Two covers – what do you think?

When I put my first book out, there was no easy way of finding a professional cover designer. And I was sure it would disappear without trace anyway, so I decided to do everything on the book myself. Designing and drawing the cover was the bit I enjoyed most.

But I’ve always suspected that people could see the cover was home-made, and always wondered if the book would have done better with something designed by a professional. (One designer said my cover was good, but that it ‘lacked design finish’ – and I think people pick up on that.) So I decided not to do the cover of the new book myself.

If you try to use Google to find people to do anything on your book, you immediately come up against the problem that almost everyone offering their services is almost hilariously lacking in the advertised skills. Fortunately, since my first book, a website called Reedsy has appeared. It vets people before allowing them to offer their services, and gives a guarantee of satisfaction.

Reedsy lets you shortlist five people, and you have to write a proper brief. Then the five bid for the job, and Reedsy handles the payments. Even with this, it’s a hard decision – especially for someone like me, who breaks into a sweat just trying to decide what to have for lunch.

Anyway, I ended up choosing Patrick Knowles, who did the cover for Rivers of London, one of the rare successful funny books. I really like Patrick’s work, because it makes the books feel like a lot of care and skill has gone into them. It’s also completely clear what kind of books they are.

But it turns out that giving feedback on the various stages of a design is a skill at least as difficult to master as actually designing something. If what you’re looking at has the wrong feel for the book, how do you say that in a way that will allow the designer to give it the right feel? Never having done this before, the whole process felt like a protracted disaster to me (again, to put this in perspective, so does lunch). But Patrick seemed to take it all in his stride and see it as just the way it goes. I talked to a friend of a friend who’s an art director for a children’s publisher, and he agreed with Patrick: that’s how covers are. ‘It’s always shit till it’s not,’ he said.

I shared some of the rough designs on Facebook, and then a friend of mine who’s an illustrator said, ‘How about this?’ and posted a quick sketch. I immediately liked it, and so did Patrick, who did his own version. So that was how we ended up with this cover…

I felt a bit guilty though, because this same friend – the great illustrator and recent Australian, Edward ‘Dward’ Ward – had, months before, suggested the title. The book – and, by extension, I – owe him a lot. (E.D. Ward is a genius, as his cut-away technical drawing of a kitten (and its tiny crew) will immediately prove.)

E.D. Ward said he’d like to work up a version of the cover for his portfolio (mainly to distract himself from having moved to Australia). And I like the results an inconvenient amount. Here are two versions of it…

 

What do you think? It would be great to know.

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