Welcome to Cover Story, a new PW column that looks at the art and science of book-jacket design, and the evolution from early concept to finished product. First up: The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver (Harper, June), set in a near-future U.S. amid catastrophic economic collapse.
“I encourage all my designers to read whatever they are working on,” says Claire Ward, creative director for fiction and nonfiction, HarperCollins U.K. “A brief from an editor won’t give you the creative edge. Designers will pick up on details in the narrative that an editor may find irrelevant.”
“When I was reading The Mandibles,” Ward says, “I scribbled down words as they appeared in the text—anything that I felt might make a striking visual image.” One of those words was “cabbage,” the price of which, early in the book, goes from an “economical” $20 a head to $38.
The formerly wealthy Mandible family’s silver service, complete with engraved “M,” is mentioned several times, the last vestige of what was once a trove of possessions. Shriver opted against this image: some editions of her 2010 novel, So Much for That, featured flatware on the cover. “She didn’t want people to think she’s obsessed with cutlery,” Ward says.
Elsewhere in the novel, the family is aghast when 16-year-old Willing acquires a gun. This was among the other images Ward sent to Shriver, but, the designer says, “It didn’t hit the right tone—too apocalyptic, too much like a thriller. I never thought Lionel would go for that, but I don’t believe in showing an author just one cover. It’s important that they see you’ve tried different things.”
From the beginning, Ward liked the idea of using a brass plate to showcase the lengthy title. Along with it, “the frame made the most visual sense,” she says. “It alluded to something rare, or to be treasured or worshipped. It was then just a case of trying out different objects in the frame.” Shriver preferred the dollar bill image, but wanted it changed to a $100 bill. “I hadn’t finished book at this stage,” Ward says, “and didn’t realize that there is actually a framed $100 bill at the end.”
Shriver’s editor trusted Ward to deal with the author directly—rare access that, the designer says, “helped enormously.” Early on, Ward came up with the cover line “In God We Trust,” crossed out. Shriver didn’t like it at first, Ward says, but “she came around to the idea and said, ‘OK, don’t score it out, just put it into the past tense.’ ” Ward tried that, with the “ed” in “Trusted” in orange text. Again, Shriver demurred. “If that had gone through an editor, I’ll bet the editor would have come back and said, ‘She doesn’t like the copy line,’ ” Ward says. “I would have lost that. Because I could argue back with her in a constructive way, we resolved it between us.” With that detail ironed out, here's the finished U.S. cover.