David Baldacci

Well, after all the excitement, celebrations and hoopla over The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films I took a little breather from the Blog. Starting to gush.

So with feet firmly back on the ground I thought I would dig out something grittier and Hobbit free. David Baldacci is an internationally-acclaimed best selling thriller writer. They all say that in publishing but, with 100 million books in print no less, it is a very fair claim. And I have to say having read six of them they are actually great, fast-paced page-turners. Hailing from Virginia USA, Mr. Baldacci practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C., as both a trial and corporate attorney. This informs the credibility of his story lines. You may recall his debut novel Absolute Power which was filmed, starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Ed Harris.


The design work I undertook for Simon & Schuster UK was a complete author make-over, comprising the new hardback, Last Man Standing and fresh covers, in the new livery, for his paperback backlist. Interestingly the commission came from S&S art director Glen Saville (now freelance). Interesting because Glen worked for me at Pan Books in a former life. So the first move was a quiet sober lunch to catch up and make sure the old roles threw up no problems in working together with Glen as ‘The Boss’. It was a wise investment of a couple of hours and roles and functions were clear. Initially I produced covers for Douglas Coupland and Seth Godin – which I can’t find for the life of me. Bald head, tight crop, bright colours.
The David Baldacci make-over was based on a very dramatic use of white space working off the bottom of the page. And, sorry to bang on about it, attention the spines as display areas. Glen was great in giving me space to work and championing the look through the publisher’s processes, a real ally to the project. It is worth pointing out that within a strong publishing genre, such as mainstream thrillers, you can stretch things to a certain extent but must not lose the instant recognition factor for your audience. I’d love to try it but publishers do not warm to thriller jackets/covers that reference literary fiction or cookbooks! Publishers, I dare you to let me try!

We tackled the photo-shoot in one – very long – day. As so often, my first choice behind the lens was Colin Thomas. Colin is a tall thin, sometimes bearded, odd sock wearing fellow who has quite the easiest manner you could wish to work with. His skill and adaptability are superb. We have worked on hundreds of assignments together, from Ed McBain and Dick Francis to wild PhotoShop forays where Colin is a master. He does great location, advertising and portraits and catalogue work. Damn, he’s talented. You would love working with him. Check the Digital Imaging on his website. It’s insane.

By the way, the model on A Simple Truth was a cracking fellow who appeared as an actor in a Guy Ritchie film. I think due credit is so important and I am maddened I cannot remember or find his name to check him. Maybe you can help, film buffs?

Anyway, returning to the ‘internationally-acclaimed best selling thriller’ schtick and the commercial imperative, the David Baldacci make-over exceeded the publishers’ expectations winning prime display and shelf space everywhere. His industry currency soared and the auction value of his next book went stratospheric.

What I would like to know is what thriller covers have appealed to you? Why not leave a comment and tell us why you like them?

And I’d love to hear what you think of Colin Thomas portfolio . . .


Victoria Glendinning

Flight is a novel about a high-flying engineer who takes one risk too far – for love. I won’t spoil it – visit a bookshop/Amazon/Library.
The jacket design needs little explanation. Having identified the visual metaphor I wanted, I trawled and finally licensed a great shot from Tony Stone. And got weaving in PhotoShop so that our over-ambitious aerialist fails in his high-wire act. Designing the type to give the image, author’s name and simple title space to work.  There are enough jackets and covers screaming for attention in over-crowded display spaces. The eye will rest on one or two calmer spaces, and linger a second longer.



When I started this blog I knew there was a good vein of tales of creative life to be mined. But this design set me thinking in a different direction. At it’s best Creative Direction is something of a high-wire act. Taking calculated risks. Making perfect connections. Striving for perfection often against the odds. As I searched for the proofs of this design I thought about how we try to present perfection, how we compile our portfolios and CVs, physical and virtual. We attempt to present a perfect continuum of excellence. It’s natural and reasonable. Who wants to see the turkeys? We hope to offer the promise of guaranteed commercial success to potential clients. 
But we all know it is not always like that. We also tend to tell ourselves the prime examples are the result of our skills having conquered all obstacles in blissful omnipotence. (Well OK, but you my drift anyway) And that the ones that slipped-up were victims of nefarious outside meddlers. 
In another post I will rant and rend my garments over publishers’ cover committees. But not now. What about the inter-connections on a good day’s work?
This job went pretty smoothly. But pause for thought to consider how many things had to work out even on a good wicket. The connections that had to be made between people for it to ever see daylight on the book.
Connections such as Victoria Glendinning’s relationship with publishers, Simon & Schuster. CEO, Ian Chapman’s relationship with Publishing Director, Suzanne Baboneau, and Consultant Editor, Tim Binding. S&S had developed designer, Glen Saville and appointed him Art Director. Glen kindly commissioned me to design the jacket. There were several key connections that led the job to my door.
Once in my studio an average number of brain-cells did their left-brain thing. Like The Numbskulls but paid. My point isn’t so much about my design per se. 
I want to acknowledge the contribution of others who are far less passive in the process that often given credit for. Those that crafted their jacket copy to work with my layout. The guy that gave me an accurate spine width in millimetres instead of a page extent and telling me to ‘work it out’. Those that helped sort the wheat from the chaff amongst the concepts. Those that discussed the design with me, talked about the book. That engaged with me instead of using the besieged art director as the carrier pigeon for ill-thought out messages from a meeting. Glen gave some great art direction by giving me wings and space to fly in. Somebody made sure it was proofed and printed well, promoted fully. WHSmith deliberated and a nice lady in the Shires liked it and put in the window next to Dan Brown. 
Freelance design life is relatively solitary activity. For me design is largely instinctive and cerebral. But as soon as it becomes visualised a lot of people affect the process. Encouraging the high-wire act or making the perfect catch. The design flies or fails. Other people are involved, whether angels or demons. 
Back to work. A job to refine and hone. There is no fee. It will be good for my portfolio. One day I will have the perfect portfolio. I’ll show it to God when I hit that deadline.