Designing The Diamond Thief

So, last week I promised readers an interview with Jo Hinton Malivoire, the designer who came up with the wonderful cover for The Diamond Thief, which,
in case you don’t know, looks like this:


Gorgeous, isn’t it? I love it – and I also love Jo’s fab answers to my very nosy questions about how a designer goes about developing a book cover…

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a designer?

I’ve worked in publishing for oh, about 18 years (yikes), designing children’s books. Most of the books I’ve designed are for school libraries along with some trade titles, for both the UK and the US markets, and now some fiction.

I think you mentioned that The Diamond Thief was your first fiction cover. How does the process differ between fiction and non-fiction?

Creating covers for fiction or non-fiction is a big team effort. There are editors and picture researchers involved in the design process, as well as a myriad of other important people who all get a say in how the final cover will look. It’s the job of the designer to interpret the brief and create the best cover for each title.

In my experience the process for designing fiction and non-fiction is quite different. Non-fiction requires a more practical approach. The cover needs to be very clear, and concise. It’s all about creating simple, bold, attractive covers that easily lets the reader know what the book is about. Designing fiction covers is a whole different story. You can be a bit more creative in your thinking and interpretation of ideas.

When you’re in a bookshop, wandering past the shelves, what is it that makes you stop, look at a book, stroke it (yes I do that) and pick it up? I hope this doesn’t sound too ‘designer-ish’, but for me fiction covers should tease you with a sneaky flavour of the story inside without giving anything away. There also has to be the ‘pickupable’ factor. Great fiction covers are attractive and interesting, with an element of intrigue. Something about the cover makes you stop and take notice. Occasionally as a reader I visit a bookshop to buy a particular book. More often than not I like to browse. I have no idea which book I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I find it. That’s when a great cover can work its magic, catching your eye, convincing you to pick up the book, turn it over, read the back cover, open it and read the first line. All of that before you even think of buying it. A good cover piques your interest and lures you in. It makes you want know more, to open the book and start reading. No pressure then!

Can you tell us what sort of brief were you given for The Diamond Thief?

I had a discussion with the editor, Laura and I was given a synopsis of the book, but I knew I had to read the whole book to be able to design the best cover.

Where do you start when you begin to design a cover? Like The Diamond Thief, for example – what was your jumping-off point? How did it evolve from there?

I read the book. That was the most important and obvious starting point for me. I needed to immerse myself in the story and to feel it. And I loved it, by the way!

As I was reading I jotted down ideas and words from the book, which I used to create a mood board to show the team. Pulling together visual representations of my ideas giving a flavour of the themes, elements and ideas that I wanted to use for the cover. Hannah the picture researcher then searched out some fab images for me to use. I love this part of the process, it’s a bit like Christmas, unwrapping your presents to see what you have in your stocking. Seeing how someone else has interpreted your ideas and put in some of their own adds another dimension to the design. I like seeing what images I have to use and how I can fit them together. It’s an exciting challenge and a crucial part of the creative process. Then, my favourite part begins. I can play. Well obviously I am working really hard (if my bosses are reading this, hello) but essentially designing feels like playing. Trying different fonts, textures, images and colours together. Coming up with various ideas on a theme. Seeing which ideas work and which really don’t. It’s the nearest I’ll get to being Heston Blumenthal – but without the dry ice!

The final cover didn’t vary wildly from my initial ideas: The circus; Victorian London; steampunk; a diamond. I researched steampunk as I didn’t know anything about it. It was like opening a door to a secret world I had no idea existed! I really liked what I discovered but I was also keen that the cover for The Diamond Thief should not look too masculine, so I made the steampunk element a little softer. Saying that I didn’t want the cover to look too girly either so there is a bolder edge to it too, using a slightly beat-up distressed look. I like the contrast. It’s also how I see the character of Rémy in the book. Multi-faceted. She’s not someone to be underestimated!

Were there other variations on the cover that ended up not being used? If so, what was it specifically about this one that made it ‘the one’?

Yes, there were three or four other cover designs, all of which I designed first. Looking back on them now I can see how the process of working through each one helped me to construct the cover that would eventually be chosen. It was very different to the other covers, but there was something complete about it. Whole, (sorry, its that pesky designer voice again).

I took all the covers to an approval meeting and I had no preference for which one I wanted them to choose. I’ve learnt from experience that being too precious early on about a particular cover design that everyone else may dislike can tie you up in knots and make it really hard to move forward and try new ideas. The purple cover was quickly chosen (yay!) and apart from a few minor tweaks, it was full steam(punk!) ahead!

And here are those alternatives:


The colours – gold and purple – are really vivid and really fitting with the theme. Did it take you time to find the right palette, or is that something you do first?

In all honesty it was just something that happened. It was my final design, and I actually designed it in blue first. Then I tried it in red. And for whatever reason I thought I’d try it in purple too. It really was a happy accident. Saying that I can’t imagine it being anything other than purple now, so it was meant to be. Sometimes designing is something you feel rather than think.

I’m so happy that you like the cover Sharon! Staying true to the book and designing a cover that you, as the author would like, was forefront of my mind throughout the entire process. Thank you for writing such a great story and giving me so much inspiration for my first fiction cover for Curious Fox!


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