A Book Cover’s Evolution—Embrace of the Daimon

by Joel Friedlander on December 26, 2012 · 20 comments

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In the late 1990s, Sandra Dennis, an old and dear friend, decided to turn her doctoral dissertation into a niche-market trade book. It was called Embrace of the Daimon.

Sandra asked me to design a cover for the book because she had a specific piece of artwork in mind for the cover.

This is very common with authors I work with. Sometimes it’s a photo they’ve had on their fridge for the past 20 years. Others, it’s an image, a painting, a photo that resonates with the emotions they have about their own book.

In any case, this was a beautiful drawing by William Blake from a series of drawings known as the Great Red Dragon paintings.

The Great Red Dragon Paintings are a series of watercolour paintings by the English poet and painter William Blake, painted between 1805 and 1810… that depict ‘The Great Red Dragon’ in various scenes from the Book of Revelation. Wikipedia

To be honest, I wasn’t doing many book covers in those days. Most of the covers for the books I published myself were done by freelance artists.

But I took a stab at it and produced what designers sometimes refer to as a “sketch.” In other words, it’s not a final and fully-worked out design. It attempts to position the central elements of the design—in this case the Blake artwork, the title and author’s name—so their relationship is clear.

Here’s my sketch:

Embrace of the Daimon 1

Control Passes to the Publisher

The project never got further than this sketch because the author signed a contract with with Nicolas-Hays, a small independent publisher specializing in “books from both classic and modern sources that outline the basis and development of the world’s Mystery Traditions.”

At that point the publisher acquired the right to publish the book as they saw fit.

This is important for a publisher because they can’t relinquish control over their own retail products to amateurs. It wouldn’t be good business practice.

Sandra gave my sketch to her publisher, but I’m sure it didn’t make much of an impression.

In any event, when the book was published in 2001, here’s the cover it arrived with:

Embrace of the Daimon 2

Okay, I’m going to admit that I was surprised by this cover and the choices the publisher had made.

The Blake drawing had disappeared, replaced with the drawing you see here. This indistinct drawing didn’t do much to help the overall look of the cover since it was allowed to overpower everything else, while at the same time it was difficult to even tell what was going on in the drawing.

The typography wasn’t much better, and the title seemed to be gasping for air, crowded between the illustration and the top trim of the book.

Well, that’s the way of the world. The book was in print and that’s what counted.

eBooks Rescue Old Titles, Including This One

Okay, so now it’s the ebook revolution. As it happens, Sandra is finishing her second book, and started thinking about Embrace of the Daimon, which had gone out of print in the intervening years.

She had the digital rights to the book, and smartly decided to issue an ebook version to start building her platform. This is what we teach authors over and over. Start getting your work out as soon as you can, because platform building is not usually a quick process.

This is especially true for authors who have books that have gone out of print with traditional publishers, or for which they own at least the digital rights. These rights were often overlooked years ago, when no one had anticipated much impact from electronic forms of reading.

In this case Sandra was getting help from a designer near her home who was working on web-based and other projects for her. She asked him to do a new cover for the book. Here’s his design:

Embrace of the Daimon 3

When she sent me this design, it brought back memories of the cover that never got used from years ago. Even though it was only a sketch, I still thought it was much better than the Nicholas-Hays cover.

Although this newer version brought back the Blake artwork, it wasn’t exciting, although it’s a workable book cover better than many you see every day. But it left me unsatisfied.

Now, I’ve done a lot of book covers since then, and immediately identified the problems with all the covers that this book had had up to today:

None of the covers gave the title the emphasis it clearly needed. And the covers that had tried to use the Blake artwork in a meaningful way all seemed to fail for some reason.

I thought if I could solve these two problems, I could get a cover that actually worked. So I got to work re-doing the cover for 2013.

Getting to the New

The typography for the title that worked best emphasized the word “Daimon.” I think this word itself is intriguing enough to create interest in the book, and the big size gives it control of the cover.

