Sunday, January 4, 2015

Too Many Cooks

Creating a book for the public is a step-by-step process involving the author, editor, and the designer. I’ve found that a bond exists in the process and the communication flows easily and naturally. I’ve also seen how it can become disjointed and misdirected if there are outside influences that are not part of the author’s team. Other's opinions of the writing or of the artistic direction that the author has taken can cause disruption and confusion. Even opinions about the cover design can lead to revises and restarts from an otherwise good direction.

Last summer, I was asked to design a cover by an author who had a solid idea and direction for what she wanted. The author had a specific color selection, a style, and a strong visual subject for the cover to represent the title of her book, Living The Leap. She felt the cover should show the process a person takes as they discover their individuality and spirituality; to take courageous steps toward fulfilling their passion in life. She wanted the cover to show a hesitant person stepping off a cliff, then sprouting wings and finally flying with confidence. I thought it was a great idea and went to work. 

I did these three variations on that theme and the author was delighted by the cover sketches:

As part of her writing process, she joined a weekend Writers Workshop and was excited to share the cover designs to the group. The men liked the blue cover, women like the purples, others felt the covers were too New Agey, and some felt that the cliff-jumping metaphor could be construed as suicide. The opinions were wide and varied causing doubt where there once had been excitement. As she and I discussed these many opinions, the confusion of so many viewpoints basically stopped the design process. 

By this point, even the demographic of the book was now in question. The author changed the title and I attempted one more concept that I hoped would be more suitable to the changing views. It had no cliff, no new-age coloring, used modern fonts and hopefully, would inspire any reader to be attracted to the book.

While it was a good attempt, the author felt she must find a new direction and audience for her book. In retrospect, she began the project being direct and clear but ended with uncertainty and questioning her market. This process may have been needed but it also was a difficult shift for an aspiring author. 

Getting feedback from trusted friends and professionals who understand what the author is conveying is a good thing. But there is also knowing when there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.” I fully trust this author will sort out her book’s audience and thus find the right tone of her book. This in turn will also lead to a great cover. While I am sharing this particular story, over the past years a few other projects similar to this one have occurred where the opinions of others have led to decision problems. From a design standpoint, this uncertainty can lead to an ambiguous cover if one is not careful. Ultimately, it certainly helps an author to follow their own intuition with the advice of trusted friends, but also to avoid too many other cooks.