The Story of a Book Cover

The Time of the Wolf by James Wilde

IMG_0140My copy of the American version of James Wilde’s Hereward, retitled The Time of the Wolf, arrived a couple of weeks ago. This is a failed attempt of mine to take an ‘arty’ faux-Polaroid picture of it.

I said/threatened to write a post about it. It’s taken a while and some effort to get it all together, so please excuse the delay. Oh yeah, and I have a day job as well. In a hospital.

Anyway, out of curiosity for such a huge change – cover and name, f’goodness’ sake – I thought I could do worse than try and dig a little deeper into the case before posting.

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Oh, and from the same photoshoot at Speesh Towers‘ extensive photo studios…here’s my hardback copy of Hereward.

Even after over 20 years in Advertising there’s still no start to my creativity, as you can see. That’s why I work in a hospital, after all.

Anyway, donning Deerstalker and chomping on a silly pipe, here goes…

The Basics

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The first in James Wilde’s Hereward (so far) trilogy, is called Hereward. The US version of that book is called The Time of the Wolf. Actually, Amazon includes the subheading in the title as well; The Time of the Wolf: A Novel of Medieval England. Fair enough really, puts it properly in its time-frame for readers unaware of anything to do with the Hereward legend. I struggled with the ‘Medieval’ bit. I usually associate that as being later, than the novel’s 1066 setting. But it’s right enough according to Wikipedia.

In European history, the Middle Ages, or Medieval period, lasted from the 5th to the 15th century

Well, there you go, so all this has taught me something at least!

The book is the same, except for ‘minor changes’, as the good Mr Wilde puts it. What the minor changes are, apart from presumably some spelling alterations, I don’t know as yet.

The-Time-of-the-Wolf-Wilde-James-9781605984162

(left, The Time of the Wolf lifted directly  from Amazon’s website)

There’s no doubt the cover looks and makes the book feel absolutely lovely. The picture and the cover itself. It’s printed on good quality glossy paper, whereas the UK version is a matt cover, with what we call in the trade ‘spot varnish’ over the figure of Hereward. That costs. The UK has the title Hereward embossed. That costs. The US doesn’t emboss its title, more’s the pity.

As I’d bought this one, knowing it was the US version of one I already had, because of the cover, I had a look around on the cover to see if there was a way of finding out a little more about it.

Hidden away on the inside back cover, is a credit as follows;

Jacket Design by Faceout Studio Jeff Miller
Cover image Getty Images, Shutterstock

Now, Getty Images and Shutterstock I know, are photo agencies. They sell photographs to whoever wants to use the pictures. The ‘whoever’ of course, is usully advertising agencies and designers and people producing work that needs a picture of the kind Getty or Shutterstock have. The cost of the photograph is usually based on its use. If a photograph is used and seen by millions of people, then they are going to associate that image with that product or service. So it can’t be, or is unlikely to be, sold again to another agency to be used for another product or service. Because it is now associated in millions of people’s minds, with the product or service they saw it advertising or promoting. It can be used again of course, but unless it’s to a completely different group of people, it’s unlikely. So the cost will be high, so Getty (there are other photo agencies available – Ed.) can get as much money out of it as possible. At the advertising agency I worked at, we/I always played down the size, location in the brochure or whatever we were producing, along with the audience, to get a picture as cheaply as possible. Luckily, we never got found out 😉

FaceoutFaceout Studios are clearly the people who have got the job from the publishing house to design the cover. Jeff Miller is the designer who has actually done the work (he is listed as ‘Art Director’ at Faceout Studios. Pretty much does what it says on the tin; he directs the art leading to the final printed job. Could do it himself, could direct others to do it). That much I could figure out myself. I went a bit further. Faceout Studio have a website here. Then, you can click through to see other work by Jeff Miller. He also has an on-line portfolio of work here.

Being a curious kinda annoying git, I decided to email Jeff Miller about his work on cover for The Time of the Wolf. And you know what? He replied!

Apart from a very nice, long, detailed and not at all annoyed at being contacted out of the blue by some clown living in Denmark-type email, he also sent me some copies of his initial proposals for the cover design, along with the final cover, pre- and post-tweak.

Amazing!

He says he’s been working for Faceout Studio for almost 6 years now, where he specialises in book cover design. When I first saw his on-line portfolio I was struck by the work he’s done with type. It seemed to me, that he was perhaps more of a type man, than an image man. Obviously the two can go together, but it did seem like Jeff’s first love would be working with type. And lo! In reply to my musing, he says he works

with not only all kinds of typography (hand-written, straight forward, illustrative), but also photo illustration where I sometimes piece together multiple photos and textures to create one cohesive scene (such as Time of the Wolf).

