A Cover Story: Chapter 1

I’VE BEEN MEANING TO WORK this series up for some time. I don’t ordinarily get all didactic on my readers…

Yeah, right.





Very mature.

And the horse you rode in on.

Andy way. I think I might have some cogent and salient points to make, here — something of value and worthy of note to add to the conversation on the subject of book cover design.

And, in order to explain, let me tell you a bit about my credentials.

First: what I can’t tell you. I cannot tell you the name of the company I work for. Or the industry in which I labor. Nor the names of any of my clients (although you would recognize them all). I can’t even describe the products I design, because they are unique in the world and, in that venue, I am too well-known. And (here’s the kicker), the field in which I till is so deep in the fever swamps of leftism, so set about with so-called — scorn quotes — “political correctness” that you cannot see the shore from here, and very few people in the business are even allowed independent thought, let alone capable of it.

Now, for myself, I wouldn’t care. If I did, you wouldn’t know squat about my political or economic or social positions. I’m that practiced at keeping them to myself. But my employer would rather not fight the battles (not to mention that one owner is a Republican, the other a Democrat), and I see no moral case for imposing myself on them. Really, morally, politics and religion have no place in business, and it’s only due to the importunate Left that they have been intruded where they are unwelcome. But that, too, is another fight nobody here wants.

So: what can I tell you? OK. What’s relevant, here. I have been in this field for 30-plus years — a career in other words. The field where I till is global in scope, high-profile, and inhabited by a highly-educated, well-to-do, demanding clientele, impatient of incompetence and imperfection in goods or services. In short, it’s a truly Darwinian field, where the weak, the stupid, the clumsy, and the lazy do not survive. It also is highly dependent on graphics, and its practitioners, by en large, are literate in the jargon and symbolism of the visual arts. They know good art when they see it. And, yet, they are not unwilling to be innovative, albeit with a strange and quirky conservatism — even in their transgression. As Wilde put it, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.

Personally, I have little formal training in the graphic arts. My education in the field consists mainly of tutelage by excellent teachers in public schools, and a fair grounding (garnered at home, by the way) in aesthetics and art history. I have, however, always had a deep and abiding interest in making pretty pictures. I have always taken pencil and paper and drawn on my imagination. In high school, I took up photography — including darkroom work — and gained skills to be considered a serious amateur. Even did some work at a pro level, although I found the business aspects of it unpleasant and so failed in the enterprise.

At that time, I thought my main career thrust would be in show business. I was on the stage crew at school and intended to work in legitimate theater (think: Broadway) as a lighting technician. But it was not to be. The why is not relevant to this story. Suffice it to say that, in my mid-twenties, I found myself working in the offices of a failing entertainment venue and looking around for the next step. And my boss took me along on his own leap into … this company. The one I still work for. It was, in the main, a printing company. And I began an intense apprenticeship in all matters related to getting ink marks on paper. If you are familiar with the apprenticeships of Michelangelo or Rembrandt, you might get some notion of what I underwent by the age of thirty. I cut paper, ran machinery from slitters and round-cornerers to cameras and presses. I set type, did pasteup, shot and stripped film, burned plates, engineered jobs, and eventually ended up running the shop — all the while also serving as the customer service rep to this industrial segment where the company had hit on its particular specialization.

In my early thirties, I had as my clients ninety percent of the top figures in that industry segment. And, due to the vagaries of the business, was essentially also serving as designer and/or art director for their projects. By 1990, I could accurately claim to design 90% of what the global industry used from our product line (and those of our few competitors). I was (and remain), in short, a world-class designer in a big-money field.

In the ’90s, the spread of microcomputers through the graphic arts industry accelerated. The Mac was introduced in 1984. By 1990, it ruled the roost and PC makers were beginning to take notice. And Microsoft introduced Windows 3. And the company for which I work began an intensive drive to computerize all of our graphics operations. I took to it like a duckling to water. By 1992, I was a sysop on the Corel and Adobe forums on CompuServe and becoming a recognized expert in the desktop publishing field, writing regular articles in tech journals on the various aspects of the use of software published by both companies, a state of affairs that lasted until the Clinton administration popped the tech bubble by its persecution of Microsoft in 2000.

So, now you know why you should pay attention to me. We will mention it no more. Don’t take this as an appeal to authority, merely an argument as to why I’m not wasting your time or squandering your attention. And by now, some of you whom I have not told will have figured out who I am, and I will stop dropping more clues. From here forward, judge the value of what I write on its own merits.

What I’m proposing to do here is to offer some insight into the processes of getting artwork on paper, and some verities of design that appear to have gotten lost in the mix. I am going to burst a lot of bubbles, and speak counter to wisdom conventional and not-so-. The next installment will begin my perorations. And, while it will not become immediately relevant, I propose to take as my text the requirements for getting a cover done by CreateSpace, so, as a prerequisite of sorts, you might hie yourself there and at minimum obtain their cover template and instructions. And, you could probably do worse than signing up and getting yourself an account there while you’re at it.

I’m not entirely sure how fast I’ll be able to turn these columns. They take a good deal more effort than mere political bloviating, and so might come at rarer frequency, but I will attempt to keep them coming at least once a week. Watch this space.

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