Monday 30 July 2012


A new edition of Edith Templeton's classic 1960s novel Gordon is imminent from Penguin, using a lovely Bill Brandt photo.

They're also rereleasing her story collection, The Darts of Cupid, an ebook, with a different Brandt cover:

Penguin have used that image before, for one of the variant editions of Lady Chatterley.

In the US, Gordon looks like this:

This photo, 'Elevator' by Jason Langer, is also used by Penguin UK:

Gordon in the UK used to look like this (this is the Viking hardcover I own):

Unusually, the image was used in the various foreign language editions:

German edition

Spanish edition
The sad thing is, I suspect that it's only get a new edition because of the new interest in bondage/dominance because of those bloody Fifty Shades books.

Speaking of Lawrence, here's a previously undiscovered addition to his back-catalogue:

Thursday 26 July 2012

Purple Yellow Blue

No credits for these as yet, but they're the eye-grabbing new covers for Picador UK's re-releases of some of the B. S. Johnson backlist. See here for their full-on edition of The Unfortunates, the famous unbound book in a box. UPDATE: They're designed by La Boca.

That Trawl cover is so much more appealing than my tacky old Panther edition, which is typically boob-tastic for that publisher and era.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Mira Nameth's Coming of Age Covers

In an attempt to enter the YA market, Virago Modern Classics is releasing the 'Coming of Age' series at the start of August: six hardback classics about growing up, mostly drawn from the Virago backlist. The series has wraparound covers by Swedish-born, NY-based Mira Nameth, who specialises in gorgeous, delicate illustrations full of long, swooping lines and tiny organic details.

I'm looking for images of the full jackets, as I understand that the six join together to form one large mural. In the meantime, here are the six fronts:

Nameth has worked on book covers before: this is her cover for the 2009 Vintage UK edition of Posession:

Monday 16 July 2012


Here's a very nicely designed set of covers for a new trilogy of novels by Michael Stutz, set in the beginnings of the internet age, about "growing up on the computer screen". All three books were released together as a matching set, designed inside and out by Peter Lutjen (interviewed here).

Michael talked about Peter's designs with me. "There's a few things happening in the covers that you might find interesting: the colors that Peter chose for the main titles are the red, green and blue tones of a computer's RGB color display. An ongoing image and refrain in the book concerns a ghostly willow, and I think he captured that atmosphere perfectly--what he did sort of reminds me of the opening credits to the old film Carnival of Souls. He also put another hint at computer technology down around the moony circle at the bottom, if you can catch it--it's a very serious literary book, so he wanted to include a hint of this retro technology without beeing overly 'geeky' about it."

Here are some frames from the opening of Carnival of Souls, as a comparison: black water, vegetation and bright, integrated text...

Monday 9 July 2012

E-Book Cover Design Part Two: The Designer's Perspective [A Guest Post]

[A follow-up to Thursday's post, by Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo, in which they discuss the commissioning and creation of a cover for a book published in electronic form only]

Kindle has not killed the book cover and couldn’t do so if it tried, at least according to Ian Shimkoviak of

The designer, who did the cover for our e-book Tastes Like Human, says that despite the Chicken-Little hype surrounding the rise of e-book technology and its threat to print, the industry’s pros see it as just as another facet added to what they already do. It’s the addition of a side dish, not the elimination of the main course.

A glimpse of the many designs at Ian's site, where he also posts alternative version and unused sketches

We had a chat via email with Ian about the effect e-books are having on his business, both now and in the future. Here are edited excerpts of that conversation:

How much of an impact has the rise of e-books had on your industry?

Not much. We service both traditional houses and self-publishers as well as work closely with Amazon and their publishing programs. Everything needs a face, a package. E-books affected us in as much as we had to familiarize ourselves and start to offer it as a legitimate service to our clients. We have done a handful of e-books for traditional publishers, but we do them all the time for self published authors.

So you don’t view e-books as a threat to your industry?

I think e-books will work alongside printed books and that there is no real competition at this time. There will no doubt be a generation of youngsters who only know e-books, but not in my lifetime. Print is not going anywhere. It may annoy us, affect some day to day here and there, but mainly it will just get assimilated into the larger process of what it means to create a marketable book cover.

Would you approach the design of an e-book cover differently than you would for print only?

The idea that something will be available only as an e-book will change things in as much as there is no back cover or flaps and the file need not be press ready and simply look good on screen.

