When I set out to craft the cover for the science-fiction horror novel LOOP, I had strong ideas for what might work based on years of designing movie posters. Still, except for a strong sense of composition and storytelling that I’ve come to rely on, I knew it was best to start at the beginning. Research and the permission to go insane…
I looked again at dozens, if not hundreds of book covers. One disconcerting current trend is to find “your category” (as is defined less with the BISAC codes, and more and more by Amazon’s listings), and then make your cover ‘fit in.”
I get it. But honestly, am pretty horrified. It means that maybe ninety percent of new books, shown as thumbnails across the page with others just like it, are interchangeable. And indeed, tons (as in thousands) of covers are pulled from stock and basic templates with only the titles and author names changed, and even the original ones are designed to look just like the others.
I joined design forums and Facebook groups. Read hundreds of comments and looks at dozens more independent authors’ covers. Spent hours in Barnes and Noble, Target, and Walmart. Found a couple of independent book stores with rare and collectible titles. Ideas brewing!
Only time will tell if I’m on the right track with my book, but I know the result fits my sense of integrity and thoughts on art.
Art? Eeeeshhh… a bit grandiose? Maybe. But I am an artist, a filmmaker, a screenwriter, a film director, painter, and photographer, so a stock cover or even a stock approach was not going to satisfy me.
I didn’t write the book LOOP to fit any specific category. As my friend, author, and fellow scribe Ben Clement frequently reminds me on my screenplays and now fiction writing, “tell the story.” Be true, be honest, ‘tell the story,’ As an actor and in these last years a film director, I get it.
LOOP is not easy to lock into any one category. LOOP is science-fiction, horror, action-adventure, a military thriller, a satire on the current and foreseeable future, a warning for the embrace of everything ‘machine learning and artificial intelligence, my take on the Covid-19 virus and the conspiracies helping to keep it alive.’
“Tell the story,” and let the readers make up their own decisions.
Great. But how to convey at least some of that in a book cover? And do it well enough that someone reads what’s inside?
In my case, I’m lucky. I am an artist and used to working in digital programs like PhotoShop and InDesign. I’ve spent years studying fontography and typesetting. I understand how composition leads the eye and the emotional response of color. Of course, now I had to design not just for a physical book, but for that likely 100-pixel tall image that would be lined up with a dozen others and had to grab someone’s attention enough they would explore further.
For LOOP, I had a series of images I could pull from the Award-Winning short film LOOP that we made a few years back. But as I learned over the years in crafting movie posters, the better goal was to find or create that one image that represented the story obliquely, stimulating the imagination of the viewer, not forcing the result.
Yes, I’ve been a fanatic about getting the book cover right, but no more than I was about the actual story, and then the interior typesetting. The dream was to write, craft, and deliver a book that stands up for the next 50 or 100 years. (might as well dream big!)
Months of thought and trial versions, 40 full-size variations, and 60 gigabytes later, I ended up with a PhotoShop file with 161 layers. “Eeeshhh” indeed. After all that time, the final ideas only came together in the last few days, and I still have the flexibility to make minor adjusts for the eBook, softcover, and hardcover editions.
“Give the cover every bit of the attention you did in writing your story.”
But, I’m happy with it! I think it represents the story inside the covers in the best way — hinting, seducing, inviting a reader to let me entertain them for a few hours by reading the thrill-ride I’ve hopefully forged inside. Even with all the work, I know part of my final result is from luck, or certainly created subconsciously.
It will be some time before I am able to look back on it and know if I succeeded, but I know I can be proud of the work. It fits my style of storytelling, filmmaking, and art —bold and graphic — filled with seemingly endless nuance and detail for those who give in to it. You can tell right away that it is a William Kely McClung creation.
Knowing how much work I put into it, I can only suggest for others who may not have a similar skill set, to find and hire someone who does. They may be far better than me and work with them until you are truly happy with the results. Give them the freedom to explore but be true to your book. Explore, research, and don’t settle just because you are in a hurry. Give the cover every bit of the attention you did in writing your story.
For more insights and a sneak peek of LOOP – Prologue and Chapter One – check out the rest of the website and or subscribe to the newsletter (coming soon!)
The action-adventure of LOOP – the science-fiction horror novel from William Kely McClung will be available as an eBook exclusively on Amazon and in print wherever books are sold in March of 2022!