Designing Irish Girl

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Copyright: © Man Ray

After his story collection was selected for the 2009 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction, the author found himself designing the book’s cover

The Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction is awarded annually by UNT Press for a collection of short stories, & my manuscript was the 2009 winner.  Not long after the official announcement, my editor at the press suggested I give some thought to a concept for the cover. She didn’t say, “Please design the cover,” but I didn’t know how to present a concept without actually creating a whole design. What’s more . . . 

. . . this wasn’t my first book cover rodeo, having provided the design idea & imagery for my 2002 YA novel, Never So Green.

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And so, yeah, I said I’d give it a shot. But while I began working on my own concepts, I also asked a couple of arty friends if they cared to get in on the action, & so my first submission of “concepts” to UNT looked like so:

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The first two designs were mine, using on-line imagery, while the second two were designed by a friend using his own original photos. My editor liked the designs, but wasn’t in love with any of them, & neither was I–but this was just the first salvo. Many more concepts followed, trying on different titles, incorporating imagery connected to details in the stories.
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In one of the stories, a teenage girl shows her little sister her new tattoo, & this detail led to a new direction, and to another batch of concepts.

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I liked where this was going–darker & weirder than the earlier concepts. But I still wasn’t seeing the mood I wanted the cover to convey. And then one day I picked up one of my favorite collections of all time . . .

. . . James Salter’s Last Night–& wow. THAT was the cover I wanted.

But I couldn’t have it. It was Salter’s.

So I set about trying to re-create the look & mood of it while continuing to follow the conceptual path I was already on.

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It must’ve also been about this time…

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. . . that the the famous 1924 Man Ray photograph popped up in my search, which in turn led to a more modern image–

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–surely an homage to the Ray photograph. I liked it–particularly the Gaelic-looking design of the tat (IRISH Girl )– but it was too stark & quite a bit too . . . out there.

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So I darkened it & fuzzied it & cropped it for an off-set image that was more suggestive than literal, & a lot more atmospheric–like Salter’s.

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The off-set image left plenty of room for the text, including the required banner at the top–which was the style of all previous winners of the prize.

By now both my editor & I realized that I was, in fact, designing the cover, & so once I settled on fonts & placement, this “concept” became the final cover for the 1st Edition of the book.

As for the 2nd Edition cover . . .

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the sedaris factor

We’d received a blurb from David Sedaris pretty late in the game, & there hadn’t been room on the cover for it, & so that quote appears on the back of the 1st Edition.

But I really wanted the blurb to appear on the front, & so after I got done following Sedaris around the country on his 2010 booktour (See Side Dishes page for more on that), I got back to work. What I needed was more SPACE on the cover . . . & finally I hit on . . .

the medallion!

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The addition of the “prize winner” medallion freed up the space I needed at the top for the Sedaris quote, & after that it was just a matter of making room for the medallion itself.

But would UNT Press go for it–this radical change to their long-standing banner-style cover format?

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They would, & they did . . . & they’ve been going for it ever since.

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from irish girl to descent

By the time Descent was purchased in 2012, I’d designed the covers of two professionally published books, & even though Algonquin Books does have its own art department–& a mighty fine one–I was sure they’d want to see my ideas.

Which at first they did. But then one day my editor called to let me know, gently, that it was time for me to stop sending them covers, & so I stopped sending them covers.

Here’s a sampling of what I’d sent them. (I think the cover with the chain might be my finest, most visually interesting cover to date–note the reflection work on that link of chain!)

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Here’s a progression of the covers they sent me, as we worked our way toward a cover we were all happy with

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Here’s the cover as it exists today

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And here’s the very first cover I sent them

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as for this book

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For once, I let the pros do all the designing–in this case Pete Garceau, who wrote about the process for (including tons of great images).