Aside from that, many people doing e-books will ask that the title type be very big and legible at a small thumbnail size. This is not a critical request in my opinion as most reader devices clearly list the name of the product next to it in a legible font. Most people will probably click on something because the image is strong and enticing rather than the type being massive. So this request I often find naive and irritating as it really sets the tone for a cover that is ugly and obnoxious looking.

I'm not saying that big type is ugly, I'm just saying that if you want something to be readable at a thumbnail size it needs to be bold, blocky and usually a sans serif or a face with very open counters etc. basically you need to start to worry about the last thing you should be worried about as a designer: How your cover will look as a small half-inch image.

What makes a good e-book cover? 

In many ways, I feel that a good e-book cover, in terms of size consideration, just has a powerful image to grab you and that the text becomes a secondary issue. But that’s just me after designing many, many e-books and reading many as well and hearing that phrase [call for large title fonts] repeated like a mantra. They just read on some random website without actually thinking about it.

Sorry for the bitterness but it's a major peeve. Otherwise, the actual design process is the same. You need to read the text, or get familiar with it, research competitive titles, and then start to dive into possible solutions.

What about costs? Do they differ significantly between the two types of covers?

There is an expectation that an e-book cover should cost less to design than a traditional printed cover, but the fact is that the same general amount of energy goes into it – sometimes more. The idea is that since there is no flap and back cover it will take less time, but really a flap and back cover takes little time and not so much energy compared to the creation of a cover.

Does not seeing your work in paper/hardback form lessen work satisfaction? Do you think book designers will be able to wholly embrace e-books in this regard?

No. Never. At least not in our lifetimes. The satisfaction of holding a physical book in your hands after months of work is never going to be matched by seeing a shitty one inch thumbnail of your cover on Amazon.

I think that you will still put the energy into creating an attractive design, but you know that it will never be as pleasing as seeing it come off the press. The joy of applying print treatments and seeing how they come together on a final piece is wonderful. You don't have that and a million other sensory experiences with an e-book cover. Unless you consider looking at miniatures and swiping your finger a great joy in life.

How would you compare the experience of working with self-published e-book authors versus established publishing houses?

Both can be equally annoying and equally smooth and easy to work with. The process is different up front. With self pubs, the author is fully available to you for questions. With traditional pubs you get a lot of up front material like a design brief, a tip sheet about competitive titles, notes form the editors etc. With self pubs the actual book may be poorly edited or lack a real market etc. With traditional publishing that is not so much an issue.

In general there is less pressure with a self publisher for me. I don't second guess myself and often get away with design things I know most publishers would never let me do.

Self pubs can be hard to work with in that they lack the ability to express what they want. A seasoned art director will guide you to a successful cover. A self pub will usually not have a budget for rights managed art or unique photography or other art. A traditional publisher will have a decent budget for this.

Stupid shit happens on both ends of the spectrum.

* * *

Our thanks to Ian Shimkoviak at Book Designers. Ian and fellow book designer Andrew Brozyna talk about book design on their podcasts--give them a listen!

You can check out his handiwork--and ours--by checking out Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys’ Book of Bitingly Funny Lists on Amazon or Smashwords, and at our website:

Thursday 5 July 2012

E-Book Cover Design Part One: The Authors’ Perspective [A Guest Post]

Last year I was talking with writers Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo about book design and how it has changed for e-books, as they were in the progress of publishing an e-book follow-up to their first joint work. They kindly agreed to record the process and write about the experience for this blog. Here, in the first of two posts, Noel and Christopher talk about what's involved in getting a cover for a book that is never printed on paper...

* * *

When it came time to come up with a cover for our newly completed e-book Tastes Like Human, the first thought we had was this: Let’s not get mocked. It was a justified concern. Browsing on Amazon, we came across—and forwarded between us—covers by indie authors that would have looked boring and dated when people were asking, “Hey, have you heard of this new ‘clip-art’ thing the kids are talking about?” (Check out the tag “ebooks: the mocking” here for some prime examples. A favourite: The Jungle Book featuring a cat on the cover that resembles one Noel bought in college to kill mice). 

Our first book, The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death: And Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery was published by Penguin Canada, the cover designed by New York artist Edwin Tse. Not only did Edwin manage to fit that long title onto a trade paperback cover without running out of space at the margins, but he came up with a creative concept based on the book’s content and we were happy with the results. The only request we made—and one I’m sure designers just delight in receiving—is that the font used for our names be changed from black to white to be more readable and bumped up a point size or three.

