Review by Joel Friedlander, TheBookDesigner.com
Our next book for review is Jillian’s Gold by Levi Montgomery. (5.5″ x 8.5″, 422 pages, ISBN 978-1448635535, CreateSpace.) Levi tells me in his email that “I have written and designed six books in just under three years, resulting in a rather steep learning curve, the top of which I haven’t found yet!” He actually sent me material for an earlier book as well. Because Levi has been refining his designs I decided to only review this, his latest, as a good representation of where he is on his learning curve at present.
Jillian’s Gold is a novel that follows the meeting and interactions primarily between two teenagers, and the story is told in a somewhat complex contrapuntal style, with voices alternating throughout the text. To represent the story, Levi has chosen the image you see here with a heart-shaped cookie cutter on a dark wood background. This cover has a couple of strengths:
- The basic design is strong through the use of only a few elements
- It’s obvious that a lot of care was taken putting this together, and getting a photograph that worked for the author
- I liked the different textures of the wood and metal implements, the scattered messiness of the cutting board, and the subtle lighting of the shot
However, I don’t really see this as a successful book cover for Jillian’s Gold. Here’s why:
- There’s an overall feeling of drabness to this cover. The muted, limited palette of colors, the spare and dark typography, all seem to suppress strong feelings. One of the chief roles of the cover is to entice people to read the book, and this cover doesn’t do that for me.
- The typography Levi has used looks both ill-suited to a book cover of this type, and the wrong color, since the black type recedes into the dark colors of the rest of the photo. The thin parts of the type at the bottom of the cover are breaking up, and I don’t see any need for the gratuitous bullets between words there.
- I think the cover fails because it simply doesn’t do a good job of expressing the energy, the interesting characters, the growth the characters undergo during the course of the book or the general tone. The book is primarily about teenagers, but the cover looks vaguely like a historical novel of a primitive era.
Because of the nature of the interior design I’ve included two spreads from different parts of the book. Have a look:
In the first spread above, we see the basic text layout for Jillian’s Gold, and this is a design that Levi has used in previous books. In the second spread, you can see two other typographic formats Levi created to represent diary entries by the two main characters in the book. A good deal of the story is told through these diaries, so they are intrinsic to the book’s development.
A book with alternating text streams is always a significant challenge to the book designer, and I want to acknowledge the work that has gone into this design. Levi has obviously worked very hard on solving this design problem. Take a look at the enlarged views to see how you think he did.
Although I can see why Levi took this approach to the book—to clearly demarcate the “voices” and inner thoughts of the two characters—I’m not sure I would have chosen the same solution. My concern as a designer is always to “get out of the way” of the communication taking place between the author and the reader, and I’m not sure this design really does that. Here’s what works well for me in this design:
- The basic text design is quite readable (the first spread above). Levi has chosen a workable typeface and paid attention to spacing, hyphenation, widows and orphans, and it shows.
- There’s visual interest created by the changing typefaces as you move from chapter to chapter.
- The type area sits well on the page, and the whole impression is neat and orderly.
On the other hand, there are numerous elements in this book that bother me as both a reader and a designer:
- I find the changing typefaces disturbing and not that useful. Although you recognize who is speaking, there are numerous other ways to solve this problem that don’t require creating basically three different text layouts to tell one story. I also don’t care for the mix of justified and rag-right composition, for the same reasons.
- Typeface choices are unfortunate. Hey, we’ve all used Comic Sans at some point, but personally, reading pages of either of these script typefaces is tiring and distracts from the story. Neither typeface is intended for text use, they are basically display or specialty typefaces.
- The other page elements also detract from the reading experience. The bold running heads with a bold rule are simply too heavy when repeated hundreds of times, and the ornaments around the page numbers are just too ornate for my taste. In addition, since they are set so close to the number itself, the entire element grows larger as the pages go from one digit to two, and from two digits to three, introducing an inconsistency that’s probably unnecessary.
- In what looks pretty common for DIY books, the first line of text after a text break (the bold “Royal” on page 85) and the first line of text in a chapter (page 91) ought not be indented, but run out to the margin. The indents are meant to signal a new text block. But since these are the first in their sections, the indent isn’t needed.
- The text shows its origins as a word processor created book, with substandard hyphenation and many word spacing problems throughout the book.
- Levi has special rules he’s created for his own books on how he uses en-dashes and em-dashes. It is his book, and he’s free to do as he likes with his dashes, but generally it seems like a better idea to stick to accepted usage and allow your ideas and your story and your language to set your work apart, not your punctuation.
On the whole, Levi has done a creditable job, and he is trying to improve his books as he continues to self-publish. He shows an awareness of design requirements, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. I want to thank Levi for submitting his book for review.
If you’re interested in getting a design review for your book, add a link and a comment in the forum Submit Your Book for a Design Review.
Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, California that has launched many self-publishers. Joel is an award-winning book designer, a self-published author, and blogs about publishing and book design at TheBookDesigner.com.