Daddy's Christmas Angel

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Creating Art for the Corner Cafe

My guest today is Sherry Wachter, cover designer for The Corner Cafe, an anthology of short stories by 15 authors and an experimental project for BBT Cafe members. 

The Blog Book Tour that started on June 1 is nearing an end. As an artist, the cover of a book is especially important to me. It can make or break a book sale. Because I've followed this book project from the beginning, I know a great deal of thought and consideration went into the creation of The Corner Cafe cover.

You did a marvelous job creating the cover art for The Corner Café, Sherry. How did you come up with your ideas? Can you share a little of the process of a book cover artist from idea to finished product?

Probably every designer approaches book cover design from a slightly different perspective. I sort of fell into design back in the days when you could still do that. Before I became a designer I was a writer and editor for marketing communications departments and firms. Very often writers and designers can end up in a sort of tug-of-war over a piece--as a general rule writers want to use the space for words; designers want to make things beautiful, and as a breed, we tend to like lots of white space. Because of my dual background I've always approached cover design as a unified challenge--I need to create a cover that first, will sell the book, second, reflects the content, style, and era of the story, and third, fits comfortably with other similar books, but is eye-catching and appealing. Everything has to work together. Designing covers for online marketing carries a special set of challenges--for one thing, the cover must be simple and striking enough to be recognizable at very small sizes, and very low resolutions. Those were the general parameters.

When I design book covers I start out by listening, and, if possible, reading some of the manuscript. I listen because often people have a very clear idea of what they'd like to see, and if they don't see it they will always feel a niggling dissatisfaction--or we'll end up doing round after round of revisions. I am a designer. I know what's beautiful. I know what my vision is for a book cover. But when I'm designing a cover for someone else's book that has to be the central point from which I work--that this is not my book. The person who has hired me to produce the cover is the one who needs to be delighted. So--The Corner Cafe was not "my" book. Dani was managing the project, so she was the person I talked to about her vision for the cover. We started out with images--she provided a few photos, and we talked colors, and what the cover needed to include. Then I came up with a few options.

Here's where my designery sneakiness comes into play. I never offer a client a single option. I start out by designing the cover they tell me they want to see. No matter how bad I may think their idea is, I do a cover that reflects what they tell me. I make sure that it won't embarrass them--I balance things out, arrange their elements as pleasingly as I can within their parameters, and I save it. Then I do a second option that is based on their comments, but develops their ideas further, or explores other type options, or another piece of art--something that I think will meet the book's sales and marketing needs in a dynamic way. And then I develop a third option that pushes things even farther--maybe it explores things like specialty inks, or novelty (but appropriate fonts), or a visual pun or joke (if the book's right for it). Basically, this cover just blows the doors off the design.

Option 1: This is where we started. Dani sent me a photo of a "Corner Cafe" window, and we talked about using diner style art. So--the chalk menu board, the neon arrow, and the traditional type. It was a starting point, but it just didn't live up to what I think either of us had envisioned--and one of the challenges of this book was that there are a number of authors, and their names needed to be legible without competing with the title (which didn't reproduce well at online thumbnail sizes).

Option 2: This was closer. The type treatment worked well at thumbnail sizes, and the colors were lovely. But the image wasn't quite right--it was too much bakery, and not enough diner, and the names weren't as readable as we would have liked. This cover is lovely--but just not quite right for this book.


Option 3: Instead of trying to get a diner on the cover, we went with elements that suggest "diner"--the coffee cup, the checkered pattern, the pie on a gingham cloth, and the menu board, enlarged, and with the names set in a bolder font. It works--it says "diner," but with enough subtlety to adapt itself to the variety of diners in the book.

Sometimes the client chooses the fun design. Sometimes they stick with their vision. Sometimes they go for the mid-range design. Most often they pick and choose elements of each, and we come up with a cover that works for marketing, reflects the book, and pleases everybody (except possibly me--but it's not MY book, right?). My job is to give clients what they want--but it's also to show them that they can have far MORE than they are dreaming of. 

Thank you so much, Sherry, for showing us how a cover evolves and how the cover for The Corner Cafe came about. 

I'm excited to be a part of The Corner Cafe with my short story, "A Face in the Window". 


Chuck said...

Really cool story on the creation of the cover. I downloaded this to my Kindle and read it while on vacation. I loved all the stories...fantastic job!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think the final version is perfect!

anarchist said...


Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

A while ago I put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's a collection of short pieces, mostly dark fantasy.

I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog.

If so, please email me: Let me know what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy.

You can download a sample from the ebook's page on Smashwords:

I'm also happy to do interviews, guest posts, or giveaways. Just let me know what you'd prefer.


Shonell Bacon said...

GREAT POST. Love the in-depth detail to the cover designing process. :-D And I may be a tad bit biased, but I love the finished CC book cover!

Marian Allen said...

@Monti and Sherry, I LOVE the post! Fascinating, seeing behind the scenes.

Oh, and anarchist's book, The New Death and others is MASSIVELY good! I read it. :)

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Red Tash said...

I love the cover, but the original was cool, too!

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thanks, Chuck, for downloading The Corner Cafe and for loving all the stories!

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thanks, Alex. Sherry did a great job with the cover.

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thanks for commenting, Shonell. I love the finished cover as well.

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...


Thanks for all your comments! Thanks to Sherry for all the behind the scenes commentary.

Notes Along the Way with Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thanks, Red Tash. There were some great options!

BodieP said...

This was a fun post to do--most of the time the public only sees the end product--it's fun to share the process, and to give the "comps" a little air time. I have many many gigbytes of designs and illustrations that were discarded for a final version.