Chion cover design – Part IV

Somebody tell me if this is a stupid idea, but I’m thinking of using Mark Stevens’s cover design for Chion with no clearly visible text (click through to the larger image before you cast your verdict). I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks, but I think this one might work. I think that if I spotted a book cover on a shelf with nothing but snow on the cover and a blood-spatter in the corner, I would be intrigued enough to pick it up. Ideally, I would love to have a glossy cover with the title and author embossed colourlessly in matt, so that you don’t see anything until you tilt the cover, making it reflect in the light. But that kind of stuff costs money. So I would settle for subtle translucent text, as shown in the example.

In an attempt to make the right decisions, I’ve been casting my mind back to book covers of yesteryear. Four in particular leap to the front of my mind as being strikingly memorable. I’ve found the images on eBay, so you can see for yourself:

O-Zone by Paul Theroux
Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks
Watchers by Dean Koontz
Wolf in Shadow by David Gemmell

O-Zone doesn’t look like much until you realise that the “O” is actually a hole in the cover (there’s another gimmick for you), and when you turn the page you get a glorious sc-fi painting of a craft flying over a ruined city. Without exception, the common element in the four covers is a singular striking image that creates intrigue: a UFO on a beach with a native walking towards it; someone or something peering through the bushes at a lonely country house where somebody’s home; most spectacularly of all, the Titanic on dry ground with a cowboy on horseback overlooking the scene. If that one doesn’t pique your curiosity, nothing will. I think I’ve been concentrating way too much on the choice of fonts and the positioning of the various elements; I don’t think any of that really affected my attachement to the four book covers above.

My eBay search revealed further editions of these books with different covers. I couldn’t help but think that the more modern incarnations weren’t nearly as striking. I get the feeling something has generally gone wrong in the world of graphic design today, and that feeling is confirmed when I browse the shelves of the local bookstore. Ninety-nine percent of what I see is instantly forgettable. There’s also a heavy reliance on photographic material. It’s a far cry from the gorgeous airbrushed paintings of yesteryear. Unfortunately, my own limited graphic design skills require me to begin with photographs, too, so at least I’m competing on a even playing field with the pros.

17 thoughts on “Chion cover design – Part IV

  1. Anonymous

    I love the idea… Be good if you could get it embossed. Print out a high quality version and see how it looks.

    I’m into being awkward however, so my opinion might not match that of tose who aren’t so contrary.

  2. James Maxon

    My first thought is, no, don’t do it! But when I think about it further I wonder, well maybe…

    It’s a good idea, but in the end legibility of the text is probably more important that trying to be tricky. It might catch my attention, and make me wonder, “what the heck is up with that?” But I don’t know if I’d be like, “Oh, I get it, I’m gonna buy it now!”

    I do like the snow and blood, and believe that it grabs enough attention without making the text mystical – it should be clean and easy to read. As far as the font goes, I really liked the one you had for your Web site header from before. Is this the same font? It looks good, but for some reason the height seems more elongated.

    – James

  3. James Maxon

    After thinking about it more: maybe try making the title and your name stand out better, but then put the definition for Chion (or something like that) faded into the snow on the lower right. That might give you the best of both worlds 🙂

  4. Darryl Sloan


    Embossed would definitely be cool. Unfortunately, the main consideration is keeping costs down, and it’s unlikely the POD outfit at Lightning Source can accomodate embossing. If it could, that’s sure one way to make a POD book look like “not a POD book.”

  5. Darryl Sloan


    The older font was the same font as used in the movie Aliens. It looked good, but I sort of felt that the elliptical “I” only works when it’s glowing (like in the movie). It’s also a really obvious copycat move.

    I know what you’re saying about clear text not really harming the cover, but I just can’t shake the idea that it lessens the impact somehow. Without clear words, the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the blood-spatter. Like you say, it might not make you go “I’m gonna buy it now,” but if it grabbed your attention enough for you to lift it off a bookshelf, then it served its purpose.

    I think it would be way too much text to put the definition on the cover. I’ve even done away with the tagline: “Will anyone survive?”

    Might put the definition as the first page, or might leave it out altogether and let people wonder about the word.

  6. Michael Reed

    I think that you have to be careful about novelty overtaking utility.

    Don’t forget that people have to work with your book. I’ve just finished 13 months working in the books section of a charity shop and a pet hate mine is when a book is not clearly marked.

    When pricing books, one of the main things I wanted to know at a glance was the genre so that I could immediately determine the correct category for the book. Maybe a trick here is just to follow the convention of stating it in the bottom left hand corner of the back cover.