Jeff says he had “a lot of room to take creative liberty in the design.” Which I take to mean he was left alone to interpret his instructions and given free creative reign – without interference – to come up with a solution. Perfection. He didn’t have a client handing him a sheet of scribbles at the start of the initial meeting, saying “The Chairman’s son has had a go and he thinks it should look something like this.” It happened, I can assure you. I know someone that happened to. Obviously, his clients believe – as they should – in the old ‘you don’t have a dog and bark yourself’ maxim. Good for them.

index_2_01I can’t tell you if these were the only ideas he had, though I would doubt it. I would think he had many more and that these three were thought good enough to be presented – either internally, or shown directly to the client, James Wilde’s US publishers – Pegasus Books.

The three ideas.

TOTW.Initial Presentation Idea 2The first one (though the order I’m showing them may not be in the order he thought of them) does have a slightly similar feel to that of the UK Hereward cover, with the warrior drawing his sword ready for the kill. I asked him in a second email, if he had actually seen the UK version. I said, if I’d had the job, I would perhaps have tried not to see it. In the hope that I could have come up with a completely unique idea. One that still fitted the instructions of course, but that didn’t either try to follow, or try to ignore the original UK version for the sake of it. He said he did see the UK version, but as you can see from the final approved idea, he’s good enough to still come up with a look and feel all his own.

If I can put myself in Jeff’s position, I would have come up with this in order to steer the client towards the one I wanted him/her to choose. By presenting him/her with something they couldn’t help refuse, if you see what I mean? Explore other solutions only to show that the one you feel is best, is the best. I don’t know if that’s what he did, it’s just what I did many times. Anyway, I would have said this version is a bit too Clan Of The Cave Bear-y for Hereward. Too many pastel shades, too much bright open skies for Cambridgeshire and the Fens. Not sure about the blonde hair either.

TOTW. Idea 1

The second one here, is going more in the direction of what Jeff says was his brief, to show Hereward as a menacing, shadowy figure, lurking in the shadows figure (see full description below). Probably too much, too abstract, too Harry Potter in this form. Those eyes could be a Panther or an owl, they don’t look particularly human, do they? Personally, I think I’d be more than a bit non-plussed to read about the English resistance to the Norman conquests if I’d bought the book based on that cover. You might think it was a new Jungle Book story, maybe? But still, it’s useful in (again) steering the client towards the solution Jeff wants him to go with.

So how did he get a feel for the book and come up with the final design?

He admits he didn’t read the whole book. But then I wouldn’t expect him to have done. And that he read even a portion of it is an indication of his dedication, as he says

I did have a really good idea of what the publisher wanted in terms of mood and what to focus on. I also was provided with a synopsis of the book that helped guide me.

Now we’re really getting to it.

Obviously the publisher has done the decent thing and produced a good brief for Jeff to work from (a rarity, I can tell you). The publisher must have produced a run-through of the book for him. But, as he says ‘mood’ earlier in that quote there, maybe the run-through was not just a synopsis of the main points in the story, maybe it was more of what we call ‘a brief’, where the ideas or themes of what the publisher wants Jeff to put over are also made clear. It is this reference to ‘mood’ that also interests me, as it is clear – and anyone can see by comparing the two books covers (see here) that the US publisher Pegasus Books, have a much different idea of the mood they think they need to promote, that they know the US audiences will go for. Comparing the UK and US versions, it’s almost chalk and cheese, isn’t it?

TOTW.Initial Presentation Idea 3

So, I would imagine that this one is the one the other two were steering the client towards accepting. As opposed to Jeff handing the client a pin and saying here’s three ideas, take your pick.

This is the final version…or, is it?

Anyway, we can now see a solution that fits what Jeff says was his brief from the client;

the publisher did want me to focus on the main character of Hereward.

You could say that was true of the UK cover as well. However, the UK cover, by including other elements of battle in the background as well as the Hereward figure aiming an arrow at us, I think is saying; ‘this is what Hereward does‘. The US publishers, on the other hand, seem to be trying to put over a feel of ‘this is what Hereward is. Fitting what Jeff says about wanting to stress the ‘character’ of Hereward, no? The UK cover says ‘this is what happens in the book’. The US cover actually has to try and put over something a little less easy to picture; the character and mood of Hereward the person. As they see it.

