A Novel Cover Up is a semi-regular feature that looks at how covers are made. Thanks to O'Brien Press, I have been fortunate enough to interview Design Manager Emma Byrne about how she designed the cover for Finding a Voice by Kim Hood - one of the shorlisted titles for the YA Book Prize 2015. Other than the cover, all images in this post are copyrighted to Emma Byrne and used with permission, and can be clicked to enlarge.
Can you tell us about the cover for Finding a Voice? What do you hope it tells readers about the story?
I hope it attracts the reader in an intimate way to the fragile world that Jo inhabits. If it does that, its enough to get the reader in – to discover more.
How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
I had several approaches (see below) but in the end it was felt that the current one was the strongest for the book and the market. The cover is the first two paragraphs of the book. It is a powerful account of Jo’s state of mind, and gives us a glimpse of her world, her fears and vunerability:
One, two, three, four. I started counting the steps as soon as my feet left the drive. At first, walking so quickly I could barely keep count, but counting nonetheless. Pouring all of my consciousness into keeping count, blocking any other thought out. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Opening one finger at a time when I got into the two-syllable numbers to make sure I didn’t lose track of how many steps I had taken.
Keeping count was a kind of habit for me now; each step took me further from my house, where I couldn’t control the chaos, to my place of safety. On the days when I couldn’t cope anymore, I could literally count on this measured trek to bring me to the place where I could let go – if only for a short while.
What were you given to base your ideas on? Did you have a manuscript, or were you given an outline?
I design up to 40 titles a year, so I usually just don’t have time to read all these manuscripts! I had a synopsis, and character descriptions from the editor, but because this was a difficult cover to grasp I actually ended up working with the original manuscript.
What went into creating the Finding a Voice cover? Can you tell us about the process? Who else was involved?
It starts with a synopsis and character descriptions from the assigned editor. I then broaden this into a brief, with some feedback from the sales and marketing team about where they see this placed in the bookshop, and look at similar titles in the genre. I then start to work on some sketches, which can range from pencil doodlings – if for example I’m going to hire an illustrator – to more finished ideas. I present these at a meeting with the sales and marketing team, the publisher and an editor present.
This was one of the most difficult covers I did last year. It was quite a different book from our normal list and there was a huge struggle between what different people within the company felt would work. I felt I could go quite abstract in the approach.
The early jacket sketches all worked around the idea of communication and finding a ‘word’ connection:
I was going to hire an illustrator to draw some extra details around the imagery. Some of these were at a concept level so needed more development, but already there was a strong split in terms of support (particularly the sales team), many supported the fourth Finding A Voice rough above and many thought I should develop the eighth Finding A Voice rough. So I developed No. 8 to a more abstract level:
These were rejected and I was asked to develop the other favoured idea. I did this and added in something completely new.
It was a stock image that I saw when I was looking for something else entirely - the ninth rough above - and it struck me that with the right typography it had a ‘strangled silence’ that might fit Jo’s world. It was also very reminiscent of the opening of the book. There was something about this image that struck a chord with everyone, and when I thought we could add some embossing and other cover finishes we were on the home strait.
What do you like most about this cover?
I think the reduced colour, the offbeat composition, the slight typography, the way its printed all serve the story well.
Thanks so much for your interest and I hope you enjoy the book.
Thank you, Emma, for your great answers. Look at all those early drafts! I think some of them are really interesting - I especially love the sixth and seventh of the first lot, and the seventh of the second lot. But I really like the cover we have now, it really fits those opening first paragraphs! What do you think?
Emma Byrne is the Design Manager at The O’Brien Press. She also works as an artist and illustrator. Recent projects include an illustrated edition of Ulysses.
Be sure to check out Finding a Voice by Kim Hood, which is out now!
Enjoyed this post? Then check out the previous A Novel Cover Up posts.