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  • John Knight

Designing a symbolic book cover the DIY way.


When I decided to take the self-publishing route I was confronted by the need for a front cover. There was no possibility of hiring a professional cover design service. I had to to design my own. The only option was DIY. So, I spent some time studying the table displays in Waterstones and the paperback displays in The Works, ASDA and Tesco. The method I decided on when doing this was to see which single title drew my eyes instantly. This would then serve as the core criteria to help me with a design that would draw potential readers eyes to mine. Of course, there was precious little chance of ending up in Waterstones. Authors like myself without the resources of a publisher behind them stand no realistic chance of finding space in a chain book shop like Waterstones. That in itself is an article for another time. However, if by some chance I got lucky and did find my novel on the bookshelves, I wanted to make sure it stood out like a proverbial sore thumb without disappearing into a jumbled morass. Also, I needed the story line reflected in such a way as to attract readers.

It became clear that whatever I chose to do would have to be striking and vivid. It would also have to be simple given my minimal artistic talents. As Jimmy Mack is a love story with a Sixties Mod scene backdrop I needed to combine elements to reflect the key themes.

Mack and Effy's love affair is as intense as teenage first love can be. Only one colour background field would do to portray this intensity. I chose a vivid red having initially toyed with the idea of golden glows. A red background is emotionally potent conjuring passion, deep desire and love. Red also brings to mind danger, strength, determination, vitality, courage and of course, romance. Then I had to find something that symbolized an all-consuming love affair. Interlocking hearts may be a visual cliche but the steel ones I chose (curtesy of free clip art) projected matching meanings: the strength, steeliness and resilience of the teenagers in adversity. They would not let themselves be easily defeated. No matter what happened they would stick together. In the centre I placed a modified Mod roundel with the inner circle changed to a heart. All this was done with the aid of free software: Photoscape that I'd previously used to modify photographs.

The Mod roundel had it's origins with the Sixties Mod sub-culture. It was adopted by Mods as an ironic icon. It was based on the Battle of Britain RAF fighter roundel idea of 'The Few'. Teenage Mods like to see themselves as different, as 'The Few' who didn't want to be like everyone else in a class ridden society that the UK still was in that decade. Again, the symbolism seemed too irresistible. Not only would the design impact on those who had been involved in Mod sub-culture over past fifty years, it would resonate as symbol of Mack and Effy's defiance and resistance as well as their love for one another.

Text was the final element to consider. Jimmy Mack is to the novel what Hamlet is to the play; central and causal. I won't dwell on the reasons why the title. That's for another time. Mack is James MacKinnon's nickname. There is also the connotation with the song, entirely intentional, since Soul music is integral to the storyline as indeed is the the sub-title. I felt the title needed to be bold and striking. For that reason I chose a strong sans serif block font. Again, there were reasons for choosing white as the font colour. White is generally associated symbolically with goodness and positivity. Solidity of the font indicated strength of character. The use of yellow/gold for other cover text had a symbolic significance too: romance, longing, sexuality, something precious.

A final touch was to include a small image of a Lambretta scooter, an emblematic, iconic Mod vehicle that plays a part in the tale and resonates the Mod element that forms the story's background. Some things are just meant to be at the foot of the cover ensures prospective readers have a final clear guide as to the what the story will be about.

As I've stated I only have minimal artistic ability but perhaps imagination and symbolism has served served me just as well. I would also like to add that the cover design went through quite a number of versions before I settled on this final one.


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EMAIL: johnknightnovelist@gmail.com

FACEBOOK: John Knight @ Jimmy Mack 

TWITTER:  @JKnight_Author

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