So, how did he reach this final design idea?

I had a pretty good idea that I needed to play up the position in which Hereward was in – he was the good guy, but was looked at as an outlaw that his enemies wanted dead. So he had to appear secretive, a man in the shadows, always a step ahead, but a man that was powerful and smart to survive in such a ruthless climate.

I’m thinking; isn’t that precisely how the Normans would have seen Hereward? A rebel in the shadows, an ‘outsider’ always seeming a step ahead, a man striking at them from the shadows and the Fens’ hidden secret places?

norman-1511-a
An actual Norman knight looking for, but not finding, Hereward.
From http://www.albion-swords.com

It’s almost as though – ever so subtly and I’m sure without realizing it, but maybe due to his American background, once removed from the history and traditions that are a part of (people like) me as an Englishman – Jeff has allied himself with, and is looking at, Hereward from the Norman point of view? Whereas a UK reader would see Hereward from the English point of view. Goes without saying that we would do that, interesting for me to think it may be different for Jeff. In the UK version, Hereward and his warriors are out under open skies, in the US version, he’s standing in the shadows, ready, watching, waiting to strike. Two almost polar opposite interpretations of the same problem, don’t you think?

So, Jeff’s got hold of what the mood should be, where does he start with the design?

Everything started with the backdrop. I found the basic nuts and bolts of a backdrop that looked mysterious and already had a lot of great shadowing. The environment also looked weathered – a possible hideout that Hereward took refuge in. Then I found a great image of Hereward that I altered some to match the lighting and shadowing of the backdrop.

Now, the two picture elements are a. The background, b. The figure of ‘Hereward.’ He doesn’t say which came from Getty and which came from Shutterstock and without knowing how he searched for the pictures, it’d take a lifetime to go through all their pictures to find the originals. Jeff then had his work cut out putting them together, so they seemed to be the same picture;

After creating a match, I then went into some intense color shifts, enhancements, and texturing to mesh Hereward and the background even closer together – to get a nice cohesive look.

Jeff is of course playing down what I can assure you is a quite formidable piece of computer work here. ‘After creating a match’, for instance isn’t, though some of my bosses used to claim it was, just a case of pressing a button. You really have to know your way round Photoshop (I’m taking it as read it was Photoshop Jeff used) to get that sort of thing right.

So that’s the picture in order, now for what I suspect was what Jeff enjoyed the most, the typography.

Lastly, I focused on the typography. I found a typeface that had lots of great qualities that represented Hereward, the harsh climate, the mystery surrounding him as an outsider in his time period. I used more texture on the title to give some 3D effects, along with some grit that almost appears like stone.

Just shows how something that most of us probably don’t give a second thought to, the words, how they look, the type, really ‘speaks’ to a typographer.

Interestingly, though as I’ve already mentioned, for the final, printed version, they then changed the look of the sword Jeff’s ‘Hereward’ is holding.

The Time of the Wolf HardbackThis is a scan of the actual hardback copy I have.

As you can see, it is the same as the ‘Polaroid’ at the top, but *trumpet fanfare* not the same as the one pictured on Amazon’s page for ordering it! Check it out, click on the link up top, or here.

What on earth could have happened? I reckon, Amazon needed to put it on their website before Jeff and the publishers were completely finished with the designing and Amazon just said “give us something!” and they got sent this working version. It could be that the decision to alter the sword, was taken late in the day, just before printing and Amazon had got what was previously thought to be the final version.

If it had been from my agency, I’d put it down to a f*@k-up.

But it also suggests that the pictorial elements are actually a composite of three pictures – background, figure and sword handle.

Why?, you ask – and Jeff answers;

I had to change the sword handle to look less phallic and more representative of a broadsword with lots of character. That decision was dictated by the publisher, which in hindsight I understand and I actually like the end result better.

Here Jeff is showing absolute classic designer professionalism and doing the best possible job for the target market, rather than getting precious and refusing to budge, or denigrating an alteration that was made that didn’t originate with him. I’d have loved to have worked alongside someone so focused as he is.

And here a publisher is showing absolute classic client behaviour in seeing a connotation no one else would – if they hadn’t pointed it out!

