Editor Katherine Pickett referred me to an author who was publishing a memoir of love and war. JimLaurie is a former NBC news correspondent who covered the wars in Cambodia and Vietnam. His book tells the story of the last-minute rescue attempt of a woman he loved that occurred right before the fall of Saigon. The rescue failed.
Before we began cover design, Jim sent me competitive titles, which are books in the same genre and similar in subject matter to his book. Competitive titles give authors an idea how to position their books in the marketplace to reach target readers. Jim selected nine books that showed a wide variety of images, colors, and fonts.
The first design
He also sent me possible photos for the cover. One was a collage of memorabilia: his old typewriter, snapshots from Cambodia, and documents from that era. The image was horizontal, so I added extra background to make a 6×9-inch vertical cover, for the title, subtitle, and author’s name.
When I presented the design, Jim didn’t feel that it was what he had in mind. He stressed that there were two images that must be on the cover: 1) a photo of him exiting an Army helicopter with his camera bag and gear; and 2) a photo of Soc Sinan, the woman he loved.
Jim felt that the book’s title and subtitle didn’t have enough spark. He sent his manuscript to his beta readers for early review. (Beta readers are the ideal pre-publication readers before a public launch.) They came up with a new title—“The Last Helicopter”—and Jim revised the subtitle to be “Two Lives in Indochina.” Great choice! We also checked Google and Amazon; no other author had used this title.
Back to the drawing board
Energized by the new title, I began another layout. The top half of the book cover would be Jim’s helicopter photo. With Photoshop, I moved Jim closer to the helicopter because he was too far away. I added a dark gradation to the left side of the photo. This emphasized Jim in a brighter area.
The title and subtitle were typeset in a condensed san serif font. The white lettering popped off the dark background. Soc Sinan’s photo fit perfectly to the left side of the title.
Jim was very pleased with the new cover design. The total project—cover design and interiors—took five months to complete. By August 2020, Jim launched his book.
A year later
With the tragic fall of Afghanistan, Jim sent a message to Katherine and me. “You might be interested to know that the sad, sad disaster that has unfolded in Afghanistan has picked up interest in my book… comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan—two twenty-year wars America lost humiliatingly! Peggy, your design made it onto CNN.”
Jim sent us a screen shot from the TV interview—wow!
The good news: The book was attracting attention and being covered by CNN. The not-so-good news: History was repeating itself with another failed war and sad endings to far too many stories.