The publishing world has long recognized the link between a book’s cover image and its genre. A quick glance at Derek Murphy’s compilation of “cliché book covers” will obliterate any doubts. There are no shortage of dragons to grace the covers of fantasy or shadowy figures for mysteries. People have come to accept and expect these trends. And now, so have computers.
Sleeping in My Jeans is the story of one sixteen-year-old Mattie Rollins who abruptly finds herself homeless with her mother and six-year-old sister, Meg. Though handling the pressures of school, a social life, and watching over her sister while their mother looks for an apartment are tough, nothing’s as bad as when Mattie’s mom turns up missing. A thrilling account of one girl’s struggle to keep herself and her family together, Sleeping in My Jeans is more than just a suspenseful YA novel. It brings up a host of legitimate issues that real children like Mattie face every single day in places like Eugene, OR, where the story is set.
Of course, every book provides its own set of challenges, but a book like 50 Hikes is in many ways new territory for Ooligan Press. We’ve had to rethink a lot of our standard strategies to establish a workable plan for making and selling this book. Our editing team has done an admirable job of figuring out how to deal with content provided by a group of volunteers rather than a single author. Our marketing department, meanwhile, is grappling with the challenges of adapting the marketing strategies we’ve used for past titles to a hiking guidebook. For example, how many guidebooks have you seen reviewed in Publishers Weekly lately? (Answer: more than you might think, but it’s definitely not their bread and butter.)
Probably the most exciting project happening right now is the cover design, which has been selected via student vote and will be finalized over the next few weeks. As with any book, the real challenge with the aesthetic has been figuring out how to set 50 Hikes apart from other guidebooks while also having it fit in with ongoing trends. You want your book to catch the reader’s eye, but you also want it to match the rest of its genre and be recognized as such. Hiking guidebooks definitely have a particular look, and we thought a lot about how much we wanted this book to call back to those covers as we went through the design process. 50 Hikes is primarily a guidebook, of course, but the Sierra Club’s involvement means that it’s also a conservation effort—with the goal of encouraging hikers to explore, to enjoy, and, ultimately, to protect natural spaces. Making a cover that accurately reflects both of these aspects in one image hasn’t been an easy process, but Oolies decided on a gorgeous design that will no doubt merge these themes successfully in its final form.
With the river books of Ooligan Press (Ricochet River and At the Waterline) sent happily upstream to the printers, the next big project for Team Design is focusing on Ooligan’s revised edition of the Sierra Club guidebook, 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests. Originally published in 2001 as a trail guide for Sierra Club members, this collection provides trail descriptions, hiking difficulty rankings, and regional history. The second edition will include updated information, featured photographs, original illustrations, plant guides, and a new introduction. This title offered the design department plenty of creative potential, which began with researching and designing concepts for a fitting cover.
One would think these principles of cover design to be universal, and yet I’m staring at a couple Japanese novels on my desk, and can’t help but wonder if the standards of design are a little bit different (read: awesome) there. Japanese bestsellers, especially foreign titles, are often printed as bunko, which are similar in form and function to mass market paperbacks in the West. They do tend to be a bit shorter and slimmer than Western paperbacks however, and are usually only about two hundred pages long. Because of this length restriction, many Western bestsellers are often split up into multiple volumes. These criteria mean that cover designers have less space to work on per book, but potentially more books available. You might also notice an almost universal trend of more numerous and larger typographic elements on Japanese covers. As my team has been working on a YA cover, I’m specifically interested in that market. As a teaching example of YA cover design differences between Japan and America, one need look no further than America’s favorite dystopian series about ritual teen murder and bird-themed rebellion: The Hunger Games.
Every time someone says “don’t judge a book by its cover,” I cringe. This clichéd phrase implies that the cover of the book is useless in discerning what the book is about and that the cover has no other use than to “cover up” the pages within. The phrase was quite popular in my youth, and I recall being reprimanded by friends any time I turned down a book because I thought the cover was subpar. For years I felt guilty about being so judgmental—until a classmate introduced me to the work of Graphic Designer Chip Kidd.