Collaborative Book Cover Design
For the last six months I've been grateful to Echo Publishing for understanding my novel Le Chateau and taking a chance on me. Modern publishing is famously risk averse, which makes me doubly grateful. Echo really does care about Australian writing and Australian stories. They seek to discover and build new and different voices in the conversation of the nation.
The act of writing is very isolated and internal – contrasting with the road to publication, post contract signing – which in my experience has been communal and consultative. I've been kept in the loop every step of the way. One of the most pleasing consultations concerned the cover design. Echo has a team of wonderful designers and Echo covers have won many awards. I really liked the covers for Echo titles Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic and Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla. They were both different styles but both captured and added to the stories they represented so well.
Angela Meyer, my commissioning editor, asked me for my thoughts regarding the cover design. I was thrilled by this indication of collaboration and respect for the author's opinion. I gave it great thought and had a lot of fun searching the web for evocative photos and images explaining my ideas. I concluded my supporting document saying I really did not think a photo of a heroine would work well for my book. I sent it off and Angela was happy with my ideas.
About a month later I received an email from Angela asking me what colour hair my heroine Charlotte had. I had visions of a very specific, nothing-left-to-the-reader's-imagination face on the cover. I started to get worried, thinking this would not suit my gothic novel. A little while later I received another email saying that the noted graphic designer Alissa Dinallo, had been given the Le Chateau job. She'd come up with eight designs. Echo had chosen their favourites but wanted me to choose mine and see if we were on the same page. I was both excited and scared opening the attachment. But when I started scrolling through the pages of designs I saw the scope of Alissa's talent, the breadth of her thought, the fact that she had clearly read my book and understood it fully. I relaxed then, I knew my baby, Le Chateau, was in very safe, caring, and talented hands. I made my selection for various reasons and after doing a select vox pop of family, writer and reader friends. It was then that I realised how very subjective cover design is. To be fair most of the people I asked in my small poll had not read my book. Only some of the writer friends had. There were clear favourites and people passionately defended their choices and made convincing arguments as well as critiques of the other covers. I started to be glad that, ultimately, it was Echo's call. There was one that was my clear favourite: it was just so painterly, almost like a dark Vermeer, or even a closeup on Monet's bluest and blackest Giverny Water Lilies. It was gutsy, beautiful and really understood the character of Charlotte and where she drew her strength from. I hoped for that cover but deferred to Echo's expertise and awaited the decision.
I held my breath when opening the final cover document and saw it was the mysterious, painterly one of Charlotte submerged, face visible but not completely distinct, leaving the reader to finalise it fully after reading the book.
To me that is the mark of a great cover, one that engages with both the novel and the reader to use the power of suggestion and to leave the rest for the reader to fill in with their own subjective tastes, feelings, and predispositions. Thank you, Alissa Dinallo, for your mysterious and evocative cover design conjuring elements of Charlotte’s journey. Thank you to Angela Meyer and Echo Publishing for involving me in the cover design and selection process. It was an honour, an education and a privilege and I cannot wait to do it again.