The Chic Behind Scenes
on Computer Screens
by Taylor Nix
Reader X walks into a bookstore, picks a title off the shelf, glances at the cover for a few seconds, looks at the author’s name and puts the book back onto the shelf marking the end of a potential sale. Wondering what could make this reader take your book home? The answer is a good book cover.
Crafting a book cover that demands attention on a bookshelf filled with hundreds of others is an undertaking that should not be taken lightly but a step that many novice and established writers gloss over. After nursing a novel from a couple of months to a few years many writers rush through the cover treatment process.
Authors who do not spend enough time in the cover conceptualization stage may be selling themselves short without realizing it. The exact same efforts put into writing and editing a good story should be used when it comes to getting a book cover created. The truth is books are judged by their covers and unless you are Stephen King or Kwame Teague, you need good cover art to help sell your story.
Davida Baldwin, also known as David was once called “odd” due to the countless hours she would spend on the computer. She has since embraced her oddness and now produces top-notch cover designs through her independent company Oddball Design. Author T. Styles says, “I call her Lil’ Pharrell because she makes covers like Pharrell makes beats.”
Since the launch of Oddball Design Davida has designed over 30 book covers, as well as multiple websites, flyers, business cards, bookmarks among other things. Her clients include: The Cartel Publications/T.Styles, Life Changing Books/Azarel, Torrian Ferguson, Marissa Monteilh, Jason Poole, Polka Dotz Publishing/Venesha and several others. Her work has been featured in Vibe, Don Diva and Next Magazine, and three of her book covers have reached the Essence magazine Best Sellers List. Although her talent is in constant demand Davida was kind enough to grant us an exclusive interview:
You’ve designed several book covers for the street lit genre. How did you get your start and what keeps you in front of your competition?
I got my start with book covers when a friend of mine referred me to Life Changing Books, who was seeking a designer for their covers. I think I stand out from my competitors because of the extra detailing that I put into the covers and my technical abilities. I know the average person will look at my covers and say “I could have done that,” but the clients are usually left wondering “how the heck did she do that” knowing what the before picture looked like. I don’t just take a picture and throw a title on it and I think that is what makes my covers unique.
How long have you been designing?
I’ve been designing professionally for about six years, but even as a child I’ve always had an interest in art and design. Whether it was fashion design, cartooning, culinary arts, etc. I wanted to do it all.
TWhat is the process to create a book cover? How do you get the cover to reflect the story? What is the most important part of the cover design?
My process is pretty simple, I ask that the client send their synopsis to me and then I create a few samples from that information. I come up with a cover concept by NOT thinking about it. I know that may sound weird, but whenever I have to force myself to sit down and think about what to put on a cover, I end up putting myself in a box. I think the most important part of a cover is the message in the main picture. Of course you want the picture to be intriguing but it should hold some type of mysteriousness as well. You don’t want people to look at your cover and say “I already know what that’s about” without even reading your synopsis.
How much creative freedom do you have when designing?
I have a lot of freedom when designing, especially with people that I’ve been working with for awhile now. Most of my new clients are referrals or have seen my work before, so they approach me with a comfortable level of trust. I express myself through my work and it makes me feel good knowing that people have that much confidence in me. I feel like they are letting me do ME and I appreciate that.
Can clients be difficult to deal with? If so, in what ways?
Yes, I get a difficult client every now and then, but you’ll have those in any business. I’ve developed a lot of patience over the years and learned how to deal with clients like that. My tolerance level has increased tremendously, so there’s a lot that doesn’t really bother me now like it did earlier in my career. My biggest pet peeve though is indecisiveness. A lot of time is wasted when a client doesn’t know what he/she wants.
We all know a book cover can make or break a book. How can authors produce a decent book cover design without a budget to hire someone like you?
Anyone can create a book cover, but everyone can’t create a “decent” book cover, which is why I don’t recommend the DO-IT-YOURSELF approach, especially for tight budgets. I know that hiring a designer sounds expensive, but at the end it may be one of the best investments that you make. I’ve met so many authors that created and printed their own books, only finding they have to pay to have it recreated and reprinted. And with printers charging you extra money to resize, tweak, and alter covers, it is definitely worth hiring a professional. I think my prices are very affordable; I try to cater to the average working person. I truly enjoy what I do and of course I like to be rewarded, but I’m not doing this to get rich quick.
Do you think book covers should have sexy attractive images just for the sake of attention? What do you think of the book covers in general from within the genre?
I don’t think a cover should have those images if it’s not what the book is about but if it is and I hate to use the obvious cliché, but sex sells. And that goes with anything, magazines, CD Covers, perfume, etc. Attractiveness draws in consumers. I don’t necessarily think exploiting sexy images is a bad thing, especially if it is in good taste.
In general, I think more publishing companies and independent authors are putting more effort into putting out hot covers. Before, having a hot cover was never really a major necessity like it is now. And I think that the covers are only going to get better.
Do you read any urban/street fiction? If so, which books have you read recently?
I don’t get to read as often as I would like to, but when I do it’s usually a mixture of urban lit and books of inspiration. The last book I read was Pitbulls in a Skirt by Mikal Malone.
Any graphic designers in the industry whose book covers you admire?
Yes definitely. I absolutely adore Keith’s (Marion Design) creations. I always look forward to seeing his new work.
Any advice for an upcoming graphic designer?
Yes, practice and study. Designing is an ongoing learning process, so always keep yourself open for criticism. Don’t ever think that you can’t do anything, if you can visualize something mentally then you can definitely make it happen in print, it just takes practice.
Where do you see street lit in the future?
When I look at urban lit as a whole, I see an empire, I see success, I see people coming together to encourage literacy and I don't understand why it's criticized the way that it is. Something positive gets bashed when people focus too much on the negatives. Of course you have your shiesty publishing companies and a few divisive authors, but that shouldn't outweigh the good within the industry. To me, urban lit represents something that our leaders and ancestors fought to instill in us; helping each other out. Everyone is not out to get rich quick, there really are some companies that care and want to help others. I think it's crazy that we don't want to see our own people advance to the next level. We came from a point when we were once forbidden to learn how to read, to a point where we own publishing companies, how beautiful is that? We need to get out of the mentality where we want people to stay beneath us, because with that mentality we are no different from the people that deprived us from becoming literate. There is so much support out there for African-American authors, and we need to embrace it instead of taking it for granted. When people stop caring about who’s making more money than they are, then this industry will shine like it's suppose to.
For more information on Davida Baldwin, visit: www.oddballdsgn.com or www.myspace.com/graphchicartist
Book Cover Designer Keith Saunders Video Interview
Taylor Nix is a writer and photographer for the Urban Book Source. Questions, comments and concerns can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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