Evoking curiosity

We cannot recall the books we most love without also recalling their covers. Book titles are like people’s names: they help us distinguish a book from the million others it resembles. But book covers are like people’s faces: either they remind us of a lost happiness or they promise blissful worlds we have yet to explore. That is why we gaze at book covers as passionately as we do faces.”

This is what Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has to say on a book jacket and the place it holds in the publishing industry. A book jacket should be able to hold your attention and stand out from the sea of books, feel illustrators and designers who churn all their creative juices to create a cover that captures the essence of the book.

“A book cover should certainly seduce you to come closer. It should be able to hold the interest of the buyer,” Gunjan Ahlawat, senior design manager, Penguin Random House, tells Metrolife.

“There are multiple things that pull the sales of books and a nice, attractive book cover is one of them,” he says.

While there are multiple literary prizes for novels and short stories in India, the beginning of the year saw the ceremony of India’s maiden book cover prize. Designer Beena Sareen, consulting creative director, Aleph, became the first winner of ‘Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize’ for the book Talking of Justice by Leila Seth.

The very subtle, but striking representation of letter J on a red backdrop is a suitable representation of the ideas that define the book. “The letter on the cover is equally divided and has been successful in evoking a sense of harmony, fair play and balance,” says Sareen who has been in this industry for almost two decades and has witnessed the shift closely.

The predominant role of illustrators and designers is to ensure that every cover is unique and striking, but many brainstorming session happen before the final design is chosen.

“The design team starts the process of ideation based on a cover brief put together by the editor. It lists the broad themes of the book, the target audience, genre, their ideas for the cover, as well as, the author’s. Also if there are any visual references, they share with us,” Bonita Shimray, art director, HarperCollins, tells Metrolife.

According to Ahlawat, who has designed the 60th anniversary edition of Ruskin Bond’s Room on the Roof, these suggestion first come from editors because they have a better grip on the book. But things can’t be smooth always, he points out.

“It happens many times that we have to read a few chapters of the book if we aren’t able to understand the brief. There are times when you even have to read the entire manuscript. So, I would say that there is not a particular process that goes behind book making. It varies from book to book,” says Ahlawat.

Sareen says that approaches towards a fiction and non-fiction are different. A cover has to be more direct in non-fiction, but it can take imaginative leaps in fiction.

“People associate certain colours and fonts with certain genres, we are very mindful of when to conform and when to be brave and stand out,” says Shimray.

The jacket designing process usually takes about seven-10 weeks. But all these designers feel contained and happy to be in this profession that is challenging and allows imagination to take a flight.

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