Diary of a Series Redesign
Allen & Unwin discuss the challenges and triumphs of redesigning the YA series The Hidden.
In news just to hand: everybody in the entirety of the world judges books by their covers. That is what covers are for, to help the reader judge: What is this book and is it for me? The book cover design process is exciting and inspiring, hard and frustrating, an art, a craft and a compromise.
The Hidden, Lian Tanner’s terrific fantasy series for younger readers, has recently been redesigned with a set of beautiful new covers. Previously, the Hidden series looked like this:
The gorgeous illustrations are by Sebastian Ciaffaglione and the awesome design by Josh Durham of Design by Committee. They look great, so why redo them? A big part of publishing is working out ways to keep our books in bookstores and reaching new readers. A new cover can keep a book fresh, appeal to new readers, give a series new life, and ultimately sell more books.
In looking at a redesign we identified four different directions we could take:
The US covers. As the series is published in the US by Feiwel and Friends we could buy their designs. The benefit here being that the hard work was already done and the books would look the same across the market, but were these the right covers for our readers?
The author tie-in. Lian’s previous series The Keepers are huge bestsellers. This could result in strong author branding and a recognisable look for the age group. But would it also be confusing to readers and booksellers if they looked too similar?
The action cover. Realistic illustration, lots of movement, looks like a movie poster or a still from video game, with series branding that’s more important than the book title. This option could be more commercial and inviting, but is also one of the trickiest to execute well.
The left-field option. There is a trend in the market for fantasy for younger readers to have a gentler aesthetic – a more old-fashioned, classical, or dare-we-say-it hipsterish feel. This direction would look radically different and could be more on-trend, but would it feel true to the books?
After discussing all the different ideas it was decided that the best option would be a combo of two: the author tie-in and the action cover. We want Lian’s existing fans to recognise that this series is for them, so we will explore the keyhole-style design of the original Keepers hardbacks in a new way.
The four possible directions: US cover, author tie-in, action and left-field.
Choosing an illustrator and designer
The next step was to find the right illustrator and designer to carry through the brief. As much as we love Sebastian’s work, we were looking for something different, and we found that in Arden Beckwith. Given Josh’s history working on Lian’s books he was brought back on board to continue this new rework.
Illustrations by Arden Beckwith
We briefed Arden to give us an illustration with a strong sense of energy and action, a lighter tone and slightly younger feel than the existing cover design, and more than one character on each cover.
To our great delight the rough Arden sent through captured everything we wanted.
The determined look on our heroine’s face, the interesting perspective that creates such drama and sets the scene perfectly, the little rats!
The illustration rough was then sent to our designer Josh to see what kind of magic he might work on the series design. Josh produced a few options, including some that we may not have known we wanted. They still needed further development, but it gave us a greater sense of how the redesign was taking shape.
The Final Covers
Before Josh sent through his roughs, the team thought they knew what they wanted: the key-hole design to match The Keepers series. What we didn’t know until we saw it, was that we wanted a distinctive, but much less obtrusive, series design that would give Arden’s beautiful illustration room to breathe.
The frame in this design not only showcased Arden’s work, but brilliantly complemented the book’s setting, and laid the foundation for a really interesting progression across the three books. Ice Breaker is well and truly frozen; Sunker’s Deep is watery; and Fetcher’s Song is land-y. We could use the framing device differently for each, while still tying the books together with a unified series look.
The next thing to settle on was colour. The initial options evoked a rusty, steampunky feel that fitted the book well, but didn’t quite infuse the youthful energy and sense of light and adventure we were seeking.
True to form, both Josh and Arden took this feedback and ran with it. And the final result is so beautiful. Better than we’d even dared hope.