“Sitting up in the dark, he took a deep breath and scented a familiar, beguiling trace in the air…”

Deep Green Leaves, Alex Clark

New Ghost Stories IV

(The following post is an extended version of the introduction to our anthology The Maginot Line. There were a couple of things I couldn’t talk about there, as I hadn’t seen a finished copy of the third anthology at the time of writing it.)

In the introduction to our first anthology, I wrote briefly about the background to the series, and why I decided to relaunch The Fiction Desk as a publishing house. In All These Little Worlds, I wrote a little about the process of putting the anthologies together, why we don’t do themed anthologies, and the way themes have a habit of emerging anyway.

In The Maginot Line, I thought I’d write about something really superficial: our covers.

We try to have a broad editorial policy, but it more or less amounts to a focus on traditional narratives with strong characters. To reflect those traditional values, I set certain limitations for our cover images: the designs can only consist of paper and the written word.

Various Authors

Various AuthorsThe cover of Various Authors was in my mind for almost as long as the anthology series itself. I made a couple of tests (below left) by hacking away at scrap paper with a fruit knife, before upgrading to a sheet torn from a sketchbook (but the same fruit knife) for the final version.

The handwritten text is a deliberately rambling version of the editorial policy, and specifically talks about our openness to genre, and the limitations of that; I seem to remember there being some reference to elves, although I can’t find it on the cover now. The reference was not entirely complimentary.

The figures were drawn on the back of the paper, cut out along three sides and folded to stand up. I think it worked rather well, though it suffers from the rather shouty typesetting of the title (which I’ve done my best to tidy up in subsequent volumes).

Various Authors cover design in progress

All These Little Worlds

All These Little WorldsThe crumpled sheets of paper on the cover of All These Little Worlds are pages torn out of advance copies of Various Authors; copies that had been sent out to bookshops but returned to us with their envelopes marked ‘closed down’ or ‘out of business’. Each one therefore represents a different vanished bookshop, and while the title was originally intended to refer to the stories themselves, in retrospect it could equally apply to those lost shops.

The chalk was a nice bit of synchronicity given that the anthology ended up containing several stories related to education. (Technically those chalked lines probably aren’t ‘the written word’, making this a small bending of the rules, but we can call them dashes if you like.)

All These Little Worlds cover design in progress

The Maginot Line

The Maginot LineThe cover of The Maginot Line is based on the title story, which opens the anthology. There’s a significance to the kind and order of the leaves, but you’ll discover that for yourself when you read Matt’s excellent story. This was the first cover for which I allowed myself real tools, rather than kitchen utensils: The Fiction Desk’s petty cash stretched to a cutting mat and craft knife.

The background to this cover is a sheet of paper made of elephant poo, which seemed to have the right sort of texture.

Make of that what you will.

The Maginot Line cover in progress

Late unlamented laminate

The Maginot Line is also the first of our covers to be printed without any sort of laminate: the thin plastic coating that’s applied to almost all paperbacks published these days. Conventional wisdom seems to have it that a book just isn’t professionally finished without a laminated cover, but I’ve grown to really dislike it.

Laminate may protect books (slightly), but when the book does get damaged, the damage is plasticky in a way that looks incredibly cheap and unbookish: the thin plastic film starts to wrinkle, or blister, or peel like dead skin. When an unlaminated book gets knocked or scratched, it may lose a little ink, gain a white scuff mark or two, but it still looks a lot more like a book.

The laminate problem is also made worse by digital printing, as digital inks tend to prevent the laminate from bonding properly. That’s why so many digital books have nasty-looking thick glossy laminated covers: it’s an attempt to get it to stick on. To see the difference, compare a copy of All These Little Worlds (printed digitally and laminated) with a copy of Various Authors (traditionally printed and laminated). The Maginot Line is printed using the same processes as All These Little Worlds, but without the laminate. Personally, I think it has the nicest feel of all three volumes, and has my favourite cover design too.

I don’t think we’ll ever use laminate again for a Fiction Desk title, unless there’s a very good reason for it.

7 Comments on “Cover Stories”

  1. stujallen Says:

    Oh thanks for showing how they were put together Rob a behind scenes insight is always welcome ,all the best stu

  2. Rob Says:

    I had no idea you went to all of this trouble Rob. I thought they were computer generated. Impressed, massively not least because you’ve chosen to stick to traditional methods. Long live paper!
    The better looking Rob

  3. Rob Says:

    P.S. I should add that I think you’re 100% right to go down the non-laminate route. It’s a dreadful thing to have on a book cover. Completely ruins it.

  4. Rob Says:

    Thanks, Stu and Rob! I’m glad you found it interesting. It was certainly fun to do.

  5. Maggie LIng Says:

    Picked up my first Fiction Desk anthology (ordered via my local bookshop) soon after reading your Cover Stories blog. A former designer, one old enough to treasure the perfect design package of the printed paper book, I was impressed by the simple, extremely effective use of pen, paper and chalk. Truly style on a budget!

    To me, the only unstylish touch is the short, sometimes overly colloquial insertions at the start of each story. I would much prefer the writer’s words to speak for themselves. Only after reading them do I want to read about their creator.

    I hope I’m not alone in this.

  6. Tony Says:

    I’ve done a couple of covers and use models – plasticine etc. They have a really different feel to them, sort of ‘realish’ if that makes sense.
    Yes – stuff about the writer AFTER the story is best. Knowledge sort of colours a story.

  7. Creating the cover of Crying Just Like Anybody Says:

    […] I wrote in the introduction to The Maginot Line (and blogged here), we have certain self-imposed rules about our cover designs. Only paper and the written word are […]

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