When graphic designer Kim Lock’s debut novel ‘Peace, Love and Khaki Socks’ was published with MidnightSun, she found herself in a unique position - being offered the opportunity of designing her own book cover.
Now Kim regularly designs book covers for MidnightSun, and she's stopped by to answer all my questions about the process!
Hi Kim, thanks for talking to me! Can you share the process for designing a book cover.
Firstly I receive a ‘brief’ from the publisher. This is always an exciting day, because it means there is another book coming into the world! The brief includes a little about the book: the premise, the intended readership, the theme or genre.
I generally begin by browsing image libraries, playing with colours and typefaces, bringing elements together on the page. Once I have a good selection of concepts that I’m happy with – anything from half a dozen to 20 or more – I send these to the publisher. Then I wait!
Sometimes a concept is on the mark right away, and then we get to perfecting the cover. Other times, I might need to start over, and draft up new concepts. Sometimes, the chosen cover might be a combination of a few concepts – an image from one, a colour or typeface from another.
Once the publisher and author are happy with a front cover, I’ll then layout the cover ‘flat’ – the front, back and spine. And then, once the internal pages are finalised, I prepare the print-ready file, have it checked one last time and approved by the publisher, and send it off to the printer. Everyone celebrates that day!
Do you read the book before designing the cover? If not, how do you determine what the cover should look like?
Usually, when I receive the initial brief from the publisher, the manuscript is still in its early stages and the author is busy editing, but I will always read at least a few sample chapters, to get an idea of the theme and narrative voice.
Sometimes I read the entire manuscript. I also always receive a detailed blurb or synopsis. MidnightSun love their covers to be as eye-catching and unique as possible, so it’s a matter of balancing the right ‘look’ for the target readership with market trends, author and publisher preferences, and a beautiful design!
How long does the process take?
Working on initial concepts takes hours – anything from five or six to a dozen or more. I try to get these to the publisher within a few weeks of the brief. Then there are usually days / weeks / months of back and forth with the publisher, tweaking the design, moving elements around, adding the blurb and quotes, and finally, preparing the file for print. All up, it can take anything from several months to a year before the book hits shelves.
How much input does an author have, and at what stages in the process?
This varies between publishers, of course, but MidnightSun are generous with how much author preference and feedback is taken into account throughout the entire design process.
It’s important that a cover appeals to its intended audience, and while all authors need to understand where their book sits in the market, this is especially so at a small press, where publicity and promotion is ‘all hands on deck’!
An author is going to have to talk about their book for a long time, so it is important that they like their cover as much as possible.
What about the spine of the book – how do you make it stand out in a book shop on a shelf?
The width of the spine depends on the page count, which is something we don’t know until quite late in the process – until the manuscript is final and the internal pages are typeset. But it’s generally safe to assume it will be a very small area!
As with all design, the spine has to be both visually striking and functional instantaneously. We have so little time to capture the busy human eye. Clear type, effective use of space and little fuss are best.
What’s your favourite part about designing book covers?
I love nutting out concepts – searching for the perfect imagery, typeface, colours – and feeling that spark of elation when it looks just right.
But ultimately, the best thing is a happy publisher and a pleased author. When the whole team is proud of a cover, there’s a real sense that the book has been given the very best start to life (which, of course, every book deserves!)
What’s the hardest part about designing book covers?
It’s rare, thankfully, but sometimes the feeling that I just might not find the right concept. That can be quite terrifying.
Are you a big reader yourself?
Yes! I read widely and a lot. I’m a reader before I’m anything else. Always have been.
Does your job change the way you choose books to read or view books?
Having perspectives as a reader, designer and author creates a unique set of voices in my head when I’m browsing at bookstores! It’s usually something like: Ooh a new book from XYZ / Oh what a clever cover / Oh how interesting to put that author in that market … But generally, I’m as susceptible to a lovely, intriguing or attention-grabbing cover as anyone else.
Thanks Kim for sharing with us!
You can read more about Kim and discover her fiction on her website www.kimlock.com.au
As exciting new small publishers open up in Australia it brings more opportunities for aspiring writers. I'm delighted to chat with Anna Solding from MidnightSun Publishers about life as a publisher, what a workday involves, and how she feels discovering new authors!
Hi Anna, can you tell us how Midnight Sun began?
After I finished my degree and had been shopping my PhD (in creative writing) novel around for a while, getting lovely comments but no offers, a good friend of mine who is an entrepreneur suggested that we start a publishing company. So we did. He helped getting the structure right to begin with, but the company is mine and I am the sole director.
Why the name MidnightSun?
We had a fun brain storming session to come up with a name. MidnightSun isn’t just a beautiful name but also reflects my Swedish background. I still love the design of our logo, with a sliver of the moon inside the sun.
I read that you started MidnightSun after disenchantment with established publishing houses in Australia. Could you tell me more?
Because my manuscript had been shortlisted for, but not won, three unpublished manuscript awards I had begun feeling like publication might never happen.
The book was too different, had too many main characters, was set in Sweden and constructed as a ‘novel constellation’ (a novel of connected short stories). It was all about women, motherhood and the connections between strangers. In a way, The Hum of Concrete, as it was eventually called, is also a love song to the city of Malmö in Sweden, where I grew up.
So MidnightSun grew from my own desire to get my work published to something much larger: a publisher concentrating on stories that other publishers might find hard to market, books that straddle more than one genre, short story collections, picture books that take children seriously and often first projects by unknown authors and illustrators. Now we welcome the disenchanted.