Countless sites offering tips for e-book authors recommend the DIY approach, calling it an economical and practical route for e-book authors. There are even programmes out there that help authors who may not be Adobe wizards put together their own e-book covers.

But for us even trying the e-book experiment was enough of a leap, never mind taking the electronic equivalent of a photocopier and staples approach to production.

Covers may not seem as significant in the e-book world as they are in print. You can’t place e-books on book cases and around toilets to impress company like you can with traditional books. But when a person is browsing online, covers are still the face of the book and if that face looks like it was created during crafts time at the Getalong Gang Summer camp, then you’re in trouble.

Still we had to keep in mind that despite looking like diamond studs in tuxedos, we were no longer operating under the auspices of Penguin and our pooled resources couldn’t quite be considered on a par with those of a publishing empire.

We first checked out the dozens of online design services tailored specifically to e-book covers. Some of these guys do work for best-selling authors, so are obviously successful at what they do, but the cover designs were predictable—a red pump for a romance or a cigarette smoker in the shadows for a murder mystery. Our book features lists such as the Top 10 Animal-Human Marriages, the Top 10 Horniest Cult Leaders and Etiquette Tips for Meeting the Queen. We weren’t comfortable that it would be the right fit for design services shooting out covers in bulk and then mainly in genre fiction.
So we moved to illustrators whose would work would, we thought, be more personalised and thus a better fit. There are hundreds of freelance illustrators online advertising their work on sites such as We emailed several, with two at the top of our list.

The first was an established illustrator who had done everything from comics to commercial work, even a couple of book covers, though they weren’t his specialty. As experienced as he was, his style was pleasant, cheerful and straightforward, which might or might not have worked well with a title that conjures up cannibalism. So we passed.

Our second choice was a graduating college student whose illustrations were rich, layered and looked ready to go up straight to the printers of a graphic novel house. She undoubtedly could have come up with something stunning for Tastes Like Human and liked the idea, but she had no book cover design experience. It seemed to us that we needed someone who clearly understood what a cover needs to do and the elements involved.

Again we took a step back because we were in frontier land.

She’ll likely be drawing Mickey Mouse fighting zombies for Disney in a few years and won’t recall the exchange anyway.

So we were back where we had begun. During this process, we had looked at more covers than we probably have in any five years’ worth of regular reading, hanging out in libraries and killing time in international airports while refusing to pay outrageous prices for food and beverages. It was while reading up on book covers online that we came across this website, reading several postings and coming to appreciate the craft. This was both through seeing some of the industry’s best at work, and also enjoying the Caustic Cover Critic’s withering takedowns of the industry’s less than creative types.

So we emailed the Caustic Cover Critic, who was, truth be told, downright congenial. And after explaining our dilemma he passed along the names of two designers whose work he recommended and who also, crucially for us, took on indie authors.

We went with Ian Shimkoviak of There was nothing boring about any of Ian’s covers, even the more Spartan ones like the one he did for Alan Cheuse’s To Catch the Lightning. It didn’t hurt that he said the book title and concept were “exactly up my alley”.

Two of Ian's sketches for the To Catch the Lightning cover

We were not disappointed. Ian sent nearly 20 choices, some of them just a basic idea that could be fleshed out, others looked complete. He interpreted the title in all kinds of ways—the unfurling tongue was a favourite as was the pop art-like one of a shark with a human mouth slapped on coming up on a gormless swimmer, and then there  was the bizarre but brilliant one of a dejected-looking fellow in a bird costume.

If we could have had five covers, we would have, but there was one to which we both immediately had the “That’s it!” reaction, the hand with its fingers amputated so that it’s giving the devil’s horns, with the title and subtitle woven in. It had an iconic look to it and would have looked as great on a poster as it would for our purposes.

We undoubtedly tested Ian’s patience with last-minute debates on whether it was the correct style of hand, and we looked at a few color options, but we realized we had our cover.
There was only one change requested: that the font used for our names be bumped up a size or three, of course.

The final cover design

Our thanks to Ian Shimkoviak at Book Designers. You can check out his handiwork, and ours, by checking out Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys’ Book of Bitingly Funny Lists on Amazon or Smashwords and our website:

Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo 

[You can read the Caustic Cover Critic interview with Ian Shimkoviak here.]

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Not Exactly About Full-Sized Real Books

A sequel of sorts to my tiny little record shop: a tiny little second-hand bookshop.

It takes its name from the bookshop in Hitchcock's Vertigo. Click any image to embiggen.

As with the few surviving second-hand bookshops in my part of the world, they have no credit card facilities...