Monday, 16 December 2019

Guest Post by Samuel Perrett - Senior Fiction Designer – Hachette Children’s Group.

Welcome to the fantastic guest post by Samuel Perrett, who is the Senior fiction designer at Hachette Children’s Group. This post takes a look at the production and design of Bex Hogan's Viper/Venom books. It shows the final choice and the process that is undertaken before the final decision is made about the resulting book cover. This decision can make or break a book, so it is vitally important to get it right. In this case, they have done a brilliant job with the design and production of each book in the series so far. 

 “So… Do You Draw the Pictures?” 

Quite often when I meet people for the first time and they ask what I do, and say “I design children’s books”, the response is usually, “So … do you draw the pictures?”. This is understandable, as often ‘children’s books’ conjures up images of picture books, however, the world of children’s publishing is so broad. Ranging from preschool board books, picture books, and activity books through to illustrated chapter books, middle-grade fiction, young adult epics, and graphic novels. 

The role of the designer is to conceptualise, commission and create; with each book bringing different challenges and requirements. It is a big task to create a book cover because as much as we are told not to, we are all guilty of judging a book by its cover. Not to mention each designer has their own way of working, different processes to visualise their ideas. To help showcase my particular process for designing a cover, I have chosen to focus on the cover for Bex Hogan’s ‘Viper’, which published in April and is the first book in the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series. A thrilling and fast-paced fantasy YA novel, that follows the story the strong and courageous, Marianne. 

Like all projects, I started with a brief from the editor. Which contains information such as the plot, the feel-and-tone of the book and any other stand-out elements. The key themes of the book were; fantasy, adventure, danger, and (a hint of) magic. From that, I created loose ‘thumbnail’ drawings of cover concepts. Thinking about the composition of the image, the structure or hierarchy of the information and how to incorporate the key themes. 

Then some of the thumbnails were worked into concepts. They are still rough and unfinished, but this is part of my process to see how the idea looks when it is more ‘fleshed out’ and less of scribble on the page. 

The first concept showcased an inky dual image of Marianne in the snake’s mouth and was discarded pretty quickly. It is the starting of a narrative-led yet abstract design that had energy and movement with the textured brushstrokes. Even at this rough stage and with some of the details missing, I felt the concept would struggle to carry across the rest of the series and would require too much decoding by the reader to understand the premise of the book. With the cover having such a big pull in shops, and especially online, having an image that requires too much work to understand will never work, particularly when designing for children. 

These two concepts are more worked-up than the first and contain elements that informed the final cover. The artwork is created using some vectors from the image library, Shutterstock, that have been edited and with extra artwork I created. Both of these take a more decorative approach whilst keeping a sense of danger and adventure. 

After presenting these concepts to the editor along with the sales and the marketing teams, I had feedback to have more focus and give a greater sense of fantasy. 

The final concept is the response to that feedback. Having a single snake hissing for focus and giving a sense of danger, wrapping it around the compass to nod towards the journey/adventure. Adding in the sea and the starts to suggest the nautical setting, whilst keeping the visuals very graphic and decorative, so the silver and gold foil that I had planned added to the notion of magic. 

All of the elements were working well together, however, the hierarchy of the title and branding still needed work. In this concept Bex’s name, the series title and the title are holding very similar weighting. It was decided to keep Bex’s name at the top and to lead with the title, rather than the series title. I needed to find lettering to really make the title stand out and be able to echo the key themes of the book. 

This is a selection of the fonts that I looked at (there were plenty more), along with the base font that I started with and then edited for the final cover. Each has a different feel to them; some felt too fussy and they would conflict with the decorative nature of the cover; whilst others were too hard to read when small. The font that I ultimately selected has a slight nod towards being ‘pirate-like’ and is strong and bold. I then edited the letters to have more fluidity and movement and add some extra flourishes. (Such as a subtle ‘fang’ on the ‘R’ to echo the one already on the top of the ‘V’. This is something that can be taken as purely decorative or potentially go unnoticed, but it’s always fun to add a little something extra when the time is right.) 

Once the type was resolved and extra elements like the border were naturally added to balance out of the overall composition, the cover was complete. Thankfully, the author was very happy with the final design and then the cover was revealed. The printed books are finished with gold and silver foil giving them a luxurious shine that really stands out on the shelves. 

As mentioned previously, when designing the first book in a new series, there is always the thought in the back of your head about how the visual language of book one will translate to books two and beyond. With Viper it has such a strong structure that creating the cover for Venom was thankfully pretty straightforward. Keeping the key elements like the compass and the border, my focus was more on finding a way to incorporate all the new elements whilst ensuring the covers look different to each other, but still part of the same family.

So, to round off, do I draw the pictures? Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. More-often-than-not I get the privilege to work with incredibly talented illustrators who are able to bring new worlds and characters to life. But, no matter how the artwork is created, every cover comes the aim to refine the authors' words into one powerful image that can capture the attention and imagination of a reader.

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