December 16, 2011
Making the cover: The Fallback Plan
by Christopher King
Sometimes when you set out to design a new book, you get lucky and nail it on your first try. Other times, it takes a long process to reach a successful solution. It was a pleasure to work on Leigh Stein’s excellent debut novel The Fallback Plan, but establishing the right tone was tricky—it’s a grown-up novel about a young woman, a serious story with a wry sense of humor, and a quirky book with a lot of heart at its center. Below, take a look at a few of the steps from first idea to final cover.
My first idea was a pair of sneakers tied together, with the interwoven laces spelling out the book’s title. Without referencing anything in particular within the book, I thought the illustration would hint at a young woman feeling stuck between the past and the future. This idea was jettisoned early on when we decided the imagery looked too young.
In one of my favorite scenes in the novel, Esther escapes from her parents’ house on her old bike, pedaling furiously but going nowhere in particular. Thinking it might be nice to see Esther on the cover, I tried showing her on her bike with a black cloud following overhead, and I hand lettered the title, as though we’re getting a glimpse of her inner thoughts. In the end we thought this idea skewed too young as well—while the girl on this cover could be the right age, viewers might think she was a teenager.
Since my early ideas kept falling flat, I decided to try a different approach and go with an all-type cover. This one was considered a strong contender—everyone here liked the idea as well as the bold colors—but on reflection it seemed a bit too abstract, and the giant X might make the book feel a little unapproachable on store shelves.
Working with the type treatment from the previous version, I added the ice cream cone. Though it’s a bit of a cliché, it made the cover feel more commercial, and the combination of the image and title really seemed to capture Leigh Stein’s sardonic humor. Everyone here liked this cover too, but the energy still didn’t seem quite right…
Thinking about the accessible quality of Leigh’s prose, it occurred to me to try a more DIY-style approach, so using a Sharpie, I did a quick drawing of the ice cream cover with quirky, dripping letters. I felt like I was on to something, but it was starting to look too much like a graphic novel.
Finally, I decided to go back to an all-type treatment, using the same hand-drawn style. Because the book is one anyone can relate to, I wanted the cover to feel, on some level, like something anyone could make. The bright colors and melodramatic staging lend the cover a sense of irony and, hopefully, make the book jump out on store shelves. A great, last minute quote from Gary Shteyngart completes the package.
Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.