Redesigning Book Covers
by Joel Friedlander
A regular part of the book-design business is redesigning covers for books that have already been published. This happens more often than you might think, because there are a lot of reasons a publisher might decide to put a new cover on a book.
• The publisher discovers that the book was aimed at the wrong market.
• A new edition offers the chance to relaunch the book, generating more interest and sales.
• Sales demonstrate that the book has broader appeal than anticipated.
• The publisher has become more savvy about positioning and marketing the book
(this tends to happen most often with self-publishers).
Whatever the reason or reasons, reissuing a book often triggers a cover redesign, and cover redesign is, of course, necessary if the reissued book will have a new title.
Recently I was engaged to redesign two book covers. These two projects involved vastly different motivations. One took quite a bit of time; the other was relatively quick.
Polishing a Concept
Sky Full of Dreams, written and published by Austin Bruce Hallock, is a biography of the author’s father, Bruce K. Hallock, an innovator in aviation engineering.
Although Austin was satisfied with the interior of his book, he realized that his efforts to create a cover by himself were falling short. He had all the elements he wanted to use, but they didn’t seem to be coming together properly. Many self-publishers confront this problem and don’t have any idea how to solve it.
In general, and especially when amateurs create book covers, problems occur because:
• The person who created the cover didn’t realize that there’s a difference between display type and
text type, and that text typefaces will never have the impact that display typefaces will. Or the person
lacks the skill to create typography that would stand out on the cover.
• The creator of the cover couldn’t commit to one element that would dominate it. Using lots of bits and
pieces, each of equal importance or having the same graphic emphasis, is a sure way to create a
boring and unmemorable book cover.
•The cover was created without benefit of graphics software or the skills necessary to create the
effects admired on other book covers, and the attempts to imitate those effects fell far short.
•The person who did the cover didn’t realize that it has to be readable and recognizable at even the
very small sizes used in book catalog listings and online retail sites.
In this case, the author wanted to retain the general idea for his original cover, and he wanted me just to make it look better. This was an interesting challenge, since the only elements I would be able to add were ones that would make the cover look more professional. I couldn’t produce any new design concepts.
The first element I concentrated on was the title typography, replacing the original Americana with Candara Bold, at a much tighter and more emphatic setting. I then adjusted the colors to add more depth, replacing the bright blue of the author’s version with a gradient that would be reminiscent of an early night sky. I also pulled the large photo in a bit from the edges, since it felt a bit claustrophobic, and added a white keyline. The rest of the changes were purely typographic.
The version I submitted for approval differed in one respect from the final cover you see here: I had added some “stars” to the night sky, but the author asked me to remove them.
The author was very pleased with the result. Note that this is a two-color cover, almost an anomaly in this age of digital printing and standard four-color process covers. But I think it works well for the intended purpose. The whole idea here was to keep the spirit of the original design but kick it up a notch in terms of sophistication, impact, and polish.
Reinventing for a Revised Edition
The second example is quite different. Edward Morler, a psychologist and the author of several books that have won multiple awards, was getting ready to issue a revised third edition of one of these books—Finally Growing Up—but he was vaguely unsatisfied with the original cover.
Since he had also decided to change the title of the book to Leading an Empowered Life to reflect the direction of the new edition more accurately, he contacted me about redesigning the cover from scratch.
After spending some time looking through the book and thinking about the new title, I came up with several concepts and worked through them with the author.
It seemed to me that the most powerful word in the new title was empowered. I wanted to show the transformative power of the ideas in the book, and somehow imply the changes a person could experience by adopting the author’s ideas.
Also, I wanted a clean and refined look for the book, which would now have the imprimatur of three separate book awards on the back cover, although only two appear on the front cover.
Using an image from iStockphoto.com, I created a design that both expresses the empowerment promised by the title, and draws the viewer in by its intense interaction with another human who is looking right back. I chose a simple color scheme to maintain the impact of the title and photo.
The project got more complicated when the author added a tagline. Because I wanted to keep the basic interaction between viewer and cover as unimpeded as possible, I ran the new tagline right into the photo to integrate it into the overall design.
Everything on this cover, including the powerful implied “cross” pattern created by the intersection of the horizontal photo and the gray bars at the top and bottom, is designed to lead the focus of attention through the title and on to the face of the man in the photo.
It’s interesting to compare the use of stock photography on these two covers, and the overall impact of each cover.
Edward Morler was very happy with the end result, feeling that his book now has the “pro look” that will help him take his message to an even wider audience.
Joel Friedlander, an award-winning book designer, is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA, and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion. He blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com.