For the past few months we’ve been working with Chicago Review Press on their book, Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs. It recently hit the book store shelves, right before Jeffs was convicted of child rape.
Chicago Review Press has been a client for years, in fact they were one of my very first clients when I started Visible Logic. We’re thrilled to have designed book covers and book interiors for them for nearly ten years.
The cover images for this book came from both Getty Images (stock image) and editorial sources. The design is fairly straightforward, but the blurred court officer in the background works to show that Jeffs is under trial or part of a hearing in this image.
In addition to the book cover we designed the interior of the book, which is mostly running text with a photo insert.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the process of designing a book cover.
The book cover design process
One question I always get is, “Do you read the books before designing the cover?” The truth is, that never happens. There is just not enough time (I’m a slow reader). I am often given the manuscript to read and I try to skim it. In addition, I’m usually given a brief overview such as a summary or sample chapter. In some cases, the text of the book is actually being written at the same time as we are developing the cover. In addition, most publishing companies have experienced marketing teams that have thoughts on what type of angle they want for the book.
For this book, we also designed and typeset the interior of the book. While I’m doing that, I often read some or all of the text. And I gotta say this, this book sucked me in, as there are many first person narratives from the women involved with Warren Jeffs and his religious community.
For the book cover design, the publisher knew that they wanted to feature Jeffs’ face, as it has been seen in the news frequently. Also, they wanted to cast him in some sort of menacing light, making him look a bit evil or at least wrong-doing.
We initially had a hard time locating photos that we were able to use, so that made the process a bit more tricky. Here are some of the earlier rounds of designs that Visible Logic presented.
Round 1, front cover design
Please click on any of the images for a larger view.
This first design follows fairly traditional conventions for a biography, in that the featured person’s face is large on the cover, portrait style. The original photo was of Jeffs with his lawyers’ hands on his shoulders. To de-emphasize that secondary person, and make the book look darker and his face shadowy, I blacked out the background with soft edges.
The second design used a much more forceful looking photo of Jeffs. I tinted it red to make him look develish, and to suggest blood on his hands. I made the main title very small, while emphasizing his name in the sub-title. This publisher tends to prefer a more traditional treatment of the title and subtitle (ie larger title), so that didn’t go over too well.
The third design presented was an even more evil portrayal of Jeffs. We found an image that showed him with a very menacing look on his face, and I again turned it into a red and black duotone. I then slashed the photo apart, splicing the text within the image, to suggest the bringing down of the cult.
Round 1 feedback
Apparently I went a little too far with portraying Warren Jeffs as evil. While the publisher liked the tension in options 2 and 3, it was a little too over the top.
We took those concepts and scaled them back to make them less frightening. Below are a few of the versions shown. In reality, we go through many more iterations at this point, but this gives an overview of the process.
Round 2 book cover designs
For this version, I went to a black and white version of the photo, and chose a portrait that was strong and serious, but not quite as menacing. The type still used the red and the photo was still chopped. Overall, the effect was still strong, but not as evil looking.
This design continued to move to a more straightforward approach. The photo returned to a more traditional, full color look. The angled shapes and different sized typography were simplified.
We continued to hear pressure from the marketing department to scale it back. So the design evolved to a more traditional biography type of look. The red swath and extreme close-up photography still kept a feeling of alarm.
New photos arrive, round 3
At the eleventh hour, the author and publisher were finally able to secure some additional photos. First came the main photo. There were several in this series, from a recent hearing, but this one worked the best.
At this point, you can see clear ties with the final cover. However, additional photos then arrived and those were put into place in alongside to the main image. These new photos showed his compound as well as a woman in traditional dress taking an oath in court.
With the new photos to work with, we adopted a more earthy color palette. It’s more suggestive of the dessert area that the compound is located in and less about the devilish look. In addition to the having the small images at the bottom (which is what was chosen as the final design), we tried them at the top. It made the main image of Jeffs too low on the cover, like he was falling off the page.
We also tried this version, which brought back some of the angular box shapes from previous versions.
The final book cover design
At the top, you can see the final book cover design. In addition to the photo and layout changes, the publisher changed the wording of the title from Cult to Empire.
Most publishers try to complete the front cover well in advance of going to press. This allows them to market the book on their web site, to book sellers, etc. Once the interior book design is complete, we finish the back cover and spine. In this case, the book is a hard cover book so there are flaps as well.
Which book design did you like best? Do you think the publisher went with the right one?