Covering the Story

The Art of Cover Design (the video you should be seeing above if I got this right) is a cool vid. It’s caused me to reflect on the covers of my own books and how they came to be. If the video reinforces anything, it’s that it’s not a simple process; it’s where art and marketing intersect and communication, creativity, and collaboration are key.

I have to say that with each publisher I’ve worked with, the cover design has, to varying degrees, always been a collaborative process – though the publishing house has final approval, I’m usually asked how I visualize the cover. With the Boy from Willow Bend, I knew I wanted the willow trees but I also wanted the sense of this boy alone in the world. I had the idea of him sitting on the limb overlooking the pond. That’s what I suggested and this TheBoyfromWillowBendbookcover is what the artist commissioned by the U.K. based publisher came up with. I liked it, except the willow trees weren’t quite the willow trees of my childhood, something some Caribbean readers commented on. That cover has sentimental value, as my first, and hangs on my wall.

For the re-issue with Hansib, also in the U.K. but with Caribbean roots, the cover idea was similar but the mood was less dark. I love that Antiguan artist Heather Doram got to work on it (she’d been recommended by me for Dancing Nude in the Moonlight and came up with some amorous silhouettes that I absolutely loved which hang framed on my wall but which the publisher felt, I think, were too adult for the young adult market). She came up with several concepts for re-issue of The Boy from Willow Bend. One was just the alley, one was Tanty in the doorway – that one hangs in my house as well, because I like the tension in both Tanty and Vere’s bodies; plus I love having one with Tanty in it although she’s slimmer than I remember my own Tanty being. Ultimately we went with the same lonely boy at the pond cover albeit one awash with natural light and the colours of the Caribbean. The Boy from Willow Bend - COVER.p65 I especially love how the water looks and the sun. The willow trees still weren’t quite like I remembered but Vere seemed more a boy than a young man and folks responded really well to it…in a way that they never really took to the Dancing Nude cover (which attempts to capture an actual moment from the book)…I knew I was right about Heather. When I get it together enough to reissue Dancing Nude, I’m going to use one of her covers, one of the ones hanging on my wall, because they capture the romance and rhythm of the story in a beautiful way.

For Oh Gad! I was again consulted by the folks at Strebor and enjoyed a back and forth with the cover designer at Marion Designs, who like the publisher was based in the U.S. Initially, because of the Oh Gad! and what it symbolizes, I wanted to have an actual coal pot on the cover, but I also wanted Nikki’s cat eyes. The result was a bit too busy and dark …and confusing. So we scaled things back and decided to focus on the eyes. We were going to have the island somehow reflected in her eyes but the designer nixed that as well in the interest of a simpler, cleaner design. Good call.

Oh Gad cover

I think it turned out pretty eye catching. The cover is one of the things people have complemented more so I would say than any of my previous covers. People have, also, asked me about the eyes, after all Nikki’s a sister and sisters don’t have eyes like that. Well, in my world, I’ve known sisters with eyes like Nikki and this stand out feature was one of her stand out features, part of the familial link on her father’s side. Plus it looked good; the effect, the colours of sunset, the font, everything excited me. It’s amazing how just switching up the colours changes things.

My upcoming book is a children’s book, it’s a picture book and writing it was a very visual experience. I had all these images I used as inspiration and reference. The internet was my friend. I recommended several Caribbean artists and a couple of European artists were recommended to me by the UK based publisher; eventually we agreed on Antiguan artist Zavian Archibald; and the story plus my image prompts (requested and sent to the publisher) and her imagining and skill helped shape the visuals of the story and the cover.

A portion of the cover.

A portion of the cover.

There was back and forth, with the editor as middle woman, as Zavian drew and I gave feedback and the book became more fully realized. I’m excited with the result. When it comes out, you’ll have to let me know what you think.

Cover design is one of the skills incidentally I’ve tried to integrate into the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize in the past when I asked artists to capture the essence of the story in a single image. I may revisit this challenge again in future Wadadli Pens because as the video and my experiences illustrate, it takes skill and creativity and is an integral part of the publishing process.