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.)