Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cover Art: A Long Journey into Image: Here's What You Need to Know

Cover Art for Cloud Pharmacy
The great news is that small presses often give poets a great deal of leeway in terms of choosing a cover. The not-so-great news is that small presses often give poets a great deal of leeway in terms of choosing a cover. For each of my four collections of poetry I have spent anywhere from a few days to eight months looking for the right image to represent my work.

There are so many aspects of putting a book together that no one ever talks about in MFA programs or really, anywhere. (Well, I co-teach a class on From Manuscript into Book but that's another story). Once the title is chosen (another conundrum) and the decision on sections or no sections is completed, it's time to look for cover art. This is the way it works for me. Perhaps for some people the cover art comes earlier but I need to have a sense of the book as a whole before I can make much progress.

The title of this photograph is "Hannah Road." This provided a wonderful sense of serendipity as the collection contains several ekphrastic poems on the work of the 19th century woman photographer, Hannah Maynard.

Since this is the time of year of lists -- here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing cover art. The top 11 things you should know.

1. Covers can sell books. An alluring cover can create a buzz concerning the contents inside. Alternatively, an unattractive cover can turn readers away. This is what a bookseller friend told me. This is also part of what makes the choosing so hard.

2. The image needs to interact with words. In other words, where on the image will your book title and name go? Of course the image can be isolated and framed away from the title and author, but this limits the graphic design.

3. Be sure and contact the artist before you fall in love. If you followed The Alchemist's Kitchen blog last March, you know that I did fall in love with an image. There is a Dutch photographer who has become increasingly famous for photographing clouds inside interesting spaces. However, when I wrote asking permission to use his photographs, the answer came back a polite no. When I wrote a second time with all the eloquence I could garner, the answer was the same. This made finding my final image all the harder as I couldn't let go of "my" cloud room.

4. Keep a file of possible cover art. There are several cool ways to do this. If you start a file in Powerpoint you can easily add your book title and name. Try the text in several fonts and in several different arrangements. This will give you a good sense of how well the image works as a book image. I also started a Pinterest page so that I could keep track of possible photographs.

5. Give yourself plenty of time. Most writers I know chose three or four different book covers before they settle on one. Go to museums, to galleries, to coffee shops that curate local art shows, and get acquainted with the art that pulls you in. Try to determine what elements speak to you. For example, I learned that covers that include motion (a bird flying, a group of feathers falling) are extremely compelling.

6. Visit bookstores, libraries, and your own shelves to determine which book covers pull you in and which do not. This will become second nature to you after awhile in the way that when you're shopping for cars all the models on the road begin to catch your eye.

7. Think outside the box. One cover I love is Her Soul Out of Nothing. The beautiful body of a naked woman, her back to the viewer, floats in white space. The image is startling. It fits the contents of the poems wonderfully.

8. Don't be too literal. For my second book, Cures Include Travel, I chose an image of airmail letters floating in space. The sense of travel came across in the aerogrammes and foreign stamps. For Cloud Pharmacy I began by looking at images of apothecary bottles and old pharmacies, but ultimately I wanted something that brought an extra layer of meaning to the poems.

9. Art work alone does not a cover make. For my upcoming collection, Cloud Pharmacy, I worked closely with the designer at White Pine Press to find a font I liked and to place the title within the image. These decisions are essential to the overall look of the book.

10. Remember, there are several superb ways to represent your work visually. At different times in the last few months I had over a dozen works of art that I was seriously considering for Cloud Pharmacy. These included everything from apothecary bottles, to floating clouds, to a woman in a boat. The list goes on. Finally, there are several different representations for the work and no one ultimate star.

11. Try to enjoy the process as much as you can. This is your book! Your love child! Yes, it's nerve wracking but it is also a wonderful gift. You will have a book in the world and you will get to choose which slinky black dress or favorite blue jeans its dressed in. Let your book be something that "feels" like you.

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