Judge a book by its cover

“A good cover should tell people what the book is about without giving everything away; it’s a visual enticement,” says Euan Carter – the designer behind the eye-catching covers of our latest and forthcoming military history books.

Here, we caught up with him to learn more about the ‘science’ of great cover design as applied to a skydiving SAS man, a combat aviator and a ‘steely’ General.

How did you get into book cover design work?

I always enjoyed drawing. Over the years I started to gravitate towards using a computer for my designs. While I was studying at De Montfort University in Leicester I completed several self-directed projects such as designing flyers and installations for local nightclubs like a mural that spanned a flight of stairs.

I graduated with honours in Graphic Design and Illustration and took a job with the charity Action for Deafness. They were in the process of publishing their first titles for a small book shop that they planned to launch. I got asked to come up with some cover suggestions, which they were pleased with. The military history publisher Steve Crump of 30 Degrees South saw my work and asked me to design some covers for his titles. Steve and Duncan are co-publishing a number of titles. Steve recommended me to Duncan, who has been kind enough to commission more than 10 covers from me for Helion.

What makes for a good book cover?

It should tell people what the book is about without giving everything away; it’s a visual enticement. You need a strong eye-catching image and clear text. You can’t just think about the full-sized book because Helion is an online and mail order business. You’ve got to think in terms of ‘Will this work as a thumbnail?’ because this will be the first thing customers see.

How do you create a book cover?

The process starts with a briefing from Duncan – what the book is about and what – if any – ideas the author has put forward. I then go away and do a bit of research as well as working through the different illustrations the author has provided – looking for the ones that stop me in my tracks.

Once I’ve got the ‘right’ image or images, I need to think about the text. The titles tend to be quite lengthy so it’s a balancing act trying to fit everything in. I then use the suite of effects provided in Photo Shop, InDesign and Illustrator to add in layers and draw the eye to certain bits of the cover I want to stand out.

When I’m confident I’ve got at least three or four viable options I’ll go back to Duncan with them. Together we’ll decide which one we’re going to focus on developing and tweaking till we get to the end product.

Do you have a personal interest in military history?

Yes – I studied Modern History at A-Level. While I like the challenge of designing covers for all periods of history, the ones that interest me the most are about the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. You see it on the news and in the media all the time and I can relate to that as something happening in my lifetime.

What really inspire me as a graphic artist are the Second World War propaganda posters – especially the German ones.

What does the future hold?

Two years down the line I’d like to have my own freelance business. I definitely want to keep up my cover design work. I love the challenge of taking a brief and producing something that is really personal to that book and the author – as well as doing the job of showing people what it’s about. It’s very rewarding.

From our bookshelf…

Here Euan talks us through examples of his work – hand-picked by Helion owner Duncan Rogers.

Man of Steel and Honour: General Stanislaw Maczek. Soldier of Poland. Commander of the 1st Polish Armoured Division in North West Europe 1944-45’ by Evan McGilvray

A lot of the time it can be trial and error with photos – particularly if you’ve got a landscape photo you want to use with vertical proportions. As soon as I saw this photo of General Stanislaw Maczek pictured centrally on the tank – the barrel pointing outwards – I knew ‘this is the one’. Because of the book title, I decided to apply a ‘scratchy metal’ effect to the text which I sourced from a picture of some steel. I chose red and white for the colour scheme as a reference to the Polish flag.

The German Fallschirmtruppe 1936-41. Its Genesis and Employment in the First Campaigns of the Wermarcht’ by Karl-Heinz Golla

This is a very simple classic layout in which the photo is the ‘star’. The expressions and body language give it a really dynamic feel which puts you in the moment. There was little else for me to do other than add in some colour to the landscape and to choose some traditional font that is relevant to that Second World War period.

Shadows of a Forgotten Past. To the Edge with the Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts’ by Paul French

I chose an image of the author, Paul French, mid-sky dive which says a lot about the pacey, adventurous spirit of his book. To compliment this I individually ‘stamped’ every single letter with a leather-like, roughened effect… as if the wind is blowing through it. Some elements of Paul’s skydiving gear are confidential so I had to use editing techniques to blur these out. All in all, this was a really enjoyable, challenging piece of work.

LZ Hot! Flying South Africa’s Borders’ by Nick Lithgow

I’m really pleased with this one. Here we have the personal element of the author’s face in close-up profile with a helicopter still prominent in the background. It reflects Nick’s journey from rookie to seasoned combat aviator. As with a lot of military history titles it felt important to achieve a textured, war-torn effect which I did by applying a weathered stamping technique to the lettering. A J Venter’s quote: ‘A stunning and evocative read’ was the perfect finishing touch.


To contact Euan or discuss design projects with him visit www.euancarter.com


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