After you’ve written a book, (or while you’re writing it — if you’re that confident that you will finish it) — someone has to design a cover. This wasn’t necessary until the middle of the last century or so. Not because books didn’t have covers but until then books were pretty plain on the outside.
I did it myself, and why not? If you read all the on-line advice about book marketing you’re warned that a bad cover can kill a book and you should hire a professional cover designer. If you don’t, your cover will look like an amateur did it.
Here’s my first idea for a cover. For sure it looks like an amateur did it, and I wasn’t satisfied. So I decided to become a professional cover designer. For this first idea, I found photos depicting the two cars that you really must see to appreciate their presence in the book. (See This Book Is Not About Cars.) I added a Military Intelligence pin and an ASA patch from my own military experience, pulled the empty .30-30 cartridges from my hoard of empty brass (pertinent to a certain scene in the book), the U.S. and Canadian coins depicting Indians from my own collection, the cast bronze bookends which are also mentioned in the story, and the paper currency including some 3rd-series renminbi notes from China. The yellow ribbon is an overlay from a .png file. The DD 398 is real, too. It’s the Statement of Personal History from my own Army enlistment, but I dared to show only the corner of it because the rest is filled in with names and birthdates of my own parents and siblings. (The DD 398 mentioned in the book contains information on the family of one of the characters.)
For the “professional” cover I first searched the internet for a different view of a 1941 Packard. Not a better photo — a more dramatic presentation. That’s when I stumbled onto a set of stunning pictures of the car that made it onto the final cover. But these were high-resolution, obviously professional photographs — in black-and-white. I followed the links to their original web site, NormansGarage.com, found an email address, and sent a request to use the car on a book cover. This kind of query often leads to a dead end. But, mirabile dictu, (Latin for speak of a miracle), I did receive a reply and a positive one. Permission granted, provided Norman, owner of the car, can have a copy of the book. Done!
The original photos appear to be in black-and-white, although I believe they are color shots carefully staged to show no color besides some touches of red on the original car. My next step was to tint the picture. Since gold coins play a minor role in the book, I thought of a gold shift. It looked like a car under a petri dish of beer. Next I tried red, as shown, aiming for a garnet red. I think I did well on the garnet with a value of 1800 on the temperature scale.
But I cropped the photo too closely at first, as in the example here. I thought it would add drama if the car wasn’t quite complete, but instead it looked to me like a mistake and really only made it appear annoying. And the reddish tint seemed confusing considering the book’s title.
Of all colors, blue seems to have the widest range of character and depth. Maybe that’s because we associate a wider range of shades with the color, blue, than we do with any other color. Shades of yellow are often called tan or brown or even green. Green and red each suffer the same confusion. Light red isn’t thought of as red at all. It’s pink. Anyway, I used the color temperature tool in GIMP and replaced the original temperature value of 6500 with 3600 — essentially a random choice.
It was tempting to add too much clutter to the finished cover. Some things are necessary — the bar code with the ISBN, the book’s summary and author photo on the back, the publisher on the spine, and the title and author name on the front along with the one-line slogan. These are necessary elements. For additional features I still wanted some coins, so I settled on two. A cardinal gets only a one-line mention in the story, but I added it to the cover for a splash of color.
The front still had vast vacant black corners. I experimented with a title filling the entire space, as on the red mockup. When I printed a life-size (6″ x 9″) copy of it the title was simply too big. Leaning toward lateral symmetry I centered the title in a smaller font, embellished it in a program called ArtText, and added the two tilted documents that you see in the corners, one a poem and the other a song — both found in the story.
In the book, two main characters exchange letters — love letters of a sort. She sends him poems. He writes her a song. These are the two documents on the cover, tinted, tilted, truncated, incomplete, and underexposed. But they are included in their entirety in the book. (See Poems in C.M.S. and Always Loving You.)
I was delighted to find a photo of the rear of the car at the web site for Norman’s Garage, in the same scale as the head-on view. So I thought: Why not combine them on the cover so that the photos emphasize front-and-back of the book? And there you have it.