Lost and Found on the Non-Fiction Bookshelf
In this feature we are looking at the cover design of Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem, a non-fiction title published in 2019 by Bloomsbury about mudlarking (or scavenging in the mud of a river) along the River Thames. Mudlarking won this years’ Indie Award for Non-Fiction and we cannot wait to share all our favourite elements of its cover design with you!
One impressive part of the cover is the title through both its design and typeface choice. The design of the title helps to illustrate the name of the book and the book’s theme. This is created by the use of old stone with the letters carved into them. The colouration of the stone and letters make it look old with rust on the letters and darker colours on parts of the stone. This makes the stones look as though they were found whilst mudlarking which have been cleaned and placed together to create the title in a unique way instead of having a plain font on the cover which would look boring. By using this design, it ties in with the images on the cover and endpapers of other items found whilst mudlarking; adding some colour to the cover.
The use of the serif typeface helps illustrate how old the stones might be as serif fonts were used more in the past. This links to mudlarking as Maiklim finds items lost from the past, emphasising the antique feel of the book. Another design choice that works well is the splitting of the title into three sections with the subtitle and author title between. The cover is balanced by having the top and bottom line aligned on the right and left, respectively. The placement of the publisher’s name across the diagonal of the ‘N’ is a nice touch as well.
The US edition of Mudlarking features both a change of design and of title. In the alternative design, this incredible journey along the banks of London is instead simply titled Mudlark and boasts another inventive cover filled with raised emblems of found treasure pieces. The colouring is also inverted to its UK counterpart, with a darker background mimicking worn driftwood and lighter lettering contrasts aesthetically amongst the jewel-tone and gold tokens of Maiklem’s river finds.
The endpapers used in Mudlarking are full colour custom endpapers, adding to the high production value of the book. The unique design of these endpapers was created to mimic the appearance of a field diary, documenting a researcher’s findings with their own quick illustrations and notes. Another interesting feature that is different to most books is how the back and front endpapers are different designs. It is no coincidence that the endpapers were designed in this fashion; making the book feel as if it is something personal and special to be treasured like an old diary. The second the reader opens the book and sees the endpapers; they know they are about to embark on something special. The care taken to individually illustrate each item and document them so meticulously is intended to transport the reader, as if they themselves were finding the objects on the riverbanks and immediately form an attachment with the author as well, for allowing us to enter a realm, clearly so personal to her.
The function of these endpapers is not just decorative in nature, but practical as well, giving the reader visual references and an understanding of how fieldwork is documented. The endpapers give us more insight into the quirkiness of the author. Every author and researcher are different in how the illustrations are labelled and arranged, giving us clear insight into the author’s quirkiness. Just like the book itself, it is a balance between organisation, scrapbooking and documenting disjointed parts, like the objects themselves on the riverbanks.
The link between a book’s cover design and its marketing strategy is an interesting one to explore. In looking at the specific endorsements which have been included in the cover design of Mudlarking, it becomes clear that the front cover is being used to help position the book as a reliable piece of accessible non-fiction writing. In an edition of Mudlarking, pictured above, the book is identified on the cover as “The Sunday Times Bestseller” and “a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’”. In a different edition of the book, Mudlarking is described on the cover as “enchanting” by The Sunday Times, “delightful” by the Daily Mail, and “fascinating” by The Guardian.
While non-fiction books can sometimes feel daunting and difficult to read, the cover design of Mudlarking works to position the book as accessible to a broader audience by associating it with these very familiar and mainstream media sources, such as the BBC and The Guardian. In addition, by highlighting Mudlarking’s bestseller status on the front cover, potential readers are quickly made aware of the popular and widespread appeal already achieved by Maiklim’s writing on what is a very niche topic.