The Strength of Water: Adventures in Book Cover Design and Interior Layout

I am enjoying working with Balestier Press on my book’s interior layout and with their contract artist, Andre D’Rozario, on the cover. The Strength of Water is starting to feel real! Here I share a bit about the process.

The book is the story of my mother’s Chinese American odyssey, so for the cover, I had the idea of depicting her on the SS Cleveland sailing into San Francisco Bay from China in 1939, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. I provided several images to the artist as references: Mom at 17, village girl clothing, the SS Cleveland in 1922, a ship sailing into San Francisco Bay in the 1940s, and a woman aboard a ship in the 1930s.

Initially, I sent a rare black and white photo of a Chinese farm worker in the early 20th century to illustrate the type of clothing she would have worn, but the image was so small and grainy that Andre asked if I could provide a more detailed illustration.

The internet yielded all sorts of mid-20th century artist renderings, presumably used in propaganda or advertising, of happy Chinese farm workers (usually attractive girls and women) gathering abundant harvests. I forwarded the one shown above, which I thought best captured the type of outfit Mom described.

Andre returned with four concept sketches with variations on her looking toward San Francisco or back toward the viewer and differing proximity to the Golden Gate. I preferred her looking toward the viewer. Andre suggested that the image close to the Golden Gate might feel more powerful, but in the end, I thought it looked a bit cluttered. I went with the image on the left. (Did I make the right decision? — bites nails.)

Andre then asked what color scheme I preferred, and I replied that I was open to his ideas but suggested he could try colors from the Shanghai Art Deco period to connote the era. I recommended the pinup below as inspiration since it had ocean colors along with the orangey-red of the Golden Gate Bridge

Andre returned with three possible ideas for a color scheme: the one I had suggested, the one his boss, Alison Schooling, recommended, and the one he proposed.

I liked Andre’s recommendation best. Although my suggested colors remind me of the Depression-era in which this part of the story is set, Andre’s colors have a hopeful, optimistic feel that better captures the story. I didn’t feel Alison’s sunrise hues conveyed the right feeling either.

Andre had asked what sort of luggage she had with her, and I told him she had only a knapsack, but when I saw his rendering, I realized that a modern-style bag with two straps didn’t look right. What would her knapsack look like in the 1930s? Impossible to say for sure, but I found that at least in the West, knapsacks (or backpacks) didn’t tend to have two straps until the 1940s. Before then, there was usually a single strap, as shown in the photo on the left below.

Of course, Mom wouldn’t have had some finely crafted leather bag but likely something simple made of heavy-duty fabric. I sent the image on the right as an approximate reference. Now I wait for Andre’s next draft of the cover!

In the meantime, I also reviewed the book’s interior layout. This meant re-reading my entire book for the umpteenth time. I found only five essential corrections (typos and missing words). The rest were corrections to my writing. Ha! Writers can always endlessly edit their work, but these edits were all micro-changes to improve the flow that I really believe are an improvement.

Title page for The Strength of Water

Now I wait for the revised interior. Once that’s done, the publisher and I will send advanced review copies (ARCs) to book reviewers and other authors to garner useful blurbs for marketing. After we collect those, make last changes to the layout, and complete the cover, the book is ready to venture into the world. Stay tuned!


An Invitation

I aim to post Asian American literary, historical, and cultural adventures here, as well as occasional updates about my book. If you’ve enjoyed this or other posts, I invite you to subscribe.

One thought on “The Strength of Water: Adventures in Book Cover Design and Interior Layout

  1. janchewjan

    Dear Kim,So many decisions! It’s like renovating a house and making countless decisions on style and paint colors. You are doing well juggling so many factors!Working on a project with irreversible consequences once it’s finalized is daunting to me. I know I will appreciate this book much more knowing some of the background about creating this book. Melissa used to have a picture with an Asian young lady much like the one Andre find of the two girls from Shanghai. It mesmerized me. Trying to think of the design on her dress.I would not survive a multifarious task like this. I wish you luck! Love,JanisSent from my T-Mobile 5G Device

    Liked by 1 person

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