boy. I provided Andrew with five separate images and precise instructions about where to put each one, but the end result was still a surprise. I sat on it for a couple of days but didn’t ask for a single change.
As I learned to trust Andrew’s instincts, my briefs grew more complex. For An Unchoreographed Life, my novel about a ballerina who turns to prostitution when she becomes a single mother, I wanted to avoid any hint of erotica. Told partly from the perspective of a six-year-old, my story has more in common with Henry James’s What Maisie Knew than Belle de Jour. Describing a scene where my main character Alison comes face to face with a stag, I asked if it would be possible to combine the image of a ballerina with a deer. Andrew’s answer was yes, but only if I could find the right woman and the right deer, otherwise it would end up looking like a photoshop ‘bodge-job’. So that was my challenge. The final image suits the book perfectly: a woman who hasn’t been able to let go of her past and wears a mask.
The design for An Unknown Woman needed to show a woman undergoing an identity crisis. I wanted it to represent the difference between the way we see ourselves and how others see us, but also to hint at a complex mother/daughter relationship. I came up with the idea of two halves of a woman’s face and Andrew suggested adding a cracked mirror. I sourced the image of the younger woman, but it was Andrew who found picture the older woman, and then used his technical wizardry to manipulate it so that they look like one and the same. The cover has won two awards and I have no doubt that it contributed greatly to Writing Magazine’s decision to name An Unknown Woman as their Self-published book of the year.
For my latest release, My Counterfeit Self, I chose an image by Sergiy Glushchenko/500px, which had already won an award for underwater photography. Water is a repeat theme within the novel, but there’s also the sense of falling, the sense of disaster and shock. My main character, Lucy Forrester, is a political poet whose main cause is CND. It struck me that the bubbles coming from the woman’s mouth already looked a little like a mushroom cloud, but could be manipulated. I particularly liked the idea of the mushroom cloud coming out of the poet’s mouth.
If asked for a short-list of the key elements of my cover designs, I would say that they have to be instantly identifiable, inclusive and - I hope - intriguing.
-- Jane Davis
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1 obsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she is not writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.
Her latest novel, My Counterfeit Self, is released on 1st October 2016, but can be pre-ordered at the special price of 99p/99c.
‘A compelling portrayal of the bohemian life of an activist poet, the men she loves, and the issues she fights for.’ Eleanor Steele
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