The solution for the Blake art was the exact opposite. Part of the problem appeared when both the angelic figure at the top and the woman at the bottom were included in the design: they brought with them the whole busy background, and the figures themselves were somewhat ambiguous. This does not make the best book cover.

Instead I decided to focus only on the woman’s face, transfixed in a transformative encounter with an other-worldly being.

The woman’s uplifted gaze goes to the heart of the book’s argument: that in certain circumstances, images or beings from other worlds, beings that may have resonance in Jungian psychology, can actually appear to people in this world.

Here’s the final cover:

Embrace of the Daimon 4

Now I thought the cover had both the balance and the impact it needed to make itself known in the world of ebooks. Whether at the smallest, “search-results-page” thumbnail size, or on the larger size on the book’s detail page, it signaled the genre and focus of the book. And the emblematic word Daimon in the title stands out quite well.

This was a very satisfying conclusion to a story that had been unresolved (at least in my mind) for quite a while. Now, I really enjoy cover design because it makes you get to the heart of the book and connect it to readers. I felt that the new cover completed that task quite well.

In this case it took 11 years to get there.

You can find out more about Sandra Lee Dennis at her author website, and you can check out Embrace of the Daimon on Amazon.


Amazon links are affiliate.

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    { 19 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ernie Zelinski December 27, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Three comments;

    1. You say that Embrace of the Daimon “had gone out of print in the intervening years.” Amazon indicates that it is still available in print edition, with 6 brand new copies in its inventory.

    2. Yes, the cover design for the original print edition is far from being award-winning material.

    3. Your final cover design for the ebook version is not showing up on this blog post right now. But I have seen it on the Amazon page for the Kindle edition. I agree. Much, much better!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 27, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Thanks, Ernie. Not sure why you’re not seeing the image, but glad you could reference it on Amazon.

    Reply

    Eva December 27, 2012 at 1:12 am

    The cover was awesome. NY merely looking at the cover, you can already feels that it tells you a story.

    Reply

    Christopher Wills December 27, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Agreed the new cover is the best version to date. Interesting that like writing, cover design appears to come out better when there is emotion invested in it. Getting a third party with no emotional investment or attachment to the book to design a cover often appears to produce a bland stylised cover that dosn’t mean much wrt the contents.

    There are some excellent cover artists out there but an excellent image doesn’t always make an excellent book cover. As an author I would never presume to tell a cover artist how to do their job but I would hope they would listen to my ideas given that I spent a year or more writing the book. Maybe this is the kind of USP that separates the excellent from the rest.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Good point, Christopher. In fact it would be interesting to query cover designers about how they go about getting familiar with the books they are designing. In this case, since I had read the book several years ago, I was very familiar with the content.

    Reply

    Carol Brill December 27, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Joel, very timely post for me since I am in the midst of watching my own book cover evolve. Interesting to see how people in the process imagined it differently, and how your own design improved to really capture what appears to be the book’s theme and spirit.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Thanks, Carol.

    Reply

    Marcy Kennedy December 27, 2012 at 6:01 am

    What’s the protocol for using old artwork? Would it be in the public domain and free to use?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 27, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Marcy (and Carole) the original image is no longer covered by copyright. However, unless you can get access to the original painting and take a photo of it, you will need to use a reproduction of the painting, and the reproduction itself may be protected by copyright. This is also another reason—besides safeguarding the artwork—that many museums prohibit photography inside the galleries. So what you need to find is a reproduction of the original that you can either use or license for use.

    Reply

    Carole Pivarnik December 27, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Excellent clarification/distinction as regards rights for original works vs. reproductions.

    Reply

    Carole Pivarnik December 27, 2012 at 6:19 am

    This is a great article showing the evolution and thinking that goes into a cover design. From a purely gut reaction, your original cover appealed the least to me; I liked the publisher cover better. However, your latest design for this cover is just a magnitude better…it really hits all the buttons! I love it.

    You didn’t mention anything about copyright for the Blake artwork. It seems that in the U.S., works published prior to 1922 are in the public domain. I guess English works are subject to similar rules? It is worth noting that in more recent times, some deceased artists’ estates or heirs carefully control how and where their works are used. Andrew Wyeth is one such. To clarify for your readers who may not be aware, just because an artist has been deceased for awhile doesn’t mean their work is in the public domain. It is always wise to do the research before you get your heart set on using artwork that you didn’t commission or create yourself.

