On Choosing a Proper Cover for Unraveling: Book 1

I thought that coming up with a book cover for Unraveling would be easy, but it’s turned into a project. My first idea was to look for a stock photo that captured enough of the elements of one of the scenes in the chapter and then to slap some text over it with the title and my name. I searched through ShutterStock for a good several hours using terms that were appropriate for Jesse’s chapter. Teenagers. Drug Abuse. Gangs. Addiction. Recovery. Secrets. Espionage. Isolation. etc. The amount of images that I went through was, well, staggering. Finally, I alighted upon this image!

Stock photo chosen but, as of this posting, unused.

I liked it immediately and purchased it. My thought process in doing so was that though the image doesn’t depict Jesse Oberman, a bright and driven 16 year old boy trying to deal with a number of major changes in his life that he doesn’t fully understand or know how to deal with, the image is a pretty damn good physical approximation of Josselyn, a character that Jesse meets in Book 1. The items around her, the gun, mask and money, are also components of their relations so it seems appropriate. Lastly, who wouldn’t be intrigued enough into making a small purchase of a serial novel by a pretty woman with these items around them.

Cracked Font
Cracked Font

From here I then decided to use the Cracked font for the author attribution and title, then Age of Unraveling. I chose the Cracked font as a means of highlighting the social/political/economic disintegration prevalent within the plot. I’d previously chosen Unraveling as a title, again referring to the themes of the book, but had added Age of to it as a nod to British Historian Eric Hobsbawm. Whereas Hobsbawm wrote with insightful and compelling mastery about the upheavals over 202 years at a high level of abstraction, Unraveling is set over a two year period at a very low level of abstraction wherein characters deal with this historical inheritance. To make the name stand out I made the text black with a red drop shadow. Happy that the picture related if not to Jesse than at least a character he meets in Book 1 and confident that the text alluded to a breaking down of social order I shared this on my Facebook and asked for input.

The response that I got from my friends upon sharing my work was unanimous and disheartening. Time and money spent on that cover were, in their view, a waste. The image was “cheesy” and the text looked awful. Trusting of my friends input I decided to scrap it for a new one. I would not have to do so alone, however, as my brother Jaz said he would help me. He forwarded me a couple of test images, shown below, so that I could help guide him as to what I want.

One of the concept designs for the cover.
Another concept design for the cover










I like both of these a lot. Here’s why:

I like the one on the right as it shows a youth, presumably Jesse, in an out of focus manner, hinting at the internal conflict he is going through while interacting with an external world that he wants to mold to his will. The one on the right, however, I can’t use (or can I?) as it is the same stock photo used by the musician James Blake on his album James Blake.

A more appropriate textual rendition of the title.
A more appropriate textual rendition of the title.

I like the one on the left as it hints at the accelerating chaos from the unexpected confluence of a number of people/events. Because of this I feel that the lack of a human beings on it not to be so big an issue.

Given that one of the uncommented-upon-by-the-characters conflicts within the book is between Hegelian and Nietzschean conceptions of time, history, law and agency I find myself drawn to a typography that looks like this True Detective poster from season 1.

After I informed Jaz of the the right cover imaged was used by James Blake, he produced the one below as a well as another one with the title text more distorted which I prefer but don’t have a copy of. In this cover iteration we also decided to include a one line thematic description of Book 1: “His life is falling apart and he’s taking everyone with him.”

Like the text and the short description, but not the background image.
Another concept for the cover based on the above right one being used on James Blake’s self-titled album.

He also encouraged me to look over other covers at Designspiration, which is a great resource for ideation of covers. There were many that I liked there as well as on the website for Face Out Books. I was especially drawn to the aesthetics relying upon the placement of multiple covers as there will be several more books in the series. There were so many choices that I felt overwhelmed.

Lastly I decided to do a little digging onto cover ideas on my own. I’m not extensively well read when it comes to pulp/noir novels, but as I’ve always found myself intrigued by the aesthetics of pulp covers and as it was in part a response to my enjoyment of reading the major works of novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler which made me include elements of classic noir fiction (though with a much more progressive worldview) into Unraveling – I also decided to look through Pulp Curry.  Some of the pulp covers that I liked are below, though given the number of modern stylistic and narrative elements in it as well as the expenses in producing these original drawings this seems to be a dead end.

Book cover of a book of book covers. How meta!
Not sure if this was a book cover, but I like the image.
Male gaze in full effect here and in every other pulp novel.
Irony: In Unraveling the women trap the men.


















I think that the pulp covers would work for some of the female characters books, but not for Jesse. I think it’d be double interesting as most of the females break from being the typical passive object that they are in these types of works and are heroes fighting a toxic form of masculinity and making up for the failings of their male comrades. I don’t want to go to much into this so that you’ll want to see what I mean by reading subsequent books, but did want to point out the irony that would occur if such a détournement was ever made.

All this said, as of now I’ve decided on the following post. I like the oldness of the map – which relates to the repetition of patterns in this area of the world. I’d like to change the font to something more stylized – but I plan on doing this after the publication of the third part of the book as then I plan on getting physical copies published and making them available for sale.