At some point in writing each of my books I’ll take a break from the writing and play with the cover design. This isn’t just an exercise in graphic arts, the process of putting the book cover together often helps pull the entire project together, sometimes giving it a focus and a direction which may have been missing before.
This certainly happened with my book about the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project. I’d been so focused on getting the history right and double-checking all of the conflicting references I’d found in my research that I had lost touch with the true heart of the story, which was the 200 families who took the U.S. government up on their offer to come to a new land and begin a new life. Looking through the photos of men holding their children close and mothers growing gardens for their families behind canvas tents, I felt a new reverence for what they’d gone through, what they’d sacrificed. Working on that cover helped me regain a sense of what a tremendous undertaking this was, and how much of the Project was blazing new ground in ways no one could have imagined.
About halfway through my newest book, about the 1973 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, I began tinkering with ideas for the cover. I knew I wanted warm colors, golds and browns, to evoke a sense of history. And I wanted a single black-and-white photo, again to convey the history and the subject visually. A book’s content should be immediately evident when someone picks up a book and looks at the cover, as their interest can be won or lost in that critical moment.
My first cover attempt, right, utilized a photo I’d taken at the Northern Lights 300 sled dog race a couple of years ago. The musher is my friend Sebastian Schnuelle, we used the same image on many graphics for the race, and I never intended for the photo to be much more than a placeholder and a reminder of the direction I wanted to go with the cover.
By the time the book was ready to publish I’d played with the concept a little more, and changed the photo to a very similar one I’d taken several years ago at the Copper Basin 300, of a musher crossing Meier’s Lake (left). It seemed perfect, and I considered the cover finished and went back to finishing the book.
Fast-forward ahead to the finished book. I was reviewing the proofs, ready to release the book to the public, when I realized I was just not as happy with the cover as I’d been several weeks before. The concept was good, but the photo was off. It only took me an hour to find the right image, a photo of a dogteam moving through snow which captures the essence of the first race perfectly. For many of the 1973 mushers the race became a slow slog through deep snow, walking ahead of their teams on snowshoes, and this grainy, blurry, washed-out image was exactly the right one.
The First Iditarod: Mushers’ Tales from the First Race, by Helen Hegener. Published in March, 2015 by Northern Light Media. 152 pages. ISBN-13 978-0-9843977-6-1 Format 6″ x 9″ perfect bound, text only, no historic images or photographs. $20.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling to U.S. addresses only. Additional postage required for foreign orders.
Postal orders can be mailed to Northern Light Media, Post Office Box 298023, Wasilla, Alaska 99629. Thank you!