In Praise of Book Designers: “We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but often do”

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With more than 400 pieces of writing published, Sylvia Taylor is well-versed in the publishing world. From the inkling of an idea to the finished book, it’s an exciting process even for a seasoned writer. Sylvia joins us with an essay in praise of book designers—specifically the designer of Beckoned by the Sea—and how the package of a book needs to coalesce with the stories contained between the covers.

In Praise of Book Designers by Sylvia Taylor

A good book cover is a lot like a good movie trailer, or a good first date for that matter. An intriguing peek into the heart of the story without giving too much away. Enough energy to excite, enough depth to intrigue, enough symbolism to enchant, enough humanity to engage.

It’s said we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to a real book, we often do. Some readers will be lured by the author, some by the topic, but it’s often the allure of a visionary cover that begins the grand seduction.

Though there are myriad factors that build that first impression, it’s what the cover feels like that matters. Harmony, composition, typeface, colour; all work to infuse a feeling of human connection between the story and reader. Those three fragile covers (front, back and spine) do some pretty heavy lifting: informing, inspiring and entertaining, along with the luring.

Those three fragile covers (front, back and spine) do some pretty heavy lifting: informing, inspiring and entertaining, along with the luring.

Most book Acknowledgements laud the support and expertise of family, friends, coaches, writerly pals, agents, even editors, but rarely do we read about the contributions of designers for book covers and interior layouts. The gifted ones are one part artist, one part engineer, and one part mystic.

First off, I would like to officially announce that Jacqui Thomas, of Heritage House Publishing, is a book design genius, and aficionado of the Author Mind-Meld. If you have any doubt, just take a gander at the cover and interior of my recently released, Beckoned by the Sea: Women at Work on the Cascadia Coast. A thing of beauty and allurement; a movie trailer on a page.

I am happy to say, I had the opportunity for substantial input into the cover and interior design from initial suggestions to final image, tweaking & fiddling, back & forth. With just a wee quibble on the line between sexy and sensual. Jacqui called me several months before the book went to print to ask if I had any ideas or images for the book.

What I suggested was something like: check out Tony Onley’s watercolour paintings of the BC Coast from the 80s. Waving bands of varied blues, greens, whites. Dense, not bright. A female figure. Representational: not literal, not identifiable. Something that shows the heart and spirit of the 24 women and this Cascadia. Something that reveals the ancient symbol of mermaids as the bridge between the land and sea. Something that calls to you.

That was a mighty tall order, and she got it, really got it, and we were all enchanted. And proud. People say they can’t take their eyes off the book. They can hear seagulls, smell the sea, feel the wind. Sense the strength and fragility of it all.

Something calls to them, and they want to answer.

Sylvia Taylor is an award-winning writer, editor, educator, and communications specialist in Metro Vancouver. A past Executive Director and president of the Federation of BC Writers for thirteen years, she is a current director for the Arts Council of Surrey. She consults with authors and entrepreneurs, teaches writing & publishing-related skills, and is a popular conference presenter and contest adjudicator, including the BC Book Prizes for non-fiction in 2014.

With over 400 articles and stories in print, she has edit-coached over 100 book manuscripts and frequently reads from her works at literary events. Her prose and poetry have appeared in anthologies and genre magazines in Canada and the US, and was shortlisted for the CBC National Literary Awards. Heritage House Publishing launched her historical literary memoir, The Fisher Queen: A Deckhand’s Tales of the BC Coast, in 2012. Her second marine-themed non-fiction book with Heritage House, Beckoned by the Sea: Women at Work on the Cascadia Coast, launched in 2017.

 

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