Everything is a bit secret squirrel when you’re preparing to have your novel published. The title. The story. The launch plans. How the author managed to write the bloody thing in the first place. (If someone can tell me the answer to that one I’d be much obliged.)

One of the most exciting (and terrifying) aspects of the process so far has been the cover design. How on earth do I get everything the book is, on a cover? How do I encapsulate the complicated plot in one image? What will it leave out? What will it imply? How do I make my novel stand out? Who will pick it up in a bookshop? Will anyone pick it up?

The first thing I had to do was get out of my own way and trust the designer. We met and talked for an hour and I shared my ideas and tried to give him a sense of the story and what I wanted the cover to convey. Then I sent approximately 26 follow-up emails because I’m absolutely not a control freak.

And then I had to leave him to it.

The first iteration wasn’t right, but had promise. And thus started a back-and-forth collaboration in which I was picky and anally retentive and (hopefully) kind and encouraging and my designer was talented and responsive and patient. And firm.

“No, Patricia.”

“From a design point of view that won’t work.”

“Nope.”

“Hmmm. Let me try that.”

“You know, that…might work.”

“How about that…but with this.”

And eventually, we both arrived at:

“Oh my God. Yes. We’ve nailed it.”

The cover is now done, and it is so fantastic that I actually screamed out loud when I opened the final pdf. It’ll be officially revealed later this year. 

Here’s what I have learnt about cover design:

  1. If you’re self-publishing: Don’t do it yourself. Pay a designer. Please. I’m being traditionally published, by Cloud Ink Press, and I went with their recommendation, but if I was self-publishing I would have sought out a reputable person myself. It’s not cheap, and it’s worth every cent.
  2. A cover cannot possibly say EVERYTHING. So choose one or two things, and say them powerfully.
  3. The ultimate design guides, in my opinion, are these: First and foremost, the cover has to make a potential reader pick up the book/click on it. And then, after reading the cover blurb, take it to the checkout (or the online equivalent). Secondly: the author has to 100% buy into it. I will have to talk about this book and this cover for a long time. I have to be passionate about both.
  4. Colour can tell as much of a story as the picture itself.
  5. The right designer is crucial. They have to “get” your story, and be willing to collaborate, accommodate, and stand firm when needed. Humour helps.
  6. Don’t approve the final design until your heart leaps and you punch the air. If something still niggles on the 7th or 8th iteration, speak up. You’ll regret settling.
  7. Take guidance. I’m a writer, not a designer. I had to accept that some of my ideas were not going to work from a design point of view.
  8. Font. It matters.
  9. The back and the spine are just as important as the front.
  10. Look at your name on the cover. Savour the moment. It’s magical and strange. It’s beyond wonderful.

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