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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.

Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

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23 December, 2008

Would You Like To Design A Book Cover?

As you know, my first novel “My Friend, Sancho” will be published by Hachette India in April 2009, and we’re getting it all together right now in terms of a final edit and production details. One of the areas I’m keen to get right is cover design. My publishers and I both felt that we needed a design that was different from the kind we see in our bookstores these days, and we thought of opening it up to a much larger pool of people than a publisher would usually have access to. And so, with the imagined sound of trumpets and applause in the background, Hachette India and India Uncut bring you:

The “My Friend, Sancho” Cover Design Competition

This is how it works: in the next few paragraphs, I shall share a synopsis of the book, and link to an excerpt that gives you a sense of the voice of the main character in the book. I shall also attach Hachette’s official design brief for the book. Based on that, you are invited to send in a cover design, or many if you want, for the book. If we choose to use one of them, you get Rs. 15,000 worth of Hachette books and cover credit.

(You may not have heard of Hachette before, but you would certainly have heard of many of the imprints it owns, such as Hodder, Orion, Octopus, Hamlyn, Little, Brown & Company, and Orbit. It’s the largest general books publisher in the UK, the second largest publisher in the world, and had more books in the New York Times bestseller list last year than any other publisher—so there’ll be much to choose from. Hachette has just launched in India, and “MFS” will be the first release of their local list. So if you win the prize, you will be bewildered by the choice of books available in their catalogues here.)

In case Hachette is unable to use any of the covers submitted, the first prize will not be awarded—but we will pick the design we like the most and award the designer Rs. 5000 worth of Hachette books, plus empanelment on Hachette’s roster of preferred designers. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, and some kickass designs come in. Needless to say, I will carry all the designs I like on India Uncut, and link to the designer’s homepage wherever relevant.

And now, about the book: “My Friend, Sancho” is a love story set in Mumbai. Abir Ganguly, the protagonist, is a 23-year-old, cynical, wise-cracking journalist on the crime beat of a newspaper. He is asked by his editor to do a feature story on Mohammad Iqbal, a man killed in a police encounter. As research for the story, he meets Iqbal’s daughter, Muneeza. An unlikely friendship forms between them, but before it can become anything more, certain matters need closure.

The first chapter of the book is here (pdf link). It will give you a sense of the tone of the book, and the voice of the character. But the book develops into a love story, not the gritty thriller you might expect from that chapter.

My own brief: The cover I’m looking for should be one that reflects the playful, young tone of the book. It should attract attention from a distance without being loud or gaudy. It should be classy, so when you hold it, you feel like taking it home with you. It should be minimal—I hate clutter, and there shouldn’t be too many elements in there.

What images from the book can you use? Well, Abir and Muneeza have black coffee and iced tea together a couple of times, and those are possible images. They meet at the food court of a mall a few times—but I don’t fancy either of them being represented on the cover. There is also a talking lizard in the book, and he could make an appearance somewhere, perhaps curling onto the spine. Feel free to use something abstract—for now, I’m more interested in the feel being right than the image being representative.

Important point: This might be the first of a series of books, so you could begin with a design template that can be extended onto future books. One example in Indian bookstores is the series of Penguin hardbacks of Amitav Ghosh’s books—they’re clearly part of a series, they’re minimal, with just one strong visual for each cover, and they’re powerful. Of course, they’re grim and convey gravitas, where the covers for the Abir Ganguly books need to convey youth and playfulness, but they work well as a series.

The publisher’s design brief is below, under the fold. It is entirely written by the dudes at Hachette, which I find important to point out, because I would never have the audacity to praise my own book. (Also, the blurbs are obviously a temporary filler.)


HACHETTE DESIGN BRIEF for “My Friend, Sancho”

Main objective:

Develop a clear/standout design; distinctive lettering visible at 10 feet in the bookstores.

Should be bright and young, but classy. Immediately leaps out at the eye, but not gaudy. A bit like the book: highly readable and funny, well-written, will appeal to both the mass-market and literary reader.

Keywords: Humour, love story, big-city angst, tenderness, young and hip


January 12, 2009, by noon

Submit to:,,


Title: My Friend, Sancho

Author: Amit Varma


Binding: Paperback

B-format (129mm x 198mm, the size of a regular Penguin paperback, front and back covers). Can be resized if not exact.

Spine width: approx 20 mm


“My Friend, Sancho” is a short novel set in contemporary Mumbai. Abir Ganguly, a young journalist on the crime beat, is asked by his editor to write a profile of Mohammad Iqbal, the victim of a police encounter. In the course of writing about another man’s life, his own is transformed. The reason is Iqbal’s daughter, Muneeza – or Sancho, as her father used to call her. A jealous talking lizard and a Mumbai cop with a tendency to speak in bullet points are some of the other characters.

Short, very funny but heartbreaking, the novel is a romance that will easily satisfy both the literary and commercial readership.

It was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2008.

Think the dark humour of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron meets the frothiness and sheer delightfulness of Golmaal.

The writing is confident, fresh and unlike any other in Indian English.

“(Amit has a) jaunty writing style. The book has style and substance. It’s also eminently readable.”—Nandita Aggarwal, Hachette India’s editorial director.

“This is hilarious, rocking; I laughed out loud reading this! Love this dude.’—Karan Bajaj, bestselling author of “Keep Off the Grass”.

Target readership:

Young, urban.
Discerning readers interested in an entertaining, satisfying story and good writing.
Students and people in their twenties, likely to identify with the young, wisecracking protagonist, ‘an armchair cynic’.
Mass market, but with class: likely to enjoy Chetan Bhagat but also Nick Hornby.

Mandatory elements:

Front: 1] Title, 2] Author’s Name, 3] Logo: H and Hachette India

Spine: 1] Title, 2] Author’s Name, 3] Logo: H, 8mm from bottom trim

Back: 1] Blurb:  Use dummy text for now, not more than 200 words. 2] Barcode:  Space for a small box and stamp-sized author pic. 3] Credits: Cover © You! 4] Territory: For sale in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan only.

Logo Unit:

1.  The standalone H should be a square. Please remember when resizing.

2. Colour: We can go with any colour for the logo units depending on the background.

3. Front cover: Include the logo in the front, both H and Hachette INDIA. It goes as a round sticker now, but that can be played around with as long as it’s clearly visible (e.g. in the top right-hand corner) but not ruining the cover.


Well, that’s it for now. If you’re into designing stuff, and have been a regular reader of India Uncut, please do enter this contest. It will give me immense pleasure if the cover of my first book is designed by an IU reader. Equally, if you know someone who might be interested in designing book covers, do tell them about this contest, it would be a good way to enter the field.

Posted by Amit Varma in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

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