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Cover advice: Blythe of The Gates

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Apropos of this thread

I've started by using the same stock image as the author chose, which I think communicates the spiritualist/fantasy aspect perfectly. I need to contextualise this within a cover that more broadly signals the historical fiction genre and mores specifically the time and place to which this story belongs.

The typographic treatment of the title is where I can do that. After researching contemporary vaudeville posters I've drawn up a title treatment that very clearly signals that vibe quite clearly.

for my first pass Ive gone little more than that, and finding some complementary fonts and placements.I’ve played around a little with the highlights and shadows in the stock photo to try and play up the look of a spiritualist photograph (the whites slightly blown out, a touch of vignetting around the edges etc).

This immediately works much better to get across a specific and accurate sense of the book. There's a good balance of surprise/harmony between the two main elements of image and title. one soft and ambiguous, one brash and obvious, but both touching on the same era of theateicality and the same palette. You get the appropriate retro feel from the type and a more subtle suggestion of mood and genre from the photo.

Next I’ve tried out giving a wider crop to the stock image so the woman is much smaller and framed by a lot of negative space. For me this ups the mood further. Making her more distant and emphasising her isolation in a void makes her more mysterious. The fabric also surrounds her in swags left, right and above which pleasingly suggest theatrical curtains.

I’ve tried swapping the woman and title around so the title is at the top and her the bottom. It works subtly differently much probably equally well.

Finally I’ve tried inserting a contemporary New York skyline to see how that works. If there’s one thing the above covers slightly lack it’s a grounding in a specific historial time and place. The title typography only broadly implies ‘old-timey theatrics’ without a huge amount of specificity, and time/place is important to this type of novel.

This cover skirts the shores of YA urban fantasy (Mortal Instruments etc) by using the ‘girl, often floating, with city skyline’ trope. I think the title treatment is distinct enough from the YA-urban-fantasy genre and clearly enough of the historical/quirky-but-classy-adult-literature areas to pull things in the right direction. I’ve also kept the text clear of the skyline so it’s easier to see it’s a historical version of the city.

Though I think the author has chosen the right base image for theirc over, it’s always worth trying out a few different approaches to gauge. I’ve found a handful of vintage vaudeville images and tried them out. It’s interesting to see how they create different moods and impressions and then decide if your current image is truly the one hitting the exact right note:

The first to the right has another floating girl in a white dress, but the mood and genre implications are different: less mysterious and ambiguous, more joyful and overtly fantastical.

The second brings back the tension and mystery and keeps the overt fantasy, but perhaps looks too much like a factual book - partly because it lacks much atmosphere or strong mood.

With the third I really like this image crop, but sadly it’s a treatment that is completely out-of-fashion. Girls with their heads cropped off was a massive design trend about eight years ago ad so overused that no one will touch it with a bargepole now.

Finally the most out-there is this image of female magician of the era Adelaide Hermann. There is something nice about the juxtaposition of the grim electric chair and the jaunty lighting bolts drawn in that works rather nicely. It gets that mix of ‘off-kilter historical’ pretty perfectly. But ultimately it’s probably too grim to use. Without context it’s not quite clear this is a magic trick and that it’s not a photo of someone about to be executed that someone has tastelessly drawn on.

So my money is on the original stock image, with one of treatments tried out above. On balance I think these are the two that succeed the very best:


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