Aug 10 2011 5:54pm

The Cover Process for Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

There is a curse and blessing when it comes to repacking older books. The blessing is having all the triumphs and failures of past editions to react to (much easier than starting with a blank canvas) and having a thick history of fan reactions to the book itself. The curse: that same history of fandom — many people know the book and bring their affections with them when they see its new suit. When Stand on Zanzibar first showed up on our list I knew we were in for treat simply by listening to how all the editors at Tor Books reacted to it. 

I asked Jamie Stafford-Hill (Tor Book designer as well as’s designer) to take the project on. Jamie is a purist at heart and, after a few quick attempts at using some imagery, he decided to tackle it as an all-type cover.

From Jamie:

Ultimately there is just so much going on in this book it felt impossible and unwise to reduce it to a single image. My initial notes say stuff like “collage,” “sink or swim,” “BUSY,” and “use text from the book?” with a lot of thematic keywords. I tried working visually with some of the themes (overcrowding, anxiety, alienation, decadence) but it just wasn’t coming together in the right way.

While researching I found a blog post about Centipede Press’s edition. Designer and illustrator Jacob McMurray had done a fantastic job with a collection of interior collage illustrations, but part of what makes them work is the plurality — only a multitude of images can hope to capture any of this book. But couple of them incorporated text and inspired me to take another look at a type-centric approach.

What had really stayed with me from my first read was the sense of having been thrown in the deep end, floundering in a sea of (seemingly) context-less words, names, slogans. Even after finishing the book, skimming those first few chapters again is still fairly overwhelming, but with this other dimension of memory and insight. Eventually I realized I could give both of those experiences to readers old and new in the same way the author had: throw a lot of type at them.

The editor and I worked together to pick dozens of phrases and words, and as a type geek I had a blast spending hours in illustrator getting them all just right. Highlighting the title within it’s book context seemed natural (shown at right) but in the end didn’t work as well as just setting it straight, like the author.

Being a classic in the field, many of our editors seemed to take an interest in the book. As copies hit in our lobby, they came down one by one to say they loved the cover. So (not for the first time) I say, thanks, Jamie, for making us look good.

Here are a handful of the renditions leading up to the final. There are many others that show subtle shifts in the typography... constant shifts back and forth to get everything to sit just right.

Stand on Zanzibar cover process

Stand on Zanzibar cover process

Stand on Zanzibar cover process

Stand on Zanzibar cover process


And finally....

Stand on Zanzibar cover process


Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
I like that! It does capture the mood of the book.
Nice insight post.
James Davis Nicoll
2. James Davis Nicoll
That's very pretty and would have been a lot more acceptable at my rural high school than the naked guy in a test tube cover was.

I think I see $19.99 so it's a trade paperback?

Any chance of seeing Brunner's The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and Jagged Orbit (1) in similar editions?

1: The full 100 chapter US/UK version, not the (iirc) 33 chapter steamlined German version...
James Davis Nicoll
3. James Davis Nicoll
the naked guy in a test tube cover was

From Ballantine, for the younger readers. Not from Tor; Tor didn't exist yet. Neither did the Del Rey imprint.
James Davis Nicoll
4. seth e.
This cover's so good it magically appeared in my feed for a few minutes earlier today, and here's what I tried to say at the time: This is a great cover. The wrap onto the back is what makes it.

But this cover's too good to need my compliments, and it vanished again.
Irene Gallo
5. Irene
James: The Murray Tinkleman cover! What's amazing is that we are now much to prudish to put anything near that on a paperback cover.
James Davis Nicoll
6. nlowery71
I love this cover, and I really enjoy hearing and seeing a bit of the process. I love it when publishers find talented designers and really try to capture the text; it shows great respect for book creation.
James Davis Nicoll
7. James Davis Nicoll
What's amazing is that we are now much to prudish to put anything near that on a paperback cover.

There's a second version of the Tinkleman where the guy's lower regions are obscured by cropping the art to about 1/2 the original area.
James Davis Nicoll
8. Frank Reade
Great cover. I almost wish you hadn't posted the variants, because I think I might like those just a touch more.

I had a helluva time tracking down a used copy of this book a few years back. A new edition is most welcome.

To echo James Davis Nicoll's comment -- I'd love to see Tor printing and reprinting more Brunner. I will buy a copy of anything of his that you print.
Eli Bishop
10. EliBishop
And I'm glad you posted the variants, because they're interesting, but I *much* prefer the final version. The lack of any non-right angles makes it feel like order is being just barely maintained, but in a way that can't possibly last, because there's no room for any of the words to move at all... there's not even room for them all on the front cover, they're spilling onto the back. Also I'm glad that "Christ, what an imagination I've got" is prominently included.

My only quibble is with the back-cover blurb, because it's not true that "genetic engineering is routine" - the novelty of it is a major plot point!
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
11. tnh
Great cover.

Every time I see "Mr and Mrs Everywhere" I get that jingle stuck in my head again.
Nancy Lebovitz
12. NancyLebovitz
The more respectable a book is, the more abstract the cover gets.
Michael Walsh
13. MichaelWalsh
Here's the Murray Tinkleman cover.

Repackaging classics is always a fascinating - exciting - frustrating thing to do. when it works, it's great ... and I think this new cover works.
jamie stafford-hill
14. seamus
@9, EliBishop: "eptify" is just above "hipcrime" in the top third, pretty small though.

@all: thanks. it's always a little nerve-wracking to redesign a well loved text; so glad this one is being well-received so far.

and big thanks to irene for the assignment.
James Davis Nicoll
15. Rob Anderson
Irene+Jamie both, great job with this. I really enjoyed the overview of the process and the end result is fantastic. Well done.
James Davis Nicoll
16. Foxessa
Yay! A Stand on Zanzibar re-issue. Mine, probably the original U.S. mm edition, fell apart some years back. Sob. Particularly because my urge to re-read it only grows stronger every year.

Love, C.
James Davis Nicoll
17. Rosemary Edghill
Oh Yay Reprint! I wore my original copy out years ago: Stand On Zanzibar was a major influence on my writing and worldbuilding. The cover is absolutely stunning, and I love hearing about the process.
Jonah Feldman
18. relogical
My most favoritest book ever. That cover is now my wallpaper. Though I still have a copy with the test-tube man cover, so I probably won't buy this one right away.

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