As the author of books published by an Independent Micro-press, one of the greatest joys is planning my own cover and interior design elements. That would, of course, never happen with a commercial press, unless your name is Ernest Hemingway or a reasonable facsimile thereof. But the process can be fraught with danger for the author and designer. More options make for tougher decisions. Planning for the cover of The Gilded Cage started with the physical cage itself. It seemed obvious. Those gilded age mansions lining the avenues in New York are amazing to look at, yet daunting to imagine living in.
So, although there are many metaphorical cages in the book, a picture of the Warburg mansion, now the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue at 92nd street seemed the perfect backdrop for the cover even though the era was a little later than in the book. Both Certain Liberties and The Gilded Cage were moored in that house initially, but the final planning for the book took the better part of two years, and by the time the content and line edits were done, it somehow became obvious the original plan had lost its luster. It just didn’t say enough about the journey from the front to the back page.
Being puritanically averse to waste, I naturally saw no reason to spend time trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel. I did research on book covers connected to any form of cages and gilding through the centuries. There are even a few ancient “Gilded Cage” titles, but none of those covers were complex enough to take us deeper into the book itself. So, if we were getting rid of the house and any actual representation of a gold cage, we’d have to go the other way entirely. And what does one often find hanging on the wall in those houses? A family portrait with a huge, ornate, gilt frame around it denoting importance, wealth, and expectations.
For my part, from there it was no more than a search for the portrait, and an artist who could maneuver it the way I wanted. I envisioned a picture of a marriage that looked a little less than happy, with guests who look less than thrilled to be included, and a little flower girl carrying a violin without a bow. Who she is and why she’s there will be a mystery every reader must solve for themselves. The ornate gilt frame surrounding the marriage portrait should be an obvious enclosure encompassing the partners as well as their audience. The richness of the colors must be a little overwhelming, much like an enticing dessert one isn’t sure can be handled yet suggesting the kind of satisfaction we seldom turn away from.
My book designer, Katie Holeman, was given the assignment of the artwork as well as the balancing of the frame and print. She created a visual depiction of the complex lives and dilemmas of the characters in The Gilded Cage without giving any of it away. The following summary from Katie tells you more about the collaboration of art and author. It’s the true inside scoop, since all I did was tell her what I wanted and why. She made it come alive on the page:
Thank you, Sidney for that glowing introduction! To fully explain our process, I must start at the beginning. My former boss at Random House (and James Michener’s only book designer) Carole Lowenstein, taught me all about the tiers of typography and interior book design. I liken my time at Random House to obtaining a secondary degree. There is nothing like being mentored, on the job, by some of the greats in the book world. Before I worked with Carole, I was in the production department, choosing paper, preparing book files, and sitting in on cover meetings. Both experiences have molded my career in ways that allow me to understand both the technical and the artistic side of the book-making process.
As my work with Sidney has developed over the past decade, we have both grown to understand the ins and outs (and ups and downs!) of independent publishing. As Sidney mentioned above, one of the best parts of independent publishing is having full control over the book design. Sidney is able to express her design wants to me and I, in turn, use my duel skillset to create the final package. I also tell my clients what is and is not possible with the “do it yourself” approach to publishing. The good news? More and more people are turning to independent publishing which means printers are adapting and providing better, user-friendly experiences for all of us creatives. As the industry has changed, Sidney and I have adapted to provide the best experience for readers, whether they prefer printed pages or e-book devices.
Let’s talk book design! I’ll start with the interior. If we think about it in a tier formation, the title page is the first level, where all of the design motifs are used. From there, part titles borrow bits from the title page and chapter openers use pieces from part titles. Running heads, folios, and decorative line breaks all have their part to play. Well, if the title page sets the scene then it’s the book cover that sets the stage.
When it comes to cover design, it is key for the designer and author to be in sync with their vision for the reader’s experience. I really like to read the books I design and have in-depth brainstorming sessions with my authors before diving into a design. Dedicating time to this exploration phase helps create a flow for me as the artist, lets the author understand expectations, and keeps the book on schedule for publication.
With Certain Liberties, the cover art nearly fell into my lap. How amazing to have this portrait of Sidney’s great grandmother, with a perfect expression and pose for her protagonist, Emily Alden. Adding a collage of music notes and an antique color scheme was the next step. As its sequel, we agreed that The Gilded Cage should have some of the same design elements. Yet we wanted to elevate this second book in the saga to a new level, just like Emily and Corey in their life journey. More mature, wiser, with personal struggles and the emotional strain of post-war events, and both somehow trapped in a gilded cage. To begin, we looked at book comparisons, another key step in the planning process. As Sidney mentioned above, once we knew we didn’t want a bird cage or golden prison bars, I found a perfect golden frame from one of my trusted stock art sources. Next came the wedding portrait. It was almost perfect. I removed some people, added details to Emily’s dress, and most importantly adjusted the groom’s face to match how we have imagined Corey to look. With a little Photoshop magic we had our portrait. Then to tie it together with Certain Liberties, I used the same warm red color from the title text and the music notes in the background. The other fun thing about Sidney’s books is that they are long enough for a really lovely spines. It was Sidney who saw a book spine like the one we have used in The Gilded Cage. I then found a way to mimic what she envisioned, creating an antique, gilded book that one might find on a shelf in the de Koningh library itself.
The final step is the “thumbnail” test. In today’s world of online book sales, the question is: will this stand out on Amazon? Our very last edit was to give the gold text a slight outline and more shine to make it pop even at that small size. Sidney’s writing and natural story telling ability means this book will stand on its own, but I hope the cover helps draw readers into this richly woven tale.
You can find more examples of Katie’s design work at KSHCreative.com. Learn more about Momentum Ink Press at MomentumInkPress.com. The Kindle edition of The Gilded Cage is available for pre-order now via Amazon.com.