Saturday, June 25, 2011

Case History: The Treasures of Carmelidrium

When author N.R. Williams asked me to design the cover of her fantasy novel, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, the first thing we talked about was the cover image. This is normal; it's what most people think of when they think of book cover design. We talked about Williams' book, about other books that she thought might be attracting the readers she wanted to reach, and about the challenge of adapting one of the fantasy "uniforms"--rich colors, an essentially medieval environment, and a magical feel--to her book. Adding to the challenge was the fact that Williams plans for this to be the first in a series, which meant the cover needed to be something that could be used to create a series identity by modifying key elements without losing the overall look.

Ultimately, we decided to avoid the rich, elaborate, and highly-figured covers common to many fantasy books for the very good reason that by following that formula too closely we ran the risk of disappearing into the crowd. Instead, we opted to use a different "uniform"-- the simple, elegant, "stripped-down" cover design that the "Twilight" series used so successfully, but to incorporate some of the textures from Williams' world as well as a modern flute.

Why the flute? Because her protagonist, Missy, is a concert flautist, a fact which becomes crucial in the development of Williams' story. I don't want to give everything away, but trust me on this--the flute on the cover conveys something central about the book.

Likewise, font choices were driven by the twin needs to reflect something about the book style and content, and to keep the title clearly visible and easily identifiable from browsing distance of 6-8 feet. We went with a font that's been around since the days of woodcuts for the headline, and chose a "signature" font for Williams' author line. By setting the title in a large, traditional, easy-to-read font near the top of the book we kept the ranking clear--title first, then name.

This resulted in an elegant cover that will stand out nicely on the fantasy shelves without looking out of place, and will serve as a basis for future books in the series.
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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design, ask her about designing your book cover, or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.


  1. I agree the title should be clear.
    Also, it's too easy to get similar covers mixed up in a readers mind. Then you run the risk of the reader thinking the book was already read.
    Great job!
    Morgan Mandel

  2. Every time 'The Blood-Red Pencil' posts, I know there will be a concise, to-the-point entry. Thank you.

    This cover is marvelous. I know authors don't always have cover input, and there are some not so good ones out there. I like the thought and stick-to-the-basics you state here.

  3. Nicely put, Barbara--covers should be all about sticking to the basics--nothing that doesn't help sell the book!

  4. Good point about similar covers making for confusion on the shelf, Morgan. What makes for even more confusion is when books are re-published with the latest in cover design--which makes older books pretty much indistinguishable from the newer books. It's frustrating to pick up a book, thinking I have a new one, only to discover that it's "mutton dressed as lamb," so to speak. I understand the need to sell books, and the need to look up-to-date to do it, but really, couldn't there be some sort of distinguishing note or mark? Something like, "Put the book back, Bodie, and back away slowly. You've already read it."

  5. I would pull this book off the shelf based on the cover...

  6. I'm with you, Liza. I think a good cover can attract the reader even before they read the jacket blurb. I tend to gravitate toward books with ornament and painterly artwork - not so much toward photography. Some of that even puts me off. For example, I read The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen entirely because of the gorgeous painting on the cover.

  7. I agree, Dani and Liza--I tend to look for my favorite authors first, and then I go for painterly cover art. Photos don't usually do much for me. I loved the art on the cover of "The Mermaid's Chair" for instance. Something about the cover and the color was simply lovely.

  8. Written simply and tastefully. It’s pleasant to read. Thank u.

  9. I know that rich colors certainly catch my eye when I'm browsing. I didn't quite understand how important cover design was until I had a conversation with an elementary librarian. She won't buy a book with a boring cover, no matter how good it is, because kids select books solely on how the cover looks. She didn't want to spend money on literature that would just sit on the shelf.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.