Susan Shankin On Designing “The Artist’s Way” Cover

Susan Shankin On Designing “The Artist’s Way” Cover

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Many baby boomers want to write a memoir when they “retire.”

So we should. The decades we’ve lived through have captivated recent imagination — well beyond “That ’70s Show” and the joke, “If you remember the ’60s you weren’t there.”

This week I’m over at Write It Sideways talking with designer Susan Shankin about what goes into a compelling nonfiction book cover.

Susan was the art director behind The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. In this article, she shares how she honors an author’s individual vision while staying true to the bigger story, especially difficult for memoir.

Here’s the introduction:

What is your story about?

In The Memoir Project, that’s the first question Marion Roach Smith asks beginning memoir writers. She often gets an answer that goes like this: “I grew up in the 1950s, a time of…”

And she interrupts, because, “What they are telling me is how they are going to illustrate the tale. I’m asking for the wrapper, and they are giving me the lozenge.”

The same applies to your book cover. It can’t just depict one scene or aspect. It must communicate, on some level, what your story is about. Love, loss, madness, transcendence, etc.

Fiction covers often feature people and scenes melded together from stock libraries. If done well, this method can capture your story’s essence, but has its issues. Recently, I spotted an indie romance featuring the same stock cover character as a big press mystery.

Many nonfiction covers solve this problem by emphasizing text. Malcolm Gladwell’s books feature a bold title, white background, and small symbolic image. Jeff Goins’ Wrecked is similar.

But what if you want a more personal approach to your memoir or book of poetry? 

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