One of the many things that an editor is expected to do is edit the book that they’re in charge of, which I think you may have guessed. One of the many other things, which perhaps isn’t as obvious, is to edit the cover. Of course the author gets a say, in terms of guidelines and starting points, but most of the back and forth with the artist comes from the editor. There’s a balancing act to be performed – we want the most commercial and attractive cover we can create for a book, but everybody’s idea of what that looks like is different. The author, the artist, the Orion art department, Sales, Marketing, other members of the Gollancz team – all have valuable insights and input to provide, but in the end we have to decide on one cover. This can be a lengthy process, but one I hope will be of interest, so with the kind permission of A J Dalton, author of the majestic Empire of the Saviours, and Andreas Rocha, who has provided our lovely cover, here are a few places we went on the journey to our final image. Scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win a proof copy of the book (but you might as well look at the pretty art on the way!).
Adam gave me a few suggestions for style and poses, and the lovely Laura from the Orion Art department went off on a hunt for an illustrator who would capture the feel we were looking for. Andreas came back with some striking samples, so off we went. The initial description:
“Jillan, a young boy of thirteen –fourteen, in gold-inscribed leather armour, kneels on the ground with a bloody sword in front of him, hands blooded. He’s tired, battered and appalled, but essentially strong-minded and defiant. In the background, a cloudy night sky, a range of mountains, a moon and a dragon flying.”
Here are the first roughs that Andreas came back with, and I think you’ll agree he did a very good job of taking mine & Adam’s (rather terse) description and implementing all the elements required.
These were, obviously, roughs, but Adam, Laura and I agreed that Andreas’ style caught some of the feel of the book, and that we had the potential for a very strong image. They were a little dark, however, and there were a few tweaks that I felt were needed before we went for a more finished version. In particular, the colours needed to be brought up a little more – the red of the blood, the gold of the armour, the white of the moon. I also felt that, although we had asked for a defeated Jillan, we had perhaps gone a little too far. There needed to be some indication that he would fight on, that although he was defeated he was not broken. He needed to be lifting the sword, rather than just staring at it, and he needed to be making better eye-contact with the reader. Having fed this not-very-clear information to Andreas, here is what he came back with as the last pass before going for a more finished image:
The addition of the dragon, the feel of defiance, the light on the blade all made the difference. There would be more tweaking, certainly, but we were beginning to work towards an image that everyone would be happy with. Adam pointed out that the runes on the armour seemed to have disappeared, and we had a few more minor points to raise – I felt it needed a bit of lightening of the sky in the background, an indication of sunrise, both to stop the cover being too dark and to demonstrate Jillan’s resilience – but we were on the way.
At this point we were all happy to get Andreas to approve the basic look and form of the cover, and Laura started work on adding the book title, author name and so on.
The typeface didn’t seem quite right on these, but there was a general agreement as to how the text should be positioned. Adam also wanted a bit more movement and menace to the piece, so we toyed with various typefaces, adding lightning, a cape and various other minor tweaks. The dragon had come off – although the image was wonderful, it wasn’t working with the layout of the cover, and it distracted the eye.
At this point, we were all happy enough to get Andreas to go for a final image. You’ll notice that the dragon reappears on this one… we also finally changed the name on the book, as Adam had been asking us to do from the beginning:
This was almost almost there. I still felt that the dragon got lost behind the title, so we agreed to remove it and put it on the spine of the book. A few more minor tweaks, mostly around the lightning and the runes on the armour and we had a cover!
I’ve missed out a bunch of steps during this brief piece as they involved changes that were too incremental to be of interest, or were dull admin stuff – the cover had to be signed off by the Art Meeting, for example, which involved more fiddling with the typeface and the strapline. And I’m not going into the writing, editing and approving of the copy on the back cover. But I hope you’ve found this an interesting look at how we design a cover, and I hope you’re tempted to pick up the book. It’s a great piece of work, and Adam is an author with a long future ahead of him. Please join us in the Empire of the Saviours.
And to make it easy for some of you, I have 5 proof copies of EMPIRE to give away. Tweet me @marcusgipps or comment on the blog with why you deserve a copy, in 140 characters or less! I’ll also throw in another random Gollancz book for each winner, because I’m nice like that.