How an author collaborates with a designer

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. A strong start, a solid game plan and the knowledge you trained hard for this. Then the struggles begin, you lose heart and wonder what on earth made you think this was a good idea. You slog on, swearing to yourself this is the last time, until you see the finish line.* (*Full disclosure – I have never run a marathon, nor do I plan to do so.)

My finish line has no applauding crowds, medals or champagne (well, perhaps the odd bottle of fizz), but it does have JD Smith Design.

Beatrice Stubbs book spines

Jane always delivers. We were friends long before I hired her to create my first book cover. She is a pro with the highest standards. When embarking on a historical fiction novel, I was nervous, but I knew she would make the book look exactly as it should.

The Brief

As a professional designer, Jane hasn’t got time to read the book or even a lengthy synopsis. So I browse similar books in the genre and study what makes them distinctive. Then I search for images I think might work for my particular novel and attach them to the brief. Here are my notes for SALT of the EARTH.

In a nutshell, it’s a romance set against a medical breakthrough. Three country doctors solve a health issue which plagued Switzerland for centuries: hypothyroidism, manifested by goitres and underdevelopment in utero. Adding iodine to table salt eradicated the condition within a few years.

Concept 1: A simple landscape, denoting genres and referencing the Alps – mountain and valley leading the eye towards it. Faded rather than bright colours. Perhaps a figure in the foreground – little country doctor facing a metaphorical mountain – vague enough to be any one of the main characters.

Concept 2: The thyroid gland is often called the butterfly in the throat. My idea is to combine two images, eg, a salt spoon as the thorax of the butterfly. The background – something historical, like a non-distracting faded map or photograph?

The Initial Designs

Early designs for SALT of the EARTH

Every single cover she suggested was fantastic. But I couldn’t choose them all, so looked hard at what each design said to me. A had all the right colours, the right font and a romantic tone, as if a poet or philosopher sought solace in nature. B hinted at high altitudes and mountain climbing. I immediately loved C, my vague concept brought to life. The same beautiful image in D framed by darkness suggested medieval botany, indoors not out.

Here’s my reply with gushing expunged.

The central concept of C, butterfly and salt spoon in the middle.

Background the top two-thirds of A, title top and author name bottom in those fonts. More fading like C’s mountains. The tonal elements of A are so beautiful and state clearly this is historical fiction. It means cutting out the guy and the windy grasses, but that would work perfectly as a hint of valley/mountains.

The butterfly – could it be violet/purple? Iodine as an element is violet, plus the colours of the background in A are lilac, dusty pink which work with the sepia brown mountains and wooden spoon.

Design Refined

Refined designs for SALT of the EARTH

This shows the brilliance of a great designer. The texture of the background, framing of the central image with mountainsides mirroring wings, exactly the colour I wanted and it looks great even at thumbnail size. Something still bothered me – the central image had to be as clean as possible. Therefore the frame in C2 had to go, as did the strapline I wanted. Plus lift it just a touch so the spoon indicates rather than touches the mountain. Obsessive, me?

The Final

SALT of the EARTH final cover

This exceeds what I expected. Only now do I see an imago emerging from its past. This cover attracts more compliments than any other. Thank you, Jane.

If you’d like to see more of Jane’s work, check out her design gallery. And if you like mountains, baking and cakes, her new book The Great Adventure Baker is available now.

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