Cover story

There’s a common idiom: “don’t judge a book by its cover” – which of course means that you shouldn’t take things at face value. But when you’re publishing an actual book, the cover is very important – you might not want people to judge the book by its cover, but they will very likely buy it based (at least in part) on the cover.

The cover for The Well, by Peter Labrow

The cover of The Well

For The Well, I started thinking about the cover very early in the writing process. The core of the story is that Becca, a fourteen-year-old girl, is trapped at the bottom of a well. For this to work, I needed the well to be reasonably remote – somewhere people wouldn’t look for her.

As chance (and serendipity) would have it, I recalled a photograph taken by one of my closest friends, Martin Mackenzie. It wasn’t of a well – it was of a ruined cottage in a wood. It’s a great photograph – perhaps not technically perfect, but it’s certainly atmospheric. I dug out the photograph and decided that this was definitely the location for the well itself.

The original cottage photograph, taken by Martin Mackenzie

The original cottage photograph, taken by Martin Mackenzie

At that time – in the early drafts – the cottage didn’t feature at all. It just wasn’t part of the story. But once I’d decided that this was the location, I wrote the cottage into the draft – and it became the key location for the climax of the action.

The writing progressed. In The Well, the cottage grew in size – slightly – by necessity from the plot. But once it came to consider the book’s cover, I didn’t want to change the image of the cottage itself. Not one bit. I decided that strict accuracy wasn’t required – the cover had to be a great cover and not slavishly follow my refined descriptions.

Of course, the photograph was lacking one thing: a well.

I’d also decided early on that I preferred to have an illustration for the cover, rather than a photograph. It seems to me that illustrations can convey more than photographs – and I really wanted the cover to seem forbidding and claustrophobic.

The job of creating the (rather wonderful) illustration went to Daryl Joyce, a professional illustrator known for his science fiction work (especially Doctor Who). I’m lucky enough to count Daryl as one of my friends.

Before beginning work, Daryl created a quick photo composite with a well in place. He ‘borrowed’ the photograph of the well from an illustration and photography website. It was the wrong shape (not quite round) and lacked a protective grating – but in terms of lighting, it was perfect.

I e-mailed Hanna Apaja and secured permission to use the photograph as the basis for the illustration. Well – it’s only polite.

Daryl set to work on the illustration and, after a couple of redrafts (Daryl is always really positive about making changes) the cover artwork was born. (I’ve made it sound as though Daryl’s work took minutes, but one look at the illustration shows that he laboured long and hard on this.)

One especially important aspect of the illustration is that I wanted it to be detailed – but it needed to work as a thumbnail on Amazon, which is how most people would initially view it. This balance is something I feel Daryl got exactly right.

Just as the cottage doesn’t quite match the description in the book, so there are a few ‘continuity’ issues with the final illustration versus the text. In the illustration, the well is too close to the cottage, the height of the bricks isn’t the same and the surrounding land isn’t strewn with old stones from the well wall. None of which is a problem to me – making those changes might make it match the text, but the cover wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as it is. Moving the well away from the cottage, for example, would make the cover feel less claustrophobic.

Nor does the protective grille at the top of the well match the description – but visually, it’s better.

Thankfully, when you’re self-publishing, the final call is with the writer – and I think the cover is perfect. It may not match the book’s descriptions perfectly, but it does reflect the mood of the book and the evil of the location – you might say that, despite the differences, you can tell this book by its cover.

About Peter Labrow

Peter Labrow has worked as a copywriter, writing non-fiction, for around twenty years. His output includes copy for websites and brochures; for around a decade he wrote a regular column for IT Training magazine. He has published one non-fiction book about learning within the corporate environment. The Well, Peter’s first novel, is available on Kindle and in print from Amazon. View all posts by Peter Labrow

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