There is, by my estimation, a fair bit of work involved in producing a cover like the one Jeff has here. There’s no way on earth I could have done it. I would like to think I could have come up with the concept as Jeff has done, but in my early days – before the first Apple Macs came on the market – it would have been sketched out by me – called a ‘Visual’ – shown to the client, altered beyond recognition, then I’d have led an illustrator by the hand to do the finished artwork. Once I’d found one who had the style and the time to do it that is. I would think he/she alone would have needed at least two weeks to do the first, finished version of the artwork. Then there would have been all the Client alteration nightmares…How long nowadays?

I would safely say covers like The Time of the Wolf typically take around 1/2 a day and up to 2 days to execute. It all depends on the quality of imagery we are able to work with and how closely imagery syncs up with the vision we have in mind…I saw a lot of potential in both main images and through experience I knew that it was highly probable to make everything look cohesive and real. I did use a lot of color shifts, shading, lighting and textures to bring everything closer together, but sometimes it takes a lot of tweaking to get things looking right.

Two days!

Stunning. I am not joking in any way, when I say I still have nightmares about producing this sort of thing. Making mistakes, making last minute changes and generally crossing fingers over 50% of the time. Jeff’s calm, matter-of-fact attitude above seems like a message from another world to me.

The Time of the Wolf Hardback copyTo finish, I did ask him about the sky and the moon at the very top of the finished cover. I wondered to myself, if they weren’t linking a bit too much with the ‘Wolf’ angle of the title. For me, it almost looked like it was as if they were trying to say ‘(Were)Wolf.’ With maybe half an eye on the current trend for Twilight-style series. According to Jeff, it was

to help better establish Hereward living in the shadows (or in a natural environment) to keep out of reach and unknown to his enemies. Moonlight also helped play up the mystery effect in my opinion, and it added some subtle connection to “Wolf” in the title – a man of the night, a man of secrecy.

So, I wasn’t far off on that one, was I? Reputation rescued at the last minute. I’ve still got it.

It seems the title change was decided upon by the US publishers, Jeff says. Whilst he actually says they “rarely” get the chance to alter or influence title changes, it must mean they can on occasion suggest changes. As he says;

each publisher has an extensive marketing team that has a specific vision for how they want to market each book.

I’m gonna leave discussion of the title change there, aren’t you glad about that? I could write a thesis on that subject, but it’s best I keep my powder dry for now.

I think all in all it is really interesting and thought provoking, way beyond my initial feelings of irritation at what seemed merely a fixing something that ain’t broken, that the US team thought they needed a such a different vision to that of the UK team.

The Time of the Wolf – the final front-ier and back.

TOTW.Final Jacket copy

I think Jeff has come up with a really excellent solution to the problem he was given. Based on solid reasoning, inspiration, masses of talent – and not least, some really excellent computer jiggery-pokery.

Hereward The Devils Army251nOWkC794L._SL500_AA300_It is hard for me to be truly objective in coming up with a criticism – and in my world, the world I worked in for over 20 years, ‘criticism’ means being positive, coming with your thoughts on why something works – does what the client wants it to do, here; sell Hereward books – or doesn’t work. Not whether you like it or not. Because I have lived with and loved the UK Hereward for a long time more than I have with The Time of the Wolf, I can’t go back and undo that. Also I’ve seen how the UK series has worked out with the covers for book two and three, and thought it was unimprovable on for so long.

When I first saw the US cover, I just thought ‘no, that’s wrong’, I must admit. But, after learning more about Jeff’s work, learning the thoughts behind the change in the name, the thoughts and reasoning behind the change of style and the needs of the American market for Hereward, from Jeff in the main; I’m very comfortable with saying that I would have approved of and presented Jeff’s cover, had one of my designers had worked it up for me.

I would love to get hold of the people who actually did the UK ‘Hereward’ covers and compare notes with them. However, I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine they will/would be so open, honest, sharing and all round decent as Jeff. So, unless one of them reads this and wants to put me right…we’ll leave Hereward/The Time of the Wolf there.

Or, shall we…?

As I said, I did ask Jeff if he had seen the UK Hereward cover, but I hadn’t thought of that when I sent him the original email. He was good enough to say at the end of his reply, that if I had any further questions about the cover, to let him know. So I did.

Twitter Hereward name

Then there’s the little matter of the second Hereward book; Hereward The Devil’s Army. It was, after all, the mention of a title change by James Wilde on Twitter about that,that lead me to finding and buying The Time of the Wolf in the first place. What do we – or Jeff – know about the name and design of that one?

If you can bait your breath just a little longer, I have very nearly (though probably not by the time I’ve got round to finishing the post) exclusive news on that front…

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