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:
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:
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:
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:
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.