A Novel Cover Up is a semi-regular feature that looks at how covers are made. Thanks to Vertebrate Publishing, I have been fortunate enough to interview Creative Director Nathan Ryder on how he designed the cover for Here Be Dragons by Sarah Mussi. All images in this post are copyrighted to Nathan and used with permission. They can be clicked to be enlarged.
Can you tell us about the cover for Here Be Dragons? What do you hope it tells readers about the story?
I knew from an early stage that I wanted to have something abstract as the basis for the cover (the dragon skin) and then build on it. I hope it signals to the reader that this is fantasy fiction and of course, the dragon skin is red, matching that of the Red Dragon of Wales, which is central to the plot. The white text, in contrast, represents the White Dragon – which also plays a major role in the book. There is also a little motif in the design – the footprints with a swirl in the heel. Whilst a potential reader won’t know the significance of these initially, once they’re into the book, hopefully, they’ll have another look at the cover and make the connections. This is also a love story – hence the love heart in the word dragon. The descender of the ‘g’ (the curly bit) is a stylistic dragon tail. I have deliberately avoided making the cover too ‘signposted’; this is a book about myths and legends after all. Ultimately, I hope the cover intrigues a reader and makes them want to read the book.
How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
The starting point for me was the word ‘dragon’, and to begin with, I began drawing geometric patterns to represent scales. However, I decided they looked too much like fish scales! At that point, I produced some other visuals. As with all the covers I design, there is a visual brainstorming stage – during which I sketch ideas or, in this case, work directly on screen. As dragons aren’t real, I started looking for images of lizard skin and then later iguana skin once I realised this had the texture I had in mind. I searched various image libraries and websites for something I knew I could manipulate into what was in my mind’s eye. I also started looking at possible font combinations but actually ended up hand drawing the lettering in Illustrator because I felt the fonts were too ‘regimented’, even the ‘grunge’ fonts. I wanted the text to be freer and ‘scratchier’ and individual; I didn’t want to see the font used elsewhere.
What were you given to base your ideas on? Did you have a manuscript, or were you given an outline?
I read the first few chapters of Here be Dragons to get a feel for Sarah’s writing and I also talked at length with the editor about the book’s plot. We discussed significant elements within the book and then I had some time to think about how I could incorporate some of these into the cover design.
What went into creating the Here Be Dragons cover? Can you tell us about the process? Who else was involved?
As I mentioned previously, there was a visual stage where I produced probably fifteen different covers. I shortlisted six covers to present to Sarah and see which one she wanted to go with.
Sarah then showed these options to one of her classes (she’s an English teacher) and they chose their favourite – this was the one Sarah went with. Initially, the one the students chose was not my favourite, but there’s no point having a focus group, if you don’t listen to them – particularly when they are the target audience! In hindsight, I think the kids made the right decision; it was the strongest cover.
What do you like most about this cover?
I like the mythical feel of it. There is no ‘picture’; it’s semi-abstract and yet it’s expressive – slightly sinister in fact. It hopefully demands attention and encourages a reader to pick up the book and explore it. Once they have started to read it, hopefully the cover’s symbolism will become apparent to them. I also like the red block foil. I think it’s used subtly on the cover and spine to emphasize certain elements without being too garish.
What are you thinking for the sequels in the Snowdonia Chronicles series? Is there a theme? Have you started working on them yet?
I have some ideas but they’re a secret at the moment! Besides, I need to get a good feel for the next book before I start putting ideas into practice.
Thank you, Nathan, for such a great interview!
Nathan Ryder is an award-winning designer and currently the Creative Director at Vertebrate Publishing. He has worked as a graphic designer since leaving university in 1994. He is passionate about good design and loves any opportunity to get his crayons out.
What do you think of the final cover? And the early drafts? I think I personally prefer the top two; I love the idea of the dragon scales, but I prefer the font on the top right cover, but I'm also really intrigued by the misty first cover, it's so mysterious! But I think the final cover is really eye catching and will get readers picking it up. What do you think?
Be sure to check out Here Be Dragons by Sarah Mussi, which is out now!
Enjoyed this post? Then check out the previous A Novel Cover Up posts.