How to judge the perfect cover for a book

‘I wanted to create something simple and striking, a subtle and neat riff on the title’: Lucy Caldwell discusses the cover of Multitudes with its designer, Luke Bird

Lucy Caldwell: I was dreading an anodyne image of a young girl in a pinafore, staring wistfully into the middle distance against a blurred backdrop… But the cover is so fresh and bold and vibrant, and has such pedigree – it immediately made me think of the iconic playtext for Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers and other mid-century Faber classics

Lucy Caldwell: I was dreading an anodyne image of a young girl in a pinafore, staring wistfully into the middle distance against a blurred backdrop… But the cover is so fresh and bold and vibrant, and has such pedigree – it immediately made me think of the iconic playtext for Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers and other mid-century Faber classics

 

I love the cover of Multitudes. I loved it from the first moment I saw it. It was so unexpected – the stories are all about, or narrated by, girls and young women, and I was dreading an anodyne image of a young girl in a pinafore, staring wistfully into the middle distance against a blurred backdrop… But the cover is so fresh and bold and vibrant, and has such pedigree – it immediately made me think of the iconic playtext for Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers and other mid-century Faber classics. Did you go back to the Faber archives when you were designing it?

So glad you like it, Lucy. Getting a positive response from an author means a lot to any designer.

You say you found it unexpected, and I think that’s good. Ultimately, it needs to stand out from the competition – which, in literary fiction, seems ever more bold and design-led – and entice a buyer.

Though we could easily have used a photograph as part of this jacket, I was pleased when the editor, Angus, gave us a different brief to explore a graphic approach. It needed to look like a really grown-up literary collection, and the idea of using Faber’s iconic jackets of yesteryear as inspiration was mentioned at this stage, too. Harking back to those legendary books, visually, would show just how serious we were about Multitudes as a collection. If we’ve got anywhere near the triumph that is Berthold Wolpe’s 1972 cover for Jumpers, then I’d be very happy.

It’s no coincidence that we’ve used a very similar typeface to the one which Wolpe used on Jumpers. For me, the typeface almost has a nostalgic quality, and I didn’t think that’d be wrong for Multitudes. It’s bold and clear, but somehow familiar. And, as is evident on Jumpers, its characters seem to really suit being framed by blocks of graphic/colour.

I’m intrigued by how a designer captures the spirit of the book and represents that to the world… What was the editor’s brief to you? And do you work from the title, or do you read all of the stories, or some of them, or do you just read key paragraphs?

It isn’t possible to read the whole book in every case, unfortunately, but we do always try. For obvious reasons, it’s really hard to get under the skin of the book and design an original cover in response, if you haven’t read any of it. As Angus’s brief suggested using a graphic device to illustrate the overriding theme of the stories, rather than one story in particular (as is often the way on briefs for story collections) it was important to me that I read as much of the collection as I could.

I came up with the idea of using a sort of pattern consisting of various repeated graphic shapes for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to create something simple and striking, like Wolpe did so often when he was in charge of Faber’s art for nearly 35 years. Secondly, I thought it could be a subtle and neat riff on the title. And, happily, the idea then emerged of the blue triangles (count them) picking up on the collection’s subtitle.

Several people have commented to me that the cover is great because it’s “very Instagrammable”. Is cover design shifting from – say – needing to please key book-buyers, to something that will stand out when idly scrolling online? I suppose this is a clumsy way of asking about trends in cover design, and who you’re designing for?

Excellent! It’s always good to have something Instagrammed! I’m not sure, to be honest, whether cover design is shifting away from needing to please key book buyers. I would say that because of the way we digest media so readily these days – Instagram being a prime example – the market is changing. I would argue that they are becoming a little more design savvy and, in some ways, more visually conscious of their surroundings. Key retailers and book buyers are still our primary goal though. The designer of a book cover shouldn’t ever forget that its main job, aside from capturing the spirit of the book and pleasing the author, is to get the book into the hands of as many readers as possible.

There has certainly been a change in cover design in recent years, though. The advent of eBooks and other digital media means that a book jacket has to perform different tasks and reach people in different ways. Among other considerations, for instance, the book needs to look good as a tiny thumbnail on a smartphone, or even in black and white on an e-reader. Conversely, the physical book needs to try twice as hard to entice a reader. We see a lot more print finishes used these days, as the physical book evolves into a must-have object. On the jacket of Multitudes, we used a lovely uncoated stock, embossing on the typography, and three special Pantone inks.

I haven’t yet seen it, but I hear from my editor that the paperback cover is very different, but similarly brilliant. How do you set about reimagining a cover for paperback publication? What are the main considerations? (And can we have a sneak preview?)

Paperback publication is a whole different world. There are often more retailers to please, and more expectation of high-volume sales. The covers, though, are briefed in much the same way as an original edition. There is a dedicated paperbacks team here, who work with the original editor to produce the best possible edition. Very unusually, during briefing for the Multitudes paperback, someone in the Paperbacks team here suggested using an image which they had seen online which they felt captured the spirit of the book perfectly. Because it also raised the possibility of a photographic approach, which is potentially more accessible, it can and should open the collection out to new readers. No sneak peeks quite yet I’m afraid. We’d hope to show something soon, once the latest round of roughs has been refined.

Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell (Faber, £12.99) is this month’s Irish Times Book Club selection, which we shall be exploring in a series of articles and essays. The series will culminate in a live event, a public reading by the author and an interview by Laura Slattery at the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin, on Thursday, September 15th, at 7pm, which will recorded and released as a podcast on September 30th

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