The Making of Begin, End, Begin
A blog post by Danielle Binks.
A new anthology of #LoveOzYA short stories is being released in May by HarperCollins. Editor Danielle Binks runs us through how the concept and design for the cover came together.
To understand the concept and brief for the cover of Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, you have to recognise that it all begins and ends with that hashtag in the title — ‘#LoveOzYA’ — ‘Love Australian Young Adult Literature’.
The idea for a short-story anthology featuring new writing by some of Australia’s favourite young adult authors had its genesis in a 2015 survey put out by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). It was a survey of public libraries to find the top ten most-borrowed books in Australia — and the results for YA literature were disappointingly dominated by American titles, which were bolstered by blockbuster film adaptations and tie-ins.
The response from the Aussie YA community of readers, writers, and industry professionals was the creation of #LoveOzYA — a hashtag coined to harness the conversation, and talk about our love and support of Australian young adult literature. And in December 2015, HarperCollins decided to put together a short-story anthology inspired by the movement, with me as editor and contributor.
Right from the start, Begin, End, Begin was not really your typical anthology. While an anthology collection normally hones in on one theme to examine from all angles, our aim was to showcase how versatile Australian YA authors are — and to crack everything wide open; to show that Australian literature is a lot more expansive than it’s often given credit for, and can offer as much out-of-this-world writing as anything that the American YA market can produce. Hence the rather cyclical title invoking beginnings and endings, to highlight our own momentum and re-imagining . . .
Pretty soon myself and HarperCollins publisher Chren Byng had our list of nine authors for the anthology (plus me, as the emerging voice) — Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer and Lili Wilkinson — and we were writing about everything from time-travel to intergalactic wars, life on mars and confronting your high-school tormentor years later. It’s a deliberately mixed-bag of genres, offering teen readers a little bit of everything across these kaleidoscopic stories, and showing that Aussie YA writers are so very versatile and talented!
I started spit-balling cover ideas with Chren as far back as July 2016, and from the first we were very in sync about our vision. Rather than taking on the daunting and impossible task of trying to convey everyone’s stories and genres on the cover, we instead decided on three big ‘must-haves’ for the design. The cover should be:
– created by an Australian artist
– typographically-led, with a nod to Australiana (without being clichéd . . . so no boxing kangaroos or green-and-gold)
– look luxe and covetable — something that would be ‘#bookstagram-worthy’
These decisions were more about substance over form, in many ways, and the moment Chren and I decided on a typographically-led cover, I had certain designers at the top of my wish list . . .
Kate and I actually went to high school together — and in recent years I had the pleasure of watching her rise up in the world of Melbourne-based lettering and design. I’d long been admiring the work of The Letterettes — a lot of which they shared online, mostly on Instagram. There’d be these gorgeous posts of unique typeface and live-lettering murals, and I’d look at them and think, ‘This would make an awesome book cover!’
Chren was on board, and wholly convinced by The Letterettes’s Instagram CV. And it was surprisingly easy to persuade this live-letterering line-up to make something static and compact like a book cover — they were totally up for the challenge!
‘Although I ended up working on the cover solo, HarperCollins initially approached The Letterettes (of which I am one quarter) to work together on this project,’ says Kate Pullen. ‘As there are four of us in the group, with every new brief that comes in we need to decide how it will be divided up, and who will take it on. Often this is dependent upon availability (something that makes having four in a group a wonderful thing!), and when the beautiful #LoveOzYA Anthology email arrived in our collective inbox, Eliza and I were willing and able to create!’
Chren and I perused The Letterettes’ Instagram feed and took screenshots of the lettering styles we loved. I think this really helped in expressing our vision for the cover, and I’m glad they found our communication so effortless. As Kate says, ‘Talking with the client at the beginning of the process made this much easier (as opposed to only a written brief). We discussed certain colours, the feel of the cover, and of course — the content within. The main drivers of this brief were an exploration of Australia, a celebration of young talent, and the acknowledgement of that ever present cycle, “begin, end, begin.” The client was very trusting in my ideas and sketches. I won’t lie, this can be pretty daunting! But the freedom that came with this brief was also wonderful.’
Kate says: ‘The process began with two contrasting concepts, Eliza creating one and myself the other. We were keen to present two very different directions, and again this is something beautiful about working in a group with three other talented ladies; we brainstormed together and then each focused on different aspects of the brief. Once one was decided upon, I developed my chosen design and we went through perhaps two rounds of significant changes. As I mentioned earlier, the brief was open and the client so willing to let me explore, that in the end the main chats about changes really centred around colour choices.’
Kate and Eliza hit the brief perfectly from the get-go. And again, I think that was partly helped by having really open communication, and being able to use their social media like a mood board to illustrate what we were aiming for. So in the end, we hit very close to our vision right from the start; that it really was all about colour and text ordering, and finer details like that. It was just that cohesive, the way we all got on the same wavelength.
‘I am so excited with this final result and can’t wait to see it ‘in the flesh’ (or rather on paper),’ Kate says. ‘This project was particularly special, because of what was being created…this is the first book cover I have ever illustrated, and I’m honoured to have been a part of it.’
I was thrilled that the cover garnered such a positive response from the online #LoveOzYA community when HarperCollins revealed it late last year. And I was really glad that this hunch I had about The Letterettes and their work translated so well to YA cover art.
But more than anything, I love the fact that the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement started online with a hashtag and a conversation — and then our book cover idea came from admiring the creative work shared on social media by local artists.
It’s just another example, I think, of how much this book feels like it was created and nurtured by an entire community of people, all of whom are so passionate about celebrating and spotlighting the Australian creative industries.
I’m really, truly proud of that.
Danielle Binks is a writer, editor, book blogger, youth literature advocate, and literary agent with Jacinta Dimase Management. Her website is: daniellebinks.com. Follow her on Twitter: @danielle_binks