Books and Their Covers

I wondered when books started to have ‘art’ printed on the front? I guess in the old days a book was leather bound, because they were valuable and leather was the only viable option. I suppose someone had to invent the idea of paper covers for books and it’s possible that such a thing would have been seen as trivial in the old days. I’ve seen leather covers with embossing and gold leaf on the front but not many, to my mind the Victorians et al preferred a plain and sensible cover. Before purchasing a book they must have read sizeable portions of the book to find out what it was about.

Modern book buying was shorthanded by the clever use of covers to segregate the target audience, and to give the buyers a quick way to sift through a myriad of books. Embossed gold signifying a ‘woman’s book’, menacing objects signifying murder and mayhem, weird spacecraft telling of science-fiction therein. The blurbs tease with ‘Will she ever find true love?’, ‘Can the police unravel the clues in time?’ and on to intrigue the potential reader to dig deep for a purchase.

The cover has become such an important element of a book that it can never be ignored or seen as something to just wrap a book in. E-Books more so – the ‘cover’ is the first hook to sell the book. Segregation of the buyer is less important (because the books are already segregated into ‘mystery’, vampire’ and so on. What matters more than ever is an eye-catching combinations of colours and images. Then the browser can focus onto what the cover is telling

Virtual beings, hot babes, ghosts in the machine and a ‘hook’. Awesome! Or not.
Images purchased from istockphoto

them,accompanied by text that informs and teases.

I sat and thought about this for a while. My own book needs a cover and ‘blurb’. My musings took me through ‘why’ all the way down to ‘how’. A journey of self-discovery and learning was about to commence. As well as writing I paint, so there was an in-built drive to design my own cover. After all, no-one knows what the content of the book is better than me. What followed was almost as hard as writing the book.

I thought of hundreds of possibilities, looked at hundreds of book covers and browsed the book stores. This activity threw up ten good ideas, I set to producing the cover, and….nothing. Not one piece of book-art worthy of publication. And, more importantly, they didn’t tell the reader what the book was about. They were more confusing that illuminating.

Then I had a brainwave on movies. Nowadays movies share the same media platforms as books. In many ways the art of the movie poster with their lurid designs and information on who stars in the movie, who directed it and so on are redundant. But the need to reel in a purchaser remains the same. Movies need art-covers to sell. Enter IMDB, my favourite site after WordPress.

To complete the art-cover story another element appeared in the shape of Piet Mondrian. Always a favourite artist. A Dutchman who worked out how a combination of colours, their size and juxtaposition would be pleasing to the eye. No-one knows why his art is popular, or why it’s so heavily used in the advertising world (look at most make-up boxes and Piet is looking right at you) but he nailed it.

And that looped me back to my book cover. I decided it would have a Mondrian layout complete with primary colours – because a more complex description of the content can be given. From that starting point the rest was a doddle – right up until i bounced off the ‘software barrier’. None of the software I had could handle the layout plus all the ‘lets make a book-cover’ software advertised had a little note hidden at the bottom that showed it was a Photoshop plug-in. Now I’m a dab hand at assembling Ikea furniture (which a friend of mine says is a particular form of insanity) but with Photoshop I can’t get past the first instruction line. The learning curve to use Photoshop is so steep that someone (like myself) who has only a few decades left to live shouldn’t attempt it (IMHO).

A Ghost in the Machine
Image purchased from istockphoto

But the wiles of man know no bounds and with a combination of grit, perseverance, guile and accidental good luck I fooled Microsoft Word into producing the art-work. It’s not exactly what I want but it’s at least good enough to send to a professional as an example of where I’m going with the cover. I think the colours I’ve used are too intense – maybe they need to be more muted?

Once the layout was sorted I searched istockphoto to buy the images I needed. I enjoyed the experience. The photos available are amazing (at amazingly low prices too) and all of the sites were a joy to use. A lesson for all companies that seek to sell services through the web. For my money I can use the images up to 500,000 times on paper or unlimited times electronically. A real bargain I thought.

Another angle of course, a challenge not yet encountered, is the upload criteria: the format, size, numbers of pixels, file size and, I’m sure, a dozen other barriers to getting it on Kindle will arise.

That done I turned to the ‘blurb. I’d produced some as the book progressed but the story had changed somewhat (see blog ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer). Writing the blurb turned out to be as difficult as producing the cover art. I think writers have a particular problem with the blurb, because it’s not writing – it’s marketing. And should be handled by someone who knows what their doing. Being of sound mind – not, I busied away at drafts and scenarios. What emerged is OK, but like the book-art it’s maybe a framework, an idea, an insight into what I want that a professional can shape into something better.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Writing – Tich Tor Ang Tesmur

OK, my book is stuffed full of references to dead actors, real restaurants, real places and it contained lots of Klingon with a smattering of Vulcan.

On the first big rewrite I took out the Klingon and inserted a language I invented (Xhovain) because Klingon and Vulcan are copyrighted.

Tich Tor Ang Tesmur.
Vulcan – Live Long and Prosper

But there were other issues.

So, what did Jambo learn today?

On using real people, names and places

You can use the names of dead actors (like Alan Ladd) but you should refrain from having them do anything bad or disrespectful. There will be  the family of Alan still around to sue you, they may not be able to do so legally but have you got the money to defend a case in America? Me neither. In my book dead actors are used to make Retro-Movies – since this is actually starting to happen (is someone hacking my manuscript?) it may not be long before dead-actors names are copyrighted.

You can use real locations, like Starbucks, because the name is in common usage. Always use it capitalised as Starbucks and not starbucks. For years the  Hoover Company had a team who trawled the media making sure Hoover was always capitalised. If you use a real location do not be derogatory in any way. if you have a lot of action in a specific real place (I have a whole scene set in Georgia Brown’s in Washington – the best southern style cooking north of the Mason-Dixon line) try and get their permission and assure them that your work will be like an advert for their place.

You can reference main landscape points, like The Empire State Building, but there is an ambiguity around whether you can murder a character in there. Since many movies show mayhem in public places it might be OK, but then again the movie producer might have cleared it with management first. Remember that Donald Trump, like all rich people, can be litigious (and rightly so – said Jambo covering his a*se).

I got this information from my friends at Critique Circle. That is a fantastic place for writers – the depth of knowledge about all things written is astonishing. I could have gone to a lawyer but all the ones I know have 3 hands – left hand, right hand and ‘on the other hand’.

So on with the final rewrite and I can keep some of my best scenes thanks to the advice received.

Looking Through My Movies

I started to catalogue my movies. It’s a displacement activity to stop me continually rewriting    my book. I’ve got all the usual ones, the same ones that you have probably. All 5,000 of them (every one bought full price to keep Hollywood Imagegoing – somebody has to do it).


Big Dook

So the catalogue thing isn’t a trivial undertaking.

Then I got bored with that and decided to list the more interesting ones. The ones that scare, repel or make you laugh out loud. And I didn’t include any modern ones because you’ve already seen them twice.

The list is heavy on foreign movies and film-noir. Sometimes both in one package (see Rififi for the first heist movie ever made).

This is the link in case you want to check them out–tDs-k/

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