Project Focus: Book Cover Design for The Spirit of the River

by | Dec 18, 2009

The Spirit of the River (affiliate link) is a terrific novel by Diane McCarthy, published by her own Cloudland Press. I met Diane at an all-day publishing workshop run by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) where we are both members.

After I finished the book I decided to redesign the cover. Now this isn’t something I ordinarily do, but Diane had done an outstanding job of designing the interior herself, and the books were very nicely printed. But looking at the black and white cover, I felt it deserved something different. So I set to work.

The book is a thriller and a murder mystery that starts around a whitewater rafting camp in the Sierras. I wanted to capture both the river and the menace that gathers around the main characters as the story moves forward.

In the end I came up with four variations that I thought would work. Have a look:

The Covers for Spirit of the River

Here’s my first take on the cover. I liked this photo and tried to make it a bit more “thriller-esque” by darkening the water substantially.

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Click to enlarge

I wanted to go in a completely different direction with the second, and got out an old favorite font that looks like a distressed typewriter type. It gives an edgy feeling to this ghosted shot of roiling water.

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Click to enlarge

I really liked this photo of a river meandering away to an unknown destination in the distance, and added the dark gradient at the bottom for even more mystery. Unfortunately, I kept seeing the big space between the words “of” and “the” and it bothered me.

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Click to enlarge

Here’s my last take on this cover. I went back to the image from the previous design, but reworked the typography. Looking at it now, I think the colors are a bit too festive for this design.

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Click to enlarge

In the end I offered the designs to Diane should she ever reprint her book. Although it was only an exercise, I thoroughly enjoyed re-imagining the cover of a book I had enjoyed.

What do you think? Does one of these speak to you, or perhaps you have an idea that never occurred to me. I’d love to hear from you.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Gregor Collins

    My favorite general layout is the second one. It is the most pleasing to the eye right away. Love the title taking up the entire cover, and that red with the white is a nice marriage. I’d say the fury of the ocean in the first is more immediately striking, but I’m not a fan of that lettering. I agree the pink lettering is definitely too festive. I agree with Betty, it is fascinating to see this process. I’ve been in this section just a few minutes and am already learning so much. Thank you, Joel, and I hope to work with you down the (relatively-short) road!

    • Robert Ritchie

      I pick the last version. That cover has a good unity to it. The title doesn’t overpower the theme of the picture, although the river is too small for my liking.

      The water in the two initial covers remind one of an ocean, not a river.

      Fascinating process.

  2. admin

    Betty, thanks for looking. I didn’t think of combining the rough typewriter type with that first river shot, which I really liked. Hmm. Might work. These covers are so much fun to do, it’s almost like not working. Hope you’re having a good holiday, Betty.

  3. betty ming liu

    I like the photo in the first take. All that roiling water looks alive; lots of dangerous personality — esp with the fallen branch in the background. Like the type layout too. But I also like your distressed typewriter font. Wonder how that would look on your first cover? You’re right about the ones with color — too festive. And the water is too calm! Thanks for posting. Fun to look at your visual process.


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