Sunday, May 15, 2011

Second-guessing Myself... (or the adventure of book jacket design)

It is early Sunday morning and the house is perfectly still. This was a long week of self-doubt and second-guessing myself.  I’ve been pretty quiet on my blogs, but that has because I have been editing, reworking  and getting “Emily Finds A Dragon” ready to go to the printers... a book Paul and I originally thought we’d have out last fall!

I debated about writing blogging this entry, but a few friends pointed out how helpful it might be to other people going through this process to watch the evolution and emotional turmoil... OK...

This is an 88 page chapter book written by Paul Burns, the same wonderful author with whom I produced Owen and the Dinosaur in 2008.  We work really well together and this project was a lot of fun, but WAY more illustrations than I’d imagined as we started to do the final layout.  Unlike traditional publishing, where the author and illustrator seldom meet, Paul and I were able to have a back and forth collaborative blend on creating this book.  In a few places we took out words to put in a drawing or took out drawings to add in words or even changed a word or two here and there to get it to fit properly around the drawings. One by one I got all of the illustrations drawn,  inked, scanned in and then toned in Photoshop.  I was proud of how it looked!

Then came the book jacket design.

Instant TERROR and Self-doubt!  I can tell if I’ve drawn something badly, but that whole adage about never getting a second chance to make a first impression kept me worried.  Could I design something that would jump out on an overly crowded rack of books at Chapters?  I have experience doing graphic design, but my formal training was in Fine Arts...

Deep Breath.

I knew which illustrations I wanted to use from inside the book, so I went back to the line drawings and coloured them instead of adding grayscale tone... then roughed out the first book cover.

It had the colour scheme I’d been thinking of.... but too much empty space and it looked odd.... so I played with the colour a bit more.

NOPE!  Still too empty!

I remembered that the spine if often the only element that buyers see if the book is in a large rack of other books...  plain colour and words on such a tiny spine was going to be boring... so I began to play with a graphic element on the spine.

NOPE!  The large purple band was a cool colour against the green, but it looked like some kind of weird flashlight beam....  but it made me see that the negative space needed to be filled with something...

a CIRCLE!  You are seeing the purple version here... not the hot pink, angry red or other colours I tried and rejected.  Yes, the circle completed the hug feeling of Emily holding Ember.

At this point on Tuesday afternoon, I had a few versions and a growing sense of panic.  What was I thinking?  I didn’t know JACK about book design!!  Worst of all, one of my daughters had told me that the baby dragon was a “barfy colour!” I printed out a few copies and took them to my Weight Watcher meeting since we were talking about asking for help
 from the right people and support systems.  Purple got rave reviews, but most people agreed that the dragon colour wasn’t very appealing.

Wednesday morning there were no calls to go substitute teach anywhere. Once my family was all off at school, I settled down to change the files from RGB to CMYK on my oldest machine and ran into about 2 hours of problems which would only make this blog more technical.  Needless to say I was ready to cry, so I picked up the phone and called another creative soul that I trust.  She offered great feedback and told me that I needed the 3rd secondary colour, orange, to balance out the green and purple.   She also helped me acknowledge that I needed to ink and colour a new version the cover illustrations by HAND so that I could put in some texture and see the true colours before me.  I am still a bit old school to be as comfortable creating everything digitally in layers as I see with some of the younger gifted artists I know who can work wonders with pixels and tablets to draw right on the screen.

To help bring out the warmer tones, I switched the baby dragon, Ember, closer to the yellow he’d be described as later in the book.  I put on some great music and redrew them to scan in and check.  I also decided to add little dragon footprints down the spine of the book for visual interest.  The photo of me in Tokyo ended up being too blurry to use, so Bethany helps me shoot a new self-portrait that night and get it scanned in.  The company that sold us our last barcode graphic still has a website up to take credit card information, but when I tried to  call to get an answer to a technical question from a real person on Monday, I got a strange Verizon answering message.  No answer to the e-mail I sent, so it is time to find a new company to provide that barcode graphic from my ISBN number.

Thursday morning the phone rings with a job, so I jump in the shower and get into my teacher clothes only to have the job canceled 10 minutes before I go out the door.  This happens sometimes and part of me is really glad to have more time to work on the cover and see how I can fix not being able to export a CMYK .eps with a preview I can see in QuarkXpress.

I try a new cover proof with .tiff versions of the new drawings, despite the annoying white around the illustrations.  Yup... MUCH better for colour.  This is almost there!!!

I buy a new barcode after getting answers from a live person at another company and in less than 20 minutes, the new graphic is placed on the back of the book!  I talk to a prepress angel at the company who will print the book and she offers some suggestions, plus offers to  make a version with a clipping path of the new scans on their newer version of Photoshop if I can stuff the files and FTP them over.

My stuffing software on the oldest computer won’t work on the 8 year old eMac or the new laptop, so I spend 30 minutes trying to find a version that will run on the middle age computer where the files are instead of the baby laptop where I’d have to import them too.

The urge to pull hair returns....

Thanks to the angel at Taylor Printing, I get my trial files with clipping paths by the end of the day to place.  The colours have shifted a bit darker thanks to the difference between our screen calibrations, but since I have the actual drawings to show them as a guide when we submit the final files, they can watch and match it to their press for accuracy.

So... the cover has grown and changed.  My kids don’t think the dragon looks barfy, my friends have kept me sane without bald patches and the only thing left is to take the book cover over to the big bookstore to see how it looks in the stands next to other early chapter books.  That has to wait until this afternoon since Friday was spent teaching before we drove up to Bathurst that night for the North Eastern Regionals for Erin’s Varsity AAA volleyball team to compete in.  They will be one of 4 teams going on to the Provincials next weekend and this book will soon be going to the printers. Woooo Hooooo!


  1. Wow, thank you for sharing all of that. I'm sure I will never look at a book cover the same way again.

    I think the final cover looks great. The hand-drawn, more detailed Emily and dragon look very friendly and inviting.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to record your thought process. Fascinating. I really like the final cover.