Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Cover design

How random life can be. I have a Twitter friend called Jacqui, who turned out to live only a couple of miles away. Despite walking our dogs in the same places, we never met until we got chatting on Twitter. Since then, I’ve visited Jacqui at her lovely home and learned that her husband is a graphic designer. So when I decided to have a professionally designed cover for No Stranger to Death, I asked Jacqui if he did this type of work. Her reply was the classic ‘No, but I know a man who does’. She gave me a name, Kim McGillivray.

I looked at Kim’s website,, which has many stunning illustrations, including the one above (which may not be reproduced without his permission). For those of you who don’t know already, I’m an Englishwoman married to a Scotsman and living in Scotland. And while I admire Alex Salmond’s political astuteness, I don’t support all his policies. The wit demonstrated by Kim’s depiction of Salmond in a kilt (which he never wears), standing Monroe-like over an air vent decided me. I would approach Kim about doing my book cover.

After an exchange of emails agreeing the business side of things, Kim asked for a copy of the novel. (Having people read it is something I’m going to have to get used to.) Before our first meeting I did some online research about briefing a cover designer. From the many websites by and for indie authors, I gleaned the following advice:

  • Don’t be prescriptive. You choose a designer for his/her creativity, so let them get on with it.
  • Never use the words ‘I like’. A book cover has an important job to do, and personal tastes shouldn’t come into it (so, no turquoise then).

Our first meeting was friendly but business-like. This reminded me a lot of when clients used to brief me to write their website copy, and it felt strange to be on the other side of the process. Kim and I talked about the prominent features of my novel and who I envisage it will most appeal to. We also looked at many examples of book covers, some but not all within the crime fiction genre: ones I feel do their job well and also a few I don’t rate at all. One of the biggest creative challenges facing Kim is to come up with a design which works in wildly differing sizes, from a thumbnail image on a Kindle or tablet to a physical paperback.

Kim has now gone away to do whatever it is he does. Writers all seem to work in different ways; I can’t imagine how an artist approaches his work (maybe I could persuade him to write a guest blog for me on this subject?). However, he followed up our meeting with a note which managed to distill our discussion into a few paragraphs that are spot-on in capturing my aspirations for my first ever book cover. So I know I’m in safe hands.

If you're interested in book-cover design, I recommend a visit to Joel Friedlander's Ebook Cover Design Awards. Below are some book covers which I think are particularly effective. Do you have any favourite book covers? And how much does a book's cover matter to you when you choose to buy it or borrow it from a library?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Facing facts

I’ve been giving my ‘image’ (dictionary definition: ‘the personality presented to the public by a person, organisation, etc’) a lot of thought since I decided to self‑publish No Stranger to Death. Does an author’s image actually matter when readers choose the books they want to buy or borrow from the library?

Some writers regard the results of their labour as ‘art’ rather than a commodity. However, increasing numbers of books are now sold in supermarkets and online at knockdown prices. We may not like it, but books are subject to the same market forces as the proverbial cans of baked beans. Why else are publishers so keen on series rather than standalones? They are relying on brand loyalty, the consumer’s perceived need for reassurance that their next reading experience will be the same as their last. This is happening elsewhere in the creative industries too. Die Hard 6 anyone?

Where does this leave those of us who self-publish? I may not choose to write a series (in fact, No Stranger to Death will have a sequel), but I’d be foolish not to adopt other business techniques to maximise my sales. And this brings me back to the topic of image. Can and should writers create images which may differ from who they really are, in order to sell more books?

Here’s an interesting example of how something as simple as a photograph can be used to present differing faces of a writer. Those of you who have met him will agree that this affable-looking chap is the Michael J Malone, Scottish poet and crime-writer, that we know:

However, in another of a series of photographs by Bob McDevitt Photography, Michael looks rather sterner:

And finally, in this one – which Michael has chosen for his Twitter avatar – he looks positively menacing, the epitome of an author of dark and gritty crime fiction. Which he is, so this image works for him.

In preparation for the publicity I’m hoping to generate around November 5th, when my novel is published, I went to have some professional pictures taken. The header to this blog is one of them. My lovely photographer, Linda Sneddon, had me pose in a graveyard and reproduced some of the shots in monochrome. Despite all this, I must face the fact that I could never look anything other than what I am: a blonde, smiley, middle-aged woman who wears a lot of turquoise.

Pretending to be someone you’re not must be exhausting and is probably doomed to failure, especially in this age of social media. So I’m not going to even try. Phew, one less thing to worry about!