From the Cover Designers of
 The Undertaker’s Daughter

I am doubly delighted to introduce designers Regina Starace from Gallery Books in the US and Mel Four from Simon and Schuster UK, who have been kind and generous enough to write about designing the covers of The Undertaker’s Daughter.

Here's Regina, who tells her incredible story of an unexpected treasure hunt.

"The cover design for The Undertaker’s Daughter started with a life of its own, and the people who were involved and excited about this book influenced the cover. Sometimes when there are many voices in the design process, ideas can get watered down and my creativity loses steam. But in this case, the suggestions and ideas of everyone involved made the cover and concept stronger.

I started with the manuscript and an idea suggested by Kate: “...a doll house and how one peers inside the house in that odd way...” The very talented art director at Gallery Books, Lisa Litwack, had a clear vision of this “house” with each room containing representations of the living and the dead. Lisa forwarded me imagery and ideas collected by Kate and her editor, including captivating photographs of Kate’s father the undertaker. I compiled all these materials on a Pinterest board: (kind of creepy how many times the embalming table was repinned!) and then read the manuscript. I could see why everyone was excited. This is such an intriguing and well-written book, and I wanted the cover to represent the life—and death—that it contains.

At this point I began sourcing visual materials for the “house”. There is a large antique center not far from my home that I frequent, where I befriended the owner and his son. As I wandered the booths for anything that grabbed my eye, they went looking for “death stuff”—the idea was contagious. I got lucky when I found a homemade house hanging on the wall. Then I hit the jackpot. The owner’s son allowed me into his personal collection where he showed me the salesman’s model coffin, seen in the foreground of the design, rare funeral photos, a civil war era surgery kit, medical illustrations, old bottles, miniature coca cola bottle lighters, and other strange ephemera. He even showed me a traveling salesman’s small-scale coffin replica that was lowered into a tank of water to show the “water tight” quality of their product! All this was lent to me in faith that it would be returned, and out of curiosity for this captivating project.

Once home I started playing with the objects in the house, and soon found that the image felt cluttered and too kitschy for the tone of the book. Through Lisa’s direction, we took a much darker approach and gave the image a patina with textures and added images found in old engraving books. While I was able to find objects and images that related to Kate’s father and the story, I felt it lacked the presence of Kate herself, the young girl growing up with dead bodies on the first floor. I tried toys, and dolls, but they felt too jovial. I went back to the antique store. I added the books to represent her love and escape of reading (a vintage Edgar Allen Poe hard cover), but it was still missing her energy. I searched through my own collection of vintage photos, and found an image of my mother at a young age: a little girl posing in her Easter outfit, a snapshot of growing up. This was the missing element.

At this point the design was in a place that Lisa felt was strong and showed it to the sales and editorial team. The design concept itself did not go through many iterations (in some cases there are many covers for one book of which none are selected!) For a slight variation, we tried some old wooden boxes, from my Grandfather’s workshop, but everyone went back to the house. Several changes were made, and then it was sent to Kate who made the spot on suggestion of adding the raven—the harbinger of death. A few last changes and it was final­—a relatively smooth and natural process. I can’t say every project flows this way, but when it does I silently say to myself “I love my job!”.

Regina’s images in progress.


 Mel Four explains how she adapted the cover to suit the UK market. It's quite unusual for the cover design for the US and the UK to be almost identical, because the markets are very different. Mel demonstrates how small changes make a difference.

We had actually already begun working on cover visuals for The Undertaker’s Daughter, but when we saw Regina's US cover, we loved it so much we decided we should adapt it for our market.
At first I tried making it quite a lot brighter as there were concerns from our sales department that it is quite a dark cover for our market, but it lost it's wonderful gothic feel so I ended up giving it a slightly sepia tone and brightening the objects in the house a little bit so they really stand out, the only other significant change I made was to the fonts used on the cover, the gold lettering for the title is inspired by old undertakers signage.
It was a pleasure to work on Regina's beautiful design, and of course Kate Mayfield's fantastic book.

Thanks very much to both Regina and Mel.

Full disclosure – I can’t take credit for introducing the idea of the doll’s house. Two very clever friends first suggested it to me. I merely passed it on, quite exuberantly, to my editor.


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