covers#1 – ‘Writing Essays: what you need to know’

In my role as proofreader/editor/formatter, I also design covers for books. One of my favourite things is good design, and, while trying to emulate this, I enjoy the process of nit-picking over tiny details in pursuit of an audaciously beautiful whole.

I don’t like to stick to any one style, although that’s likely to be because I haven’t quite produced a series as of yet (although ‘Writing Essays’#2 is in the pipeline), but I do like to hunt through a text and pull out features to make a design focus, and use it to create something that will suit the tone, style and genre. That’s just good sense. I might sometimes take a metaphor a little further too, because I like the idea that a cover warrants a second look, and I like to reward the reader for their analytical ability. It makes everyone feel a bit cleverer.

My first ever book cover design was a line drawing in 5B pencil on a folded sheet of A4 when I was about 8, having been given a typewriter for my seventh birthday and used it to type out my own version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’. It was of Hansel and Gretel walking through the woods, with bits of bread behind them. (I’ll scan it in at some point). Pretty straight-forward and representative. The next was another line drawing cover for my next 8-year-old picture-book Opus, ‘My Brother Wants To Be A…’, which put my youngrer brother in a series of compromising interesting positions in future career choices (“My brother wants to be a football. But footballs get kicked up, not picked up!”) On the cover, my brother is, I think, that football.

I got bored of writing books then, and moved onto just drawing lettering, then making popups, then making miniature furniture for matchbox houses, and then I got a Commodore 64 and spent the next few years learning how to code in Basic, and then we got a 386 and I went back to writing until School took over.

My next cover was the one for my first proper book, the modestly-titled ‘Writing Essays: what you need to know’. I made this in Photoshop, having forked out a couple of quid for the main image of the face and did the rest from free stock or my own photographs. The title font, mostly altered typewriter keys, is rather my signature. I like fonts. I like typewriters.

The front cover to 'Writng Essays' by L E Jenkinson

So, from a rocky terrain a deepening blue sky, stars appearing, and that all-consuming focus, the MOON, being eyed up by a savvy young thing whom has bought the book. Her healthy glow says it all (or rather, the imagery does). She’s going to do well, and you could too. The font adds what I like to think is a whimsical touch. A turned-over corner demonstrates that I was pleased with my Photoshop abilities that day, and allows visibility for the Key Stages for whom the book is suggested.

During my design process, I allowed myself to take criticism from my friends (Should there be mountains? It looks empty without them, I’ll leave them in. Should I leave them in? Does this corner fold look realistic?), which made the process easier to finalise – something I occasionally find hard to do since the whole process is so enjoyable – once I had their blessing. I tell you, it looks marvellous in full-size, glossy colour.

The back cover also had the full treatment. Having had another delightful friend whom is rather a better salesperson than myself write the blurb, and collected nice quotations from the students and parents I’d used and previewed the book with, the main need was to create a large section to fit it in whilst retaining the tone of the front cover. I settled for a mirror-image, overlaid with a semi-transparent lighter text section, centre-aligned text in the interior’s main font (altogether nice cohesion), and, at the bottom, a plain back section to accommodate the barcode and ISBN on the right. A thumbnail of my educational website’s front page (my ‘shop’ of education, Blackboard Fiction) and the URL itself finished it off – I’m hoping to one day be in the position to have created a ‘brand image’ for myself. More on that another time. Here’s the back:

The back cover to 'Writing Essays' by L E Jenkinson

So. An educational manual/textbook, designed to inspire confidence in classrooms and in independent learners alike.

Next, rather a different fish-kettle. A collection of my own, rather dark, short stories.

The name, ‘Death and Stationery’ had been knocking around in my head for almost as long as the stories themselves had. Almost-tragic tales of magic realism and personal fears, I felt a ragged, symbol-based cover was necessary, in a palette of blacks and greys. In the end, a little colour in the lightning bolts, raindrops, and, on the back cover, a little heart to remind the reader the stories were human, brightened up the darkness.

The shapes on the front were created with a nice set of free Photoshop brushes (stupidly I have lost the link. If anyone recognises them, please email me so I can give them credit) in popular symbols done with a grunge texture fill. I made the heart on the back myself. The font is Baskerville; I wanted a bit of an old-school contrast with the modern shapes – the stories themselves are all about contrasts – although I messed with the spacing to allow for it not to appear too traditional. Here’s the result:

'Death and Stationery', a collection of short stories
The front cover of ‘Death and Stationery’
'Death and Stationery', a collection of short stories by L E Jenkinson
The back cover for ‘Death and Stationery’.

This design was almost fully-formed in my head so didn’t really take long, and to be honest I’d have applied some gradient or grunge to the background if I’d chosen to spend more time on it. As it was, it took about half an hour. I like it for its simplicity. The cloud on the front has movement from the placing of the lightning bolt and raindrops, and from the slightly different tones of grey used for the cloud and lower title. The back simply replicates the front central image, resized to fit the blurb text. The heart makes the whole thing feel better. Overall, there’s a kind of humour about it. It also reminds me of some of the font-focussed covers of the 70s, such as my Dad’s Vonnegut collection, and the covers of Puzo’s The Godfather and Capote’s In Cold Blood by S. Neil Fujita:

(I hear Capote and Fujita argued over the colour of the ‘hatpin’, and finally decided not to match it to the colour of the author text, the purple being a more subtle indicator of dried blood, perhaps the realisation of the cold-blooded ‘act’.)

I have set myself the task of redesigning my favourite covers, just for fun and to learn a few new Photoshop skills. I find inspiration among my own shelves, in my brain, in the texts themselves and here at The Book Cover Archive , a truly marvellous resource that I could (and do) spend far too long a time browsing.

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Where to buy my books? You can buy them in paperback and eBook at Lulu.com, and as Kindle download at Amazon.co.uk .

Try Blackboard Fiction for size: The Bookshop for the English resources and The Publishing Office for self-publishing services.

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