    I’m sure that most people who work with books feel the same way, be they reviewers, people who work in commercial book shops, etc. You’re taking a chance if you make your book too ‘awkward’, IMO.

  7. Darryl Sloan

    You make a good point, Michael. I hadn’t considered it from that angle.

    If you look way back in the blog, you can see that Mark, in his original design, was smart enough to have the title on top of the dullest portion of the cover: the big shadowy section. Maybe I need to think along those lines.

    Or maybe I just need to make the text a little bit clearer. I’ll have another fiddle, and we’ll see.

  8. Ed

    At the end of the day, if the book is good, it’ll not need hype or something really fancy- people will buy on recommendation. All that messing about can wait til the 20th Anniversary edition 😉

  9. James Maxon

    Is it really going to appear on bookshelves? A POD is typically only online right? If it is really going to be on a bookshelf, it’s most likely only going to show the…I can’t think of the right name: end of the book? Only a few books get their covers shown on the shelf, most of them just show the end.

  10. Darryl Sloan


    When selling Ulterior, I had no trouble placing it in bookshops. A local independent store, Jeffers, sold over 80 copies, and the Eason book chain stocked it in all 30 over their shops across Northern Ireland (over 300 books in total). Also, Forbidden Planet in Belfast took 10.

    It has to be said, though, that Ulterior was not strictly a POD book. Although self-published, it was done using a traditional print-run. I don’t know if that mattered to the bookshops, though.

    I don’t think there’s much of an awareness of the whole POD stigma here in Northern Ireland. We don’t have many authors here. Hence, bookshop owners don’t bring out the garlic and crosses every time a newbie author crosses their path.

    If anything, I think there’s a general feeling of encouragement towards the arts, which might have something to do with Northern Ireland having come through rough times in recent decades. A sponsor of one of our older films said in an interview that he gave the money to see something good come out of Portadown.

    I wouldn’t relish attempting this game in the USA.

  11. A.P. Fuchs

    Bear in mind, too, Darryl, that a bookstore won’t know it’s POD unless you either a) tell them, or b) they try and order it via the wholesaler (who now states whether it’s POD or not).

  12. Darryl Sloan

    I imagine bookstores would react negatively to certain popular self-publishing names like iUniverse and LuLu, but the likes of Coscom Entertainment and Midnight Pictures will mean nothing to them, thank goodness. Do you ever feel like you’re sort of slightly pulling the wool over the eyes of bookshops, though? I sometimes do. Although none of them have anything to complain about, since Ulterior sold well.

  13. A.P. Fuchs

    The only time I feel like I’m pulling the wool over someone’s eyes is when they ask who the publisher is. I say, “Coscom Entertainment” instead of “Me.” But I’m not lying to them. It’s true 100%. I also have the advantage in that Coscom Entertainment is a traditional press. The only thing that makes it a “self-publishing” venue for myself is because I own it. Kind makes you ask the question, “Well, if the owner of Random House published a book, would that make said book self-published, too? Think the industry would mind?” ‘Tis a weird biz we’re in.

  14. A.P. Fuchs

    Also wanted to add that POD is a fantastic printing method and is used by many traditional small presses today. It’s the likes of Authorhouse, Iuniverse, Pagefree, Lulu and others that have given it a bad rep.

    To me, it’s a more efficient technology than offset printing. Saves huge costs, both upfront and longterm (you have to store the books, right?). Works easier for shipping for the publisher, too, as the printer fulfills all wholesale orders. The publisher only has to worry about direct sales and consignment sales (and a few others). It saves trees, and I stand by its product. Long gone are the days when, paper and glue-wise, POD has put out a terrible product. If designed correctly, they stand alongside any other books in the store and, in a lot of cases, exceed the physicality of many offset books as well.

    It’s the stigma that’s screwing us.

  15. Darryl Sloan

    I agree with most of that, A.P. But I think I’ll always have a soft spot for the traditional print-run, for just two reasons: (1) the ability to sell at reduced price, and (2) investing two thousand pounds in stock provides the necessary motivation (anxiety) to get busy selling.

  16. A.P. Fuchs

    Just saying, but from the price quotes I’ve gathered for a 1000-1500-copy print run, the per unit is equitable to a POD per-unit-cost (roughly $4-5US). It’s only if you go, say, 2000+ that the price begins to drop. However, I don’t think that should prohibit good prices for a POD book as Coscom’s titles are all priced cheap compared to other POD books (ie. Coscom’s range from $10.99-$12.99 whereas most POD books are $15+). And from what I understand, too, average trade paperback price in the US is $15 and some change, so I’m actually offering a good deal.

    Just food for thought as I don’t know how much you plan on pricing Choin at but I’m sure you can easily make it competitive.

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