The adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ isn’t really true of - well - books, is it?
I know I’m a fairly harsh judge. I’m drawn to buy and read a book by a pretty cover and, likewise, no matter how appealing the story, I’m easily put off by a cover I don’t like the look of so much. Booksellers agree that it’s the same for most readers. When I decided to become an indie author and sought advice from my local, Borzoi Books, in Stow on the Wold, the one thing they said can let down indie or self-published books is a poor cover.
So one of the first decisions I made was to invest in a beautiful jacket for ‘The Keeper of Songs’ and find a freelance designer whose work I admire. I found Heike Schüssler while mooching around on Instagram. She’s designed for the major publishing houses and I immediately recognised some of her jackets, including ‘Reader I Married Him,’ which is on my bookshelves. Appropriately her business is named Judge By My Covers. (https://www.judgebymycovers.com.)
Before starting work on the design for ‘The Keeper of Songs,’ Heike asked me for lots of information, including ‘a detailed brief that reflects my vision for the cover’, descriptions, thought starters and examples of comparison titles in the genre. She also asked for a selection of covers that I love, and examples of what I’d like to avoid.
It’s made me look at book design in a whole new way, asking myself whyI like particular jackets and why I don’t like others.
I recently bought two books, ‘The Smallest Man’, by Frances Quinn, which is about Queen Henrietta Maria, who I wrote about in my novel, Cavalier Queen, and a stunningly beautiful children’s book, ‘The Snow Queen’ by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Laura Barrett, because you’re never too old for a lovely picture book, right? Laura Barrett was inspired by a visit to Copenhagen, where I spent the most wonderful weekend with my four children for my 50th birthday. Her illustrations are all wonderful, including these of 'Alice In Wonderland'.
What these book designs have in common is that they feature silhouettes, which I’ve always found fascinating.
‘The Keeper of Songs’ is set at Chatsworth House and when I visited a few years ago for their Dickensian themed Christmas, there were cut out shadowy figures all along the walk to the entrance. Heike is starting work on my jacket now and we’re agreed that illustrations offer a fresher look than photos, so that’s the way we’re going, with Laura Barrett’s silhouettes! She and Heike know and admire each other’s work so I am can’t wait to see what they come up with. My previous jackets have all been created in house by my publishers so it’s exciting and daunting to be working with designers on this myself.
Meantime, I’ve had to decide whether to publish in hardback or paperback. I did a quick poll on Instagram and paperback won hands down. There was also a post in the Radio 2 Book Club Facebook page asking the same question and again most people prefer paperbacks. There was some fascinating feedback for book lovers, who, it seems mostly don’t like books with film or tv tie-in covers and will buy another copy of a book they already have if it’s got a pretty new cover. But it seems that most prefer paperbacks to hardbacks so that’s my decision made.
I’ve been writing the blurb - a black art - and Heike reminded me that I also need a shout line. I also need to decide if my book is called ‘Keeper of Songs’ or ‘The Keeper of Songs.’ One small word makes a big difference somehow. I’m very grateful to Jane Sanderson who had read and review the book for me. Jane’s wonderful ‘Mix Tape’ was one of my favourite reads of last year and she’s also from Sheffield and worked for the BBC, like me.
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