Lauren Harms is a designer based in New York, primarily focused on visual storytelling. She currently works in book publishing as a cover designer at Little, Brown and Co., an imprint of Hachette Book Group. Here she tells us how she created the cover for This is Not a Love Song.
Looking back on my design process for This is Not a Love Song, I realized that my thinking didn't start with the manuscript. It started with Brendan Mathew's first book, The World of Tomorrow, which I had had the great pleasure of reading and designing the cover for in 2016.
It's interesting to compare these two books because they're wildly different. The World of Tomorrow is a fantastically fun, fast paced novel set around the 1939 World's Fair. A very specific setting and time period, that had a clear visual vocabulary. This is Not a Love Song is a set of contemporary short stories that are much more meditative. As with most story collections, there are a wide range of settings and characters to dive into.
Yet Brendan's style of writing is apparent in both books. Both are about life and circumstance, and evoke the same feeling of texture and story–a little gritty and nostalgic, with bits of wonder. I was also thinking that we would want the two covers to relate so that his fans might connect them, even if it wasn't apparent.
The stories in This is Not a Love Song are filled with powerful visuals. From seemingly mundane domestic scenes, to beautiful lines like "too many nights lately had shifted on the axis of a careless word" evoking a sense of balance and disruption. A story with the most explicit visuals is "My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer", which is set within a traveling circus. Sparks and fire came up frequently throughout the manuscript, including a story about an arson spree. I was hesitant at first, since fire is frequently seen on books about love and life, and matches or burnt edges can be overused. If I was going to represent fire, it needed to be in a new and interesting way. As I ruminated on this, I realized the circus story provided the perfect fire visual... a row of flaming hoops.
The hoops felt different and provided some visual interest. I was also experimenting with other representations of circles and overlapping shapes. The hoop concept really brought all of my ideas together. Illustrating the hoops and flames allowed me to play with the relationship and position of the hoops, and subtly tie back to the World of Tomorrow cover. The concentric circles draw the reader in deeper, and a hint of menace helps the title read as more serious.
I spent quite a bit of time developing this idea and working on the illustration, and was falling dangerously in love with it. I knew I needed to step back and try some other concepts...
But none of them worked as well, or were as unique. I reviewed them all with my creative director, Mario Pulice, and he agreed. The designs were either too nostalgic, or gave no sense of story. Luckily, every one in-house and on the author's team was just as smitten. The first one was it.
The stories about cover designs almost never end this way, and for that I am extremely grateful. I enjoy reading Brendan's writing, and in turn have a lot of fun working on his covers. When those two things come together it shows in the work and creates a connection that runs straight through the entire process, from the author writing the first words to the reader picking up a finished book.
Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.