Thursday, September 24, 2009

Designing the Memoir Cover

After I have come to understand, have intuited, as best I can, the person and the message and even the audience of the book, then it is time for me to think about the clothing of the cover. In fact, I do not design the cover until the interior is fully designed and, usually, not until the inside of the book is formatted and has been returned to the author or copyeditor for editing. By then I will have spent enough time with the book, with the person and message, to get a sense of what the clothing should be.

Sometimes the clothing should be strong and bold as the writing inside, even garish. Sometimes the clothing should be quiet and unassuming and yet so beautiful and pristine in its simplicity that it catches the attention of the passing reader who will want to pick it up. When I go into a bookstore, what catches my eye is what responds to the mood I am in when I am in the store. If I am in the mood for something quiet, I gravitate to a cover that is quiet. If I am in the mood for something bold and brash – which is rare – then I lean towards a cover that is something like that.

Often in memoirs the cover image is chosen by the author, or at least there is a sense of what it might be. With the Corcoran memoir, we deliberated on many photographs for the cover. The author absolutely wanted his brother Jack in the photograph, and he wanted one of him coming back from the war. We went through several different renditions of what this would be. We also wanted it to look like a photo album as there were over 60 photographs in the book.

In Vignettes the granddaughter wanted only a picture of the chest where she found the letters. It was very, very simple. The title was not even on the cover, only on the spine, but, because it would be given out only to family, this worked.

For Love Incarnate, the author wanted an image that felt energetically like Jesus to her.

By the time someone finishes reading a book, she or he will have been surrounded not only by the words but also by the cloak of the words – the design, images, and personality of both author and message. There is no formula for designing a book, but when it comes back from the printer, and you hold it in your hands, the initial vision of the author, the initial message, can be felt in this vessel that holds its words. This is the part I love the most!
Robin Brooks, owner of The Beauty of Books, has designed books for Viking Penguin, for the Waldorf Schools of North America, and for many private authors. After 31 years of overall graphic design, Robin shifted her focus last year so that she now only designs books. She designs memoirs, books on spirituality, art, and poetry. For more information or to contact Robin, please see her website.

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  1. These are gorgeous covers and for different reasons. Very interesting post.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. I'm fascinated wtih graphic design, especially because I'm so not good at it. Thanks for this series of posts on book covers. Very informative.

  3. Thanks, Robin. You've put good words to the creative process of book design. And your examples show the range and sensitivity of your designs.

    These posts were interesting and stimulating. Good for The B-RP for hosting this.

    Grapevine Life Stories™

  4. It is important for the cover to reflect the mood and passion of the book itself. It's great to hear the designer talk about the process.

    Straight From Hel

  5. Lovely covers and so nice that the authors had a company to work with that really cared about giving the right reflection of the work. Now and then I see a cover from a large publishing house and wonder if the art department even read the synopsis of the book, let alone the whole thing. :-)

  6. I find the design of books fascinating. I created a biography for my father-in-law earlier this year and the graphic design really made me feel out of my depth. But it was a great challenge and I'm glad I did it. My f-i-l was delighted with it.

  7. It's obvious a lot of thought goes into the cover, as it should. I really like the Corcoran one a lot. It looks very nostalgic.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. Beautiful subject for a post. So much to consider and so care-fully presented. Thank you. Will look forward to reading more like this.

    Peace and all good,


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