Monday, 1 April 2013


Book cover design causes much heated debate. We all know what works and what doesn't but getting the desired result is something of an inexact science. Is good design a jacket that looks great, or, a jacket that sells a truck load of copies? Answers on a postcard, please ...

One thing's for sure, bad design is something that's as obvious as the proverbial donkey's dangly bits. And in this day and age of indie and self-publishing just because you can create your own, doesn't mean you should.

PULP PUSHER talked to one of the unsung heroes of book-cover design - Jim Divine - and got the do's and don'ts. Incidentally, Jim is the man behind some of the designs to the right of this blog post creating the covers for: The Holy Father, Long Way Down, Last Orders, Killing Time in Vegas and London Calling.

PUSHER: We all know a good cover when we see one, and a bad one, before we talk about what makes a good one - what makes a bad one for you?

JIM DIVINE: A bad cover to me is something that simply does not do the material inside justice. if it's a bad book then in my opinion, it deserves a bad cover. Generally bad covers are produced because the designers producing them either don't get what the book's about or don't care.

So where are people going wrong when they put a book out with a bad cover?

It's not always the designer’s fault.  If an author insist that he wants specific things on the cover then that can be the key to a bad cover as it takes a lot of crafting and sometimes designers cannot afford the time to do this or do not posses the skills.

You're going to tell me there's a world of difference in terms of a good and bad design and, presumably a good and bad designer ...

As I alluded to in the previous question, cover design is craftsmanship.  In general terms we all have the same proportions to work with and most of that real estate must be taken up with the title of the book and the author's name. In e-books, this is more relevant as the thumbnails must be legible, so what remains free within that framework is where the designer has to create the concept. Many book designs have become formulaic, as this is easier to do.

You're a bit of a design guru, you've worked in advertising and graphic design ...

I'd say guru is over-egging it a tad. I've been designing since 1986, the first ad I ever did after leaving college won a handful of national and international awards and secured me a great job. I was fortunate as I was able to learn all about how to create, produce, manage and sell graphic design and advertising. I had my own agency for 12 years but gave it up to pursue the elements of the job I love. Obviously book design and a whole host of incredibly exciting things.

Why's a good cover so important for a writer?

As you know from working together, getting exactly what you want is hard, time consuming work. You push me to get the best results because you know what will sell. A book cover is the packaging for what is inside. It's like any other product in that sense. If you have worked and struggled to write your book shedding blood, sweat and tears, then the least you want is for the cover to reflect the effort you've put in.

So, it can make or break a book's success - people really do judge a book by the cover ...

It can absolutely make a difference. I am currently going through this process with another author. He had a book cover that he felt wasn’t working and I have redesigned it for him. I’m hoping to get some stats together to show the financial difference a great cover will make.

Should cost be a factor, we all know a bad jacket is a false economy but I what I mean is do you get what you pay for with cover design?

When you buy time from a designer you’re buying his experience. This experience should include his ability to get to the heart of the matter quickly and effectively. In general I charge between £250-£500 per jacket. This will include a lot of to-ing and fro-ing until I have captured exactly what the author is after. From there I will create files that are ready to be uploaded or sent to print.

I know from working with you on the jackets for my books, you keep yourself informed on the latest design innovations ... what's in and what's out now?

I’ve noticed that we are seeing a lot of back to basics imagery. It seems that as we go through this period of austerity, we are longing to recreate imagery that is warm and comforting. That’s why some of these retro shops that sell old posters, sweets, and clothing are really big just now. This is also working its way into cover design. If you look at the top 100 Amazon books you’ll see a lot of comfort there.

One of the up and coming things I’m looking at is mobile phone technology, mainly QR codes and Augmented Reality. This will allow authors to get specific information to their audience by using smart phones. (If anyone wants to know more about this they can get in touch).

I know you work with Crime writers a lot is your work always on the dark side?

No not at all. A great example of this is when I worked with Bill Bailey. His stuff is so wacky and clever that I went to town on some of the design work. The best project was creating all of the literature for his Tinselwork tour, which incidentally, he said was the best work he’s ever had produced. And it was brilliant fun working with him.

You've created some startling images with my new jackets - I can tell you're channelling an advertising brief when you're quizzing me about what I want ...

To me, a book jacket is an ad for what’s inside – simple!

So, basically, you're happy - and finished the job - when the client is happy?

Exactly. As you know I never go to finished artwork until the client is 100% happy and really excited about the new jacket. If I can’t get the author smiling then there’s not much chance of success.

So, how can someone get a hold of Jim Divine if they'd like to talk about you designing their book cover?

Contact me – or if they want to see some of my work go to