What does your typical workday look like?
Reading is still one of my favourite parts of the job but there is a lot less of that than you might expect. Most days I spend in front of the computer replying to emails about design, distribution, editing and sales. And I have come to love this aspect of my publishing job too. Coming up with ideas for covers and seeing how my designer Kim has interpreted them is a huge thrill. Sometimes she designs thirty covers for a book and so many of them are amazing.
Have you always wanted to be a writer and publisher?
From a very young age I loved reading and writing. There was no better way to spend the day than being immersed in a wonderful book. Fairly soon I was expanding on the stories I read (sequel to The Narnia series, anyone?) as well as making up my own. One of my teachers was especially encouraging, making writing as a profession seem possible and I’ll be eternally grateful to her.
Aspiring writers (and the general public) often think that contracts with a big publishing house means success. Could you comment on that?
Well, I think success is different for everyone. Bigger publishing houses often have the means to pay bigger advances, so in a monetary sense it could be seen as a success. However, many writers find that they themselves and their books get lost in a bigger house and therefore prefer the individually tailored experience that being published by a smaller house provides.
Big publishing houses often say they only have room for a certain number of books. Why is that?
I suspect that bigger publishers have to publish a certain number of books each year to meet their targets, but we don’t have that stress. I think the bigger publishers are often inclined to publish work they aren’t passionate about but that fits into their schedule.
So if you have two books that are equally good, but only room for one, which one do you choose?
The beauty of running my own publishing house and only publishing books that I love is that I have complete artistic freedom. I don’t have to choose just one if I have two books that are equally good. In fact, I have just chosen to accept two picture books on a fairly unusual Australian theme. The trick is to make sure the illustrations still look very different and that they aren’t published around the same time.
What’s the most exciting part of discovering a new author?
I love finding new voices, especially diverse voices that tell stories we have never heard before. It gives me great satisfaction to give new authors their first chance of publication, which is why we have also published a couple of short story anthologies.
For many writers having a story in a themed collection or winning a short story competition can be the beginning of their career. One of the most exciting things is ringing a new writer to offer them publication. It’s a moment of genuine joy and excitement for both of us.
Where do you see MidnightSun’s role in the Australian market in the future?
MidnightSun is highly regarded in the industry for the quality of our books: from the stories to the design and the printing quality. I hope we can keep producing beautiful, highly acclaimed, award-winning books for many years to come. I would be lying if I said that sales don’t matter. Of course it would also be wonderful to find a bestseller or two in the slush pile. Over the next few years, we are also planning to expand our overseas reach and I would love for more of our books to reach readers around the world.
What is your personal best advice for new writers?
Read, read, read. And then read some more. I know that this is common advice but it’s essential to be familiar with the kinds of books you love and get to understand why you love them. Is it because of the writer’s special turn of phrase or the way they leave you with a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter?
Write, write, write. And then write some more. My PhD supervisor had a sign on her door saying: ‘Thinking about writing or talking about writing or worrying about writing is not writing’. As a procrastinator, that really hit home for me. You actually have to put words on the page to be able to edit them. This and other excellent advice can be found in Roland Fishman’s cute little book Creative Wisdom For Writers.
Sharing your writing with your peers is also invaluable. Join a writers’ group, take courses at writers’ centres. Be open to criticism and reciprocate the feedback if possible. Send your work off to magazines, anthologies, competitions. Join online writing groups. Be supportive of other’s successes so that they can one day be supportive of yours. Do a spreadsheet so you know where all your work is being considered. Send many stories out at the same time so that good news could always come your way. Develop a thick skin so rejections hurt less. As soon as you’ve had a rejection, send your work out again.
Identify as a writer. It’s more powerful than you think. Do the work, grab the badge. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t yet been published. If you write, you’re a writer.
Anything else you would like to add!
Thank you so much for your interest in MidnightSun. It’s thanks to readers like you that small publishers like MidnightSun can thrive in the competitive Australian publishing landscape. You can follow us on social media to see what we are up to.
Thank you Anna!
Find out more at MidnightSun Publishing's website.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Women's Ink!
I grew up playing Scrabble in a home where the rules were followed precisely, so alongside the board and tile bag was always our hardback navy Complete Oxford English Dictionary published seven years before I was born. Any disputes over a word and the dictionary had the last one. The dictionary held the record of true words and true meanings. When it came to Scrabble, the dictionary was finite and resolute.
Only when new possessions slipped into our home (a microwave, a video recorder, my first Walkman) did I discover that new words could be added to a dictionary, and established words could take on different meanings. The dictionary is not finite, of course, nor the authoritarian I had believed it to be. Language is dynamic, advancing along with the inevitable march of time.
At the end of last year, Oxford Languages reported that the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic have brought about an ‘unusual pace of linguistic change’, and for the first time since 2004 when its Word of the Year tradition began, they concluded that 2020 ‘is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word.’
Covid 19 has infected our language as it has our lives. Social distancing, quarantine, self-isolation, flattening the curve. We endured unprecedented use of the word unprecedented. Pivot is applied as a panacea for any struggling business during the pandemic. And, of course, there’s lockdown.
And it was while people were in lockdown that old Scrabble boards re-emerged and sales of new Scrabble sets skyrocketed. In the UK, sales of board games and jigsaws increased by 240% and Scrabble, a game launched in 1949, sold out online. In the midst of a year which no single word could define, millions of people around the world took comfort in making as many words as they could.