A Novel Cover Up is a semi-regular feature that looks at how covers are designed. Today I have a double-whammy for you. I have two A Novel Cover Up posts on Night Owls by Jenn Bennett; one for the final cover, and later today, one for the proof cover!
I have been fortunate enough to interview Graphic Designer Leo Nickolls about how he designed the cover for Night Owls. All images in this post are copyrighted to Leo Nickolls and used with permission. They can be clicked to be enlarged.
Can you tell us about the cover for Night Owls? What do you hope it tells readers about the story?
Well, it's a cover for a book about a girl called Bex who meets a boy called Jack on the San Francisco night bus – the owl. A can of gold spray paint in his bag tells her he is the mysterious graffiti artist who has been creating gold words in distinctive spots around the city. That’s a very abbreviated version of the story, but hopefully it explains the cover! The cover (again, hopefully) sets the scene for this story, so its gold graffiti above a san francisco map at night time!
How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
There were various ideas, but all variations on the theme of night and graffiti. Luckily the story was rather easy to make a cover for, I love any chance to a) do a bit of handmade type, and b) have it foiled. Earlier versions were somewhat more ornate, and included the words the boy was spraying around points in the city, but in the end it got (rightly) simplified to how it looks now!
What were you given to base your ideas on? Did you have a manuscript, or were you given an outline?
I was given an outline. I’m usually given an outline on the brief, art directors/editors/sales and marketing will have a clear idea of how they want to market the book before they hand me the brief (although there are times when I’m asked to read and come up with my own ideas). So I was given setting, plot points, age readership and some competing titles.
What went into creating the Night Owls cover? Can you tell us about the process? Who else was involved?
Really it was just a case of sketching in photoshop various letterforms and words until something fit. I forget who it was that said it (possibly Jamie Keenan), but there’s another book cover designer who said designing a cover is often a quite thoughtless process, more meditative than planned. If that makes sense! Quite often designs that I’m pleased with happen by accident (I probably shouldn’t say that, haha).
So the early drafts were the result of researching graffiti styles (with some artistic license taken), the big murals you see on streets rather than tags; things like the little twinkles, using airbrush to accentuate the type and give shade, or making it look like it was the result of spraying through a stencil. I quite like them because I like any chance to go a bit more ornate and illustrated with any design, but in the end I think they were too busy, and the age of the cover just didn't look right. Looking at them now, I also think there's more style than substance too, the final cover sets the scene far better and more succinctly.
What do you like most about this cover?
The printed result is quite attractive I think, nice foil and paper stock. Makes for a nice tactile object!
Were there any other early ideas for the cover? Why didn’t they make it?
They were just a bit too complicated. Plus I think maybe I went too literary with it, they looked like covers for an older audience.
Thank you, Leo, for such great answers!
Leo Nicksolls has been a freelance book cover designer since 2007, working for most of the major publishers along with a handful of independent ones.
So what do you think? I really like the early drafts; they're definitely eye-catching. The first one is my favourite! But I agree that the final cover suits the book a little more.
Be sure to check out Leo’s website! Seriously. It's is full of absolutely incredible covers! There are quite a few that I would love to have prints of; like his covers for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Hush by Sara Marhsall-Ball, The Visitors by Simon Sylvester, Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne, Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday, and so many others (I'd link to them, but the website doesn't allow me to.) Cover designers should get to sell prints of the covers they've designed, it should definitely be a thing.
And when you're done done admiring and gasping in awe, check back later for post on how the cover for the Night Owls proof was created! You can also read my review of Night Owls by Jenn Bennett, which is out now!
Enjoyed this post? Then check out the previous A Novel Cover Up posts.