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How to Design a Book Jacket: the Evolution of a Cover Design

Posted in book covers, Independent Publishing, Publishing, and publishing with a small press

Beyond the StarlineThere’s really no shortage of information available on the internet for writers and would-be writers to learn about both the art and craft of story creation, independent or traditional publishing options, and what goes in to the preparation of a finished manuscript.

There’s a lot less detail regarding the work that goes into preparing that manuscript for publication as an actual book: a thing someone can browse for in a bookstore, pick up, buy, take home and read. I imagine that’s because these are things many authors never get involved in ~ although I know plenty who would like more creative control over their covers.

I won’t touch on interior book design, typesetting and formatting in this post (perhaps another time) but because I’ve just recently received the proof copy of my debut novel, “Beyond the Starline,” and I’ve had the good fortune ~ actually, it wasn’t good fortune, it was a series of sensible decisions! ~ to have been fairly closely involved in the evolution of my book’s cover, I thought it might be interesting to share some of this with you now.

I wanted a cover that was going to be individual, representative of the book, brandable as part of a trilogy, age appropriate, and legible and good-looking when viewed not only in the hand as a physical book, but also as a tiny wee “icon” on an online store such as Amazon, Kobo, etc.

The guy who handled all of this was Glendon Haddix from Streetlight Graphics. He worked from a spec which involved technical details (cover trim, page numbers and so on) and creative ideas; a synopsis of the story, some basics about the protagonists, and key images that were important.

The first step was to produce a suggestion for the typography on the cover. The primary idea turned out to be this:

Beyond the Starline (1)

I liked the look of that from the outset. But it was quite hard to approve without first seeing something of the artwork and possibly an alternative typography. You might also notice at this stage there was an error in the subtitle. It should have read, “Book One in the Dark Sea Trilogy.”

Glendon responded very quickly, and with complete understanding, to my questions and suggestions. He then produced a rough sketch of the proposed artwork along with three alternatives for the typography.

Version one:

Beyond the Starline prelim Option 1

Version two:

Beyond the Starline prelim Option 1b

…and version three:

Beyond the Starline prelim Option 1c

I decided to go with the original typography. The illustration was heading in the right direction, but one of the characters, Sibelius the sky monkey, appeared too unlike the character I had created in the book. I realize that no illustrator, however talented, will ever reproduce my characters as I have seen them in my own imagination. It is also true that every reader will recreate them differently in her own mind. But I did want them to be broadly correct. The monkey in this stage of illustration was too small and far too cutesy. Sibelius is a roguish, highly intelligent, talking, morally ambiguous character. So I discussed changes with Glendon and he very quickly set to work to produce this:

Beyond the Starline Progress 2

Much, much better! Those of you with an eye for detail will have noticed that the airship has also been moved. There was a reason for this. On enlarging the characters, the airship in its original position only caused confusion and all the attention was drawn to it, as it seemed the protagonists were pointing towards it. We both felt that the new position placed the emphasis on the characters, which was what we wanted. But things were still not quite right. The clothes these two are wearing are simply too military and too “space age.” Also, Glendon had inadvertently turned Sibelius into an ape – no tail! So he happily made some changes and came up with this:

Beyond the Starline Progress 3

We were now happy with the character art and the overall composition, bar one thing. The moon, which is a very important part of the design as it figures so largely in the story, was too heavily obscured by the title, and itself served to render the title quite hard to read, particularly on the scale of the thumbnail. So another iteration came up with this:

Beyond the Starline Proposed - 3

We were both now very happy with the result. The coloring was completed and the final detail added. After this stage, creating the full jacket for the print edition happened very quickly. And here it is:

divider_lineSign up to the Clockwork Press mailing list. You’ll get the first two books in the Dark Sea Trilogy absolutely free in the e-book format of your choice. Crazy, isn’t it? But it’s true.


If you’d rather buy them or just prefer a paperback, the first in the series, Beyond the Starline, is here: Amazon UK   Amazon US   Waterstones  Barnes & Noble  Smashwords  Kobo or ask for it in your library or local independent bookstore and they’ll order it for you.

If you have any questions or comments, I’ll be more than happy to help if I can, or just connect and share experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Leave a comment and share the post on your social media if you’ve found this interesting. That is absolutely the loveliest way to say thank you to a blogger!


Image credits: all images (apart from the book covers of my novels) are in the Public Domain and were sourced via the Creative Commons. Click on the image to reveal the name of the artist and the work in the address bar.


If you’d like to find out more about Glendon’s work and explore his portfolio, hop over to Streetlight Graphics and have a browse.

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