Self Publishing: Evolution of a Book Jacket

DBOne of the most difficult aspects of self-publishing which many indie writers can probably agree on is finding, or creating, a good cover for your work. Sure, you could do it yourself from scratch. Or pay for a professionally-designed jacket to help attract an audience to your fine piece of deathless prose.

Whichever route you choose, however, you need to really think about whether the image reflects your novel or story properly. Or do you just settle for something that you think looks cool, regardless? Even if you have no skill in graphic design, you know the sort of stuff you’ll pick up, in print or ebook, having been attracted by the cover enough to investigate further. Heck, if it comes to that, when I was a teenager I would buy long playing records on the strength of the cover art alone.

I have some background in graphic design, but I can’t do illustration or great photography to save my life. Which is where research comes in. In this blog, and a later one, I’ll be taking a look at collaborations on two e-books I’m releasing through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

The first is a my paranormal romantic comedy novelette, Dead Boyfriends. Originally, it appeared in an anthology called Paranormal Dreams (Melange Books, USA) under a pseudonyn, JT Macleod. Having got the rights back I’ve re-released it as a single story, which runs to around 12,000 words.

Amani portrait
Amani AlShaali

Dead Boyfriends features a woman in her late 20s called Daisy Wentworth, whose boyfriends keep dying on her. The trouble is, their ghosts simply won’t leave her alone, and they are murderously jealous of any new love interest she has, in particular her latest flame.

When I saw Amani’s photograph, Where Gravity Doesn’t Know My Name, I couldn’t think of a better image for the tale. A woman out whose world is seriously out-of-kilter. Amani and I worked on the typography together. My first attempt was too broadly comic, with a cursive, bright yellow script, angled at the top of the image. Then Amani did a version of the title with white, etheric-looking typography in the upper left quadrant of the image, it was closer to where we needed to go. Part of the problem was the need not to obscure the image, which didn’t leave much space for typography. Sure, we could have gone for a black band with text reversed out, leaving the whole image intact. But that would have been a cop-out and potentially boring.

Amani’s approach triggered an idea. Blood on the walls. Perhaps obvious, perhaps not. But I felt this idea retained the comic tone of the novelette, without disturbing the photographer’s image. Achieving the effect involved 1) downloading a free font and 2) doing some jiggery pokery in Photoshop, which I won’t go into here.

I am grateful to Amani for letting me use her image. But I first insisted she read Dead Boyfriends to make sure she was happy to put her name to its cover. She did, and she was.

I wanted to get further insights to Amani and her work, so here’s what she has to say in response to a few questions I had.

John Dodds for Amazing Stories Magazine: I found you through the internet, and it amazes me that here I am, a

Naive ©Amani AlShaali
Naive ©Amani AlShaali

Scottish writer, living in Bulgaria, collaborating with a woman from the United Arab Emirates. If only the whole world could collaborate in such ways, it would be a better place. So, my question on that is, do you feel yourself to be a citizen of the world, or is your own cultural background critical to your work?

AA: I would definitely say that I’m a citizen of the world. My cultural background rarely makes an appearance in my work. I grew up surrounded by western media, attended an American school (and later, an American university), and have been a reader (English books) since I was a kid. Despite my current inability to travel the world, I believe I was exposed to so many cultures just through books, and that, I think, influenced me the most.

ASM: What drew you to photography in the first place, and who are your main inspirations?

AA: I’ve always loved art, and experimented with so many mediums but nothing ever stuck with me. I even tried creative writing and was determined to write a novel, but that never happened. When I discovered fine art photography, it was through a workshop I attended at Gulf Photo Plus here in Dubai, and it just felt right. I felt like I could express myself and my emotions in a way that I never felt with anything else. My main inspiration is Brooke Shaden, a fine art photographer, and the instructor at that workshop I attended. She’s the reason I do what I do.

ASM: Your work is mainly figurative, and the beautiful surface often reveals layers of deeper, sometimes quite political, meanings beneath. To what extend is that deliberate? Or does the image itself come first, and meanings reveal themselves afterwards?

Carry On ©Amani AlShaali
Carry On ©Amani AlShaali

AA: Most of the time I try not to shoot something without fully understanding why I’m doing it or what the story behind it is. Sometimes I have a vague idea that I experiment with, and after editing and giving it a title, I feel like it comes together, or like you said, the meaning reveals itself. I try to stay away from anything too political, and focus on what I know I can portray – emotions and feelings.

ASM: Do you experience any particular challenges as a woman in UAE when it comes to your works and their messages? From any quarter, internally or more widely?

AA: I started doing fine art photography in November of 2013, so I haven’t been doing this very long. But so far, I haven’t experienced any challenges that are directly related to being a woman in the UAE. Like I said, I try to stay away from anything political, not only because it’s something I don’t want to get involved in, but also because I want my work to appeal to a wider audience. That’s why I focus on darker or sadder themes, because no matter where you are in the world, you must’ve felt sad at some point in your life. And I want people to know that that’s okay and they’re not alone.

ASM: Having generously allowed me to use your photograph, and engaged with a collaboration to evolve the final cover, what advice would you give to any indie authors who might want to work with an illustrator or an artist?

AA: Ask nicely. Seriously. Artists are emotional people and it really does make a difference how you ask. Also, be open to the artist’s suggestions or ideas. Artists see their work as a part of who they are, and they’d want to make sure that it’s used properly and not in a way that could take anything away from it.

Across The Abyss photograph
Across The Abyss © Amani AlShaali

ASM: What is your biggest ambition as a photographer at this point?

AA: Right now, it’s to have international exhibitions hopefully within a year or two. I also want to get my MFA and teach photography and art at a university, but that’s more of a five-year plan.

ASM: Amani, thank you so much, and I wish you every success in fulfilling your dreams and ambitions.

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