Open Mic Night: Cover Design Auditions

book spines

I asked Designer Lindsey Owens to talk about her design process for Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery on the blog today–and she did! Enjoy the read and see which cover won:

It is generally creative law that a best idea is either your very first idea or your very last idea, the one that you almost didn’t pursue. In the end, the winning cover design for Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery happened to be my very last idea. I created it from varying elements of my previous designs that didn’t work alone, but worked wonderfully together.

I was really excited to receive the design assignment for Open Mic Night—like many millennials, I’m a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and I embraced the challenge of putting together a novel that was composed like a play. Once I finished the manuscript, I started brainstorming the elements that would be best to showcase on the cover: open mic night, Poe, grave stones, the theatrical and unreal motifs, old interacting with the new.

When I started on my first concept—the open mic night poster—I realized that this cover would be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. (Naturally, right? But that’s why being a designer is so fun). I knew what the right cover looked like in my head, but I couldn’t get it onto a Photoshop canvas. I experimented with hand-lettered type and stylized microphones, but couldn’t quite get a feel that encompassed the book. It got at the first half of the title, but not the last.

Open Mic Night_sketches_design
I quickly realized these sketches weren’t going to work as the real thing, so discarded them. Until someone made me dredge them up and put in this blog post.

I then turned to the fictitious presentation of the story, since the narrator presents it as a play to be performed and recreated. I placed the gravestones in a shadow box, gave them the appearance of stage props, and worked with a setting that could be both for the play and for an open mic night. When these fell a little short, I moved onto Poe.

Since he is famously buried in Westminster Cemetery and is an actual character in the story, I thought he should be featured on the cover. But not too featured, lest it read like a biography or a book of his work. While I came up with a few designs that featured parts of his face, I eventually realized that the raven seemed to work better as a design element. It also lent itself to the atmosphere of the setting.

The Audition Begins

By this time I had over ten presentable cover options and another ten that would remain in the scrap pile. There were a few that I felt good about, ones that I would have also been happy to see as the final cover. But I knew that I could do one more, just one more, and really feel like I had hit all of the points.

It started with the raven. I had kept it pretty small on my other covers, so I thought why not make it really large to create more of a shape out of it, and work the rest of the elements around its wings and legs. The last cover was also the only one where I experimented with the theme of the new interacting with the old. At first, I tried to convey this through the type treatment, but soon realized that two patterns in the background could do the trick. The elegant curves of the top pattern combat with the sharp edges of the lower pattern and mirror the way the older patrons of the cemetery clash with Lacey, the newest member. Finally, I’ve been looking for any excuse to put neon type on a cover, and I thought the words ‘open mic night’ presented the perfect opportunity.

And so, I brought my designs to the team, and we all agreed that my final design was the strongest. Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery Cover Design

Again, I would have been happy if a few other designs had won, but this process only confirmed what I knew: if there’s one, last lingering idea, go for it. Even if you’ve put together countless others, give it a shot. It could be the one to end up on a novel cover.

Read more on cover design from Lindsey!

P.S. – It looks like this cover is part of a whole flock in the neon light cover trend!



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