People Like You Countdown (6 Days to Publication!). Giving the Book a Face.

In advance of the official November 17th release of Margaret Malone's People Like You,
we're featuring a series of posts about this phenomenal debut, which The Oregonian recently hailed as "stunningly composed."

Today we share a glimpse into our cover design process.

(By the way, People Like You is already in stock at Atelier26 HQ and can be ordered now. All orders ship within 24 hours!)

We take design seriously around here at A26HQ, and we couldn't be luckier than to work with designer Nathan Shields, who is not only one of the most visually talented people I've ever met, but who shares the Atelier26 commitment to creating distinctive and elegant books. 

When it came time to get cracking on a cover design for Margaret Malone's People Like You, I began the process the way we always do, by having a conversation with the author. In preparation for that conversation, I'd whipped up two cover prototypes to share with Margaret. I hoped these might elicit a gut response that would help us understand the general design direction we should move in; i.e. Margaret's thinking in terms of coloration, tone, and the level of specificity we were looking for with imagery. If she were to say, "No, absolutely not, that makes me want to retch"--well, that could be an extremely useful piece of information. And if she were to say, "Hmm, that's a good start," ditto.

The first prototype looked like this:

Readers of People Like You may recognize the reference to the book's title story, in which the narrator Cheryl leaves a disappointing party with a green balloon. This prototype had the salutary effect of generating a discussion about the desirability of using a big, bold font in the title design.

The second prototype I shared looked like this:

One of the funny/heartbreaking stories in the book concludes with a couple standing in an elevator. Again, we agreed that the large text was the way to go. Also, we started talking about how a non-photo-oriented design seemed to be preferable. This design would become the basis for the cover of a staplebound excerpt from the book that we would send out to booksellers all over the country:

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I jotted the following notes from our conversation.
-simple/specific design would be best
-use of big lettering is appealing
-perhaps lean toward a textual/typographic design rather than a stock photo look (?)
-avoid photographic images of people
These I shared with Nathan, in an e-mail that also included some reference photographs of faced-out book covers Margaret had taken while visiting Powell's.

Within a day or two Nathan supplied a batch of early cover drafts that included the following:

A three-way conversation began as Nathan, Margaret, and I continued to develop our ideas about the cover. We discussed title placement, type design, coloration, contrast, etc. As the conversation evolved over the course of a few weeks, Nathan -- tireless artist that he is -- kept surprising us with new and varied iterations: a feast of choice! Among these, the background began to darken, which felt like a good way to go.

And then the title lettering changed -- to a typeface that Nathan himself designed, hand-carved, and printed:

We eventually found ourselves having considered something like 25 iterations.

We considered them all, we liked each one for its own reasons. But finally one among them had a powerful kind of inevitability. We had our winner.

Then Nathan dressed out the back cover with an extremely beautiful, understated wraparound spine. For the rear text, it felt right to dispense with a formal synopsis and allow the several marvelous blurbs from authors Jim Shepard, Lidia Yuknavitch, Kyle Minor, and Tom Spanbauer to speak for themselves. Each articulates the flavor, appeal, and power of the book so perfectly.

Our thanks to Nathan Shields for his indefatigable, always inspiring work on People Like You and all our books.