Sunday, April 12, 2009

Judging a Book by Its Cover

When I went looking for someone to create the cover art for my books, I approached a young artist who I hoped would be able to translate my words into a visual representation of the story’s essence. It’s not an easy job to take someone else’s verbal images and turn them into something unique, appealing and meaningful at the same time. I gave the job to Kelly Atkinson (, a graduate of the Sheridan College photography program. This is what Kelly says about the process of producing the covers for Wild Dog Summer, The Legacy and The Toymaker’s Son:

Was it hard to find a barn to photograph for the cover of Wild Dog Summer? How did you find it?

I took random trips around the country photographing several unique and beautiful barns. However, I was determined to find a red one, because I wanted a bold and classic shot for the cover. I remembered an old abandoned barn near a childhood friend's house. So I drove out past the Guelph auto mall where it's located and discovered that it was red and exactly what I had pictured for the cover of Wild Dog Summer. It was a bright and sunny day with blue skies and very few clouds. I got the images I needed right away.

As a photographer, do you picture something in your imagination first and then try to recreate it, or do you let the photographs speak for themselves?

When I am taking pictures I generally go with the flow and trust my instincts. I play around with different angles, compositions, and focuses. However, if I'm taking a photo for the purpose of a cover, I start by reading the book! Once I'm done I write down everything that comes to mind when I think of the story, the theme, the characters etc. From there I draw thumbnail sketches of different concepts that would work for the book's cover. Then I decide which one is the strongest idea, and go out and photograph it. Once I've done that I may or may not enhance it in Photoshop depending on my chosen concept. Sometimes a new idea might spring from another and get better, by building on the original, but for the most part I know exactly how I want the cover to look and should look.

What about typefaces? How hard is it to find just the right one? What do you look for?

I don't find it's very hard to find the right typeface, there are so many out there to choose from. Since I brainstorm after reading the book, many styles, feelings and images come to mind, so I know what look will go along with the cover I have chosen. If the book brings to mind humour, drama, mystery, romance, etc. I will look for a typeface that also reminds me of that. For Wild Dog Summer, for instance, I wanted a typeface that was simple, bold and narrow, because the book deals with very real and serious issues.

What were you trying to express in some of the other covers (The Legacy, The Toymaker's Son)?

For The Legacy I wanted the cover to be 'less is more' to illustrate the beauty of the fiddle and the music it creates. Therefore, I immediately thought of photographing a part of a fiddle, to add to the feeling of intrigue. With a title like The Legacy, I know I was very curious to find out what "the legacy" was. As for the typeface I thought a traditional look was appropriate. For The Toymaker's Son, I wanted again keep up the intrigue for the reader. I wanted it to look cold because the book is set in winter. A big maple tree plays a role in the novel (a very important one too, I felt) so I had this vision of a person's view of one from the ground, looking up.


Readers, what do you think about book covers – not just mine, but book covers in general? Teachers, your input is welcome too. I wonder what would happen if I asked a classroom full of readers to create their own book covers? Kelly and I would love to know what you come up with.

And by the way, that fiddle on the cover of The Legacy is mine, an inheritance from my father-in-law, and over 100 years old. A legacy, indeed! I think Kelly's image captures it perfectly.


  1. Hi Jean:

    Would you be willing to speak to "The Curling News" about the curling book project you are working on? Please reply to:

    Also, FYI, when attempting to click on your website from your Blogger profile page this warning page comes up:

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