    Do you know I recently spoke to an older man at a party who actually believed that anything published on the Internet is automatically in the public domain!!! This despite him having been in a professional field prior to his retirement and presumably well-educated. I enlightened him on the matter. Suffice to say, I’m sure he will avoid me at all future parties. :P

    Reply

    Carole Pivarnik December 27, 2012 at 6:25 am

    Just to follow up on my comment above, the Brooklyn Museum provides detailed information (including copyright info) about works in their collections. Here’s the info for one of Blake’s Great Red Dragon paintings in their collection.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 27, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Probably the same older man who believes that if you read it on the Internet, it must be true.

    Copyright laws in the U.S. have a strange and twisted history, and it’s actually very difficult to pin down when specific works might fall into the public domain. I’ve seen charts that very intricately plot out the effect of these laws over time, and it’s a nightmare sometimes to figure out.

    Reply

    Susan Troccolo December 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Joel, I think your cover for Sandy’s book is outstanding and I’m so pleased to see it available. I’m also appreciating her website and all the work that has gone into it. Way to go Sandy.

    Joel, if you have not already done so, can you please do a post on the benefits of Creative Commons–it’s strengths and potential weaknesses. I have licensed my blog under CC and have found it already useful as photos of mine have been used and properly attributed. To me it seems like an excellent paradigm for sharing our work on the web. Can you please comment?

    Susie

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Hi Susie, thanks for that. I did publish an article on Creative Commons, and you can find it here: Creative Commons: What Every Self-Publisher Ought to Know.

    However, if you’ve got your writing shoes on, it would be great to have an article on practical applications of CC because it’s a great way to get your creative work into circulation without giving up control of the work itself.

    Reply

    Widdershins December 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    What a wonderful story, and a wonderful evolution. The final art is perfect!

    Reply

    daimon December 27, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    covers seem to be ‘in the eye of the beholder’ about like/dont like/ great/good/dont make me look at another one. lol

    and I really enjoyed YOUR process and YOUR thinking over the years, Joel. I think symbolically the N.Hays cover actually more portrays the ‘concept of Daimon,’ which is un-pinnable-downable by its very nature… “of the psychoid unconscious” so to speak… wherein amongst other things, trance states appear to be seated, and memory if those entryways are deep, begins to be febrile in recall.

    But, I like your first and your final cover for readability, for positioning colors and fonts –and kerning them so well– so that the cover is colorful and readable, both. I think yours are very successful covers. I tend to ask, can this cover be read from across the room… although there’s something to be said for covers with small print so one has to pick up the book. But then the illustration has to be unique, compelling, I mean really fresh.

    Please give us more examples of YOUR OWN creative process. That would be totally cool.

    Re Wm Blake and other artists who were born and/or lived in the 1700s and 1800s, just our experience with cover art… often the museum/library holding their works, or the postcard photographer in concert with, hold and assert photographic and image, digital and electronic copyrights that are current and come from housing/protecting/insuring/cataloguing/ displaying/advertising/ making books about, etc., the older works in storage or exhibition. Often the fee they ask for cover usage is small. But they do want to know the use is compatible with their idea of the artist. Also, on another tack, some CD’s some time back (15 years ago?) were sold with license to use for non-commercial purposes many ‘museum’d artworks and if one had a commercial venture, then a fee to be inquired about.

    Reply

    John Chapman February 5, 2013 at 7:59 am

    The only reservation I would have is that when Amazon produces a thumbnail of the book (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fiHveujBL._AA160_.jpg) part of the title – ‘Embrace of the’ and the author’s name become unreadable. It’s something to bear in mind when designing covers. I have to admit it’s a sin I was guilty of in my early covers.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 5, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment. In this case the design was quite intentional and seeks to focus attention on the woman and the word Daimon. I think it does a good job at that.

    Reply

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