Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Evolution of a Cover

Bleak House Books is bringing out my first book, The Immortal Game, in trade paperback this March. I’ve been talking about the activities involved in bringing a reprint like this to market.

One of the obvious ones is developing a new cover. The cover of the first edition looked like this:

I may be biased since I took the photo of the Lewis Chessmen pictured in the foreground, but I always thought the cover had a cool, noirish look and it had the advantage of highlighting the book’s connection to chess.

However, there were some disadvantages, too. One was that it was black and white. Distributors, booksellers and other authors told me repeatedly that books with black and white covers simply do not sell as well as ones with color covers.

The other problem is that, while chess is integral to the story, an interest in or knowledge of chess is not at all critical to enjoying the story—nor is it the only major theme in the book. In fact, bondage and discipline—a topic about as far from chess as I can imagine—is also central to the book. The presence of that theme, among others, argued for incorporating something a little racier than chess pieces.

The Bleak House Approach

Bleak House did something I thought was smart. Since we had signed a three-book contract, they approached the design of the cover from the perspective of the series, rather than just The Immortal Game.

Design work for my second Bleak House book, Candy from Strangers, actually started before The Immortal Game, but the evolution in thinking about the cover for Candy ended up affecting what was done for Immortal. As my editor Alison Jenson put it, “We decided to try a new approach that we can stick with throughout the series, which will help to tie the books together visually. The idea is to use a photographic ‘contact sheet’ layout, changing the images in the contact sheet for each book.”

The first version of the new cover (that was shared with me) looked like this:

I thought it was fabulous—it incorporated the chess theme, but managed to mix in sexier images suggestive of the other themes in the book. And it had an attractive color palette. However, opinionated bastard that I am, I did have a few suggestions. The Bleak House folks were kind enough to listen. Here is an excerpt of the e-mail I sent to Alison:

I think the cover looks great! And I can see how it will work well with Candy, too. I do have one correction to mention and a couple of suggestions

The correction is that August's last name is spelled Riordan, not Reardon. On the suggestions, if you check this large pic of the cover of the popular book Kite Runner, you'll see a little call out with the words, "A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year". We're entitled to do the same with Immortal b/c the Chronicle picked the book in its annual best of the year list.

My other suggestions are pretty small. Symbol-wise, Riordan is the knight on the chess board (and in the story), so it would be nice if one of the photos were a knight—or if we substituted a little knight symbol for the little crown symbol in the middle. I suppose you could even carry that forward to the other books, including the knight somewhere on their covers.

Last, and this is really nit-picky, if the checkerboard pattern were such that the square below my name was green instead of white, it would "snap" out a little better. (I know, vain, vain authors.)
Here is the final version of the cover:

You’ll see that some of my suggestions were incorporated, and perhaps more importantly, the designer selected a different set of photos to intersperse with the chess pictures and stepped the hue of the colors down a notch.

I’m very pleased with the final cover and feel that it really captures the essence of the book. Hopefully potential readers will find it equally enticing.


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