I am frequently asked questions about the cover designs for many of the DI Horton crime series so I thought it was about time I exposed the genius behind some of the broody and evocative covers that grace the bookstore and library shelves in the UK and the USA and which are seen on various web sites including, of course, my own website.
Piers Tilbury is the man behind the images and Severn House is the vibrant, independent publisher of not only my DI Horton crime fiction novels but also of many other great novels from crime and mystery, thrillers and romance, to sagas, general and historical fiction. Founded in 1974 as a publisher of hardback fiction, Severn House now produces titles in all formats, including eBooks and large print and is home to an impressive list of respected British and American authors. Here I drag Piers from out of the covers and into the spotlight.
Q: How long have you been a designer? And how long have you worked for Severn House?
A: I’ve worked as a designer for 26 years, 24 of which have been spent working in publishing and eleven years for Severn House. I work in a team of four designers, three of whom including myself are involved in designing covers for the regular print and one who works on converting the regular print covers to large print and paperbacks.
Q: Do you work on anything else other than cover designs?
A: Yes. I also work on designing adverts for magazines; as well as the websites we advertise on.
Q: How do you come up with a design for the cover image for the novel? For example do you just read the blurb, or do you read the blurb and get a brief from the editor? Or do you read parts of the novel to get a feel for the theme and design?
A: The way I usually come up with the design for a cover, is directly from the cover brief. The brief contains all we need, a summary of the novel and two or three suggestions of images which could work. There will also be details of the period, images of earlier covers in the series and reference material. I'd like to be able to read the whole book, but there isn't enough time.
Q: How do you conduct your research for a suitable image? Do you mock something up, have an idea in your head and then research a suitable image on line? Do you have access to a number of picture libraries or just use one or two? Which one do you like the most if there is one?
A: All our images come from online picture libraries these days, so having read the brief, I'll have an idea of how the image suggestions will work, then I’ll visit the picture library. We use four in all. My two favourite libraries are Corbis and Arcangel. Both do different kinds of images. Corbis has a large, reliable selection of good quality images, but they don’t put the emphasis on creative photography. Arcangel has more creative images, but less selection.
Q: Obviously you need to take into consideration the constraints of the author's name and the title and how that fits in with any suitable images but are there any other constraints? I guess budget might be one!
A: We have a set fee with the picture libraries, so these days seldom find an image that's out of our budget. The only time budget may be a constraint is if there is a secondary image we want to use. Any other factors to take in to consideration tend to be down to house style.
Q: Do you come up with a few image alternatives and variations, if so roughly how many? Do you present these at editorial meetings or just to the editor? Or do you come up with one image and say that's it take it or leave it!!! How many people are involved in the decision?
A: I usually do around three different roughs for a brief. This gives choice to the publisher, Edwin Buckhalter, and the editors, but also, (because sometimes image and type don’t work together as I’d have hoped), means there are other roughs as back-up if one doesn't work out.The three roughs are e-mailed to Edwin and the book editor, but Michelle Duff, who’s responsible for sales and marketing, may also be copied in, for a third opinion.
Q: How long does it take you from initial briefing to finished design?
A: I take no more than three hours on roughs for a cover. Then, with amendments it should be around four hours from initial brief to finished design, never any more.
Q: I’ve got to ask this, what's the most enjoyable image you've worked on out of my DI Horton crime series titles?
A: A Killing Coast. I found a wonderfully atmospheric image and realised the harder, bevelled author type of Footsteps on the Shore would over dominate the delicate nature of this image. The solution was to have the author name and title "ghosted", so the clouds could be seen through the type. That way, neither type nor image was too dominant. I find it very satisfactory to go through the process of problem and solution and this was one of those occasions.
Q: And what do you do when not designing book covers, and advertisements? How do you spend your spare time, if you have any?
A: I spend as much time as I can with my small daughter. I also love reading and listening to music and before getting married I belonged to a boat club and rowed for many years. I still go down for a pint sometimes!
I’m surprised you have the time! Thank you.
An interview with Piers Tilbury, designer at Severn House by Pauline Rowson.
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