Making a Book Cover

– Posted in: Garden Photography

The design for a book cover is a complex marketing decision. It is almost always driven by sales and marketing folks rather than the editorial department.  For the design considerations of my new book with Tammi Hartung “Homegrown Herbs” from Storey Publishing, I spoke with their art director Alethea Morrison.

cover of Homegrown Herbs

Alethea noted that Storey has positioned this book as  “category killer”, intending it to be the most comprehensive reference on the market, a bible of information.  The key concept is to be informational, all inclusive, so they decided to use lots of photos to show all of subjects covered in the book.

“For Homegrown Herbs we tried to show a range of photos” said Alethea, “this is not a coffee table book”.  As a photographer I must say I like to see a single beautiful photo on the cover and it is interesting to see what Debra Lee Baldwin wrote about deciding on one photo for the cover of her book “Succulent Container Gardens” on the GGW post called Evolution of a Cover.

But I knew going into this project that we needed how-to photos of a broad range of subjects, and it would not be a beauty book.  It is a major revision of Tammi’s earlier “100 Herbs That Heal” and needed to show propagation techniques, culinary uses, and many sequences illustrating  tinctures, lotions, and practical applications of growing and using your own herbs.

The biggest and most important photo on the cover is one of Tammi holding a basket of freshly harvested herbs.


This suggestion of a person “doing” is important both to make Tammi a real person and to allow the reader to imagine they too can use herbs the way Tammi suggests.  The book is not a “personality” book, so Storey did not want to feature Tammi over the concept of all inclusive information, though once you get inside the book you will see Tammi doing all the procedures she talks about.

One of the most gratifying things about working with a good publisher and art director is the collaborative nature of a project.  I worked closely with Tammi on her farm in Colorado to illustrate her text, and trusted the designers at Storey in Massachusetts, after doing all my post production work at home in California.  I had no idea what they might do for the cover which ended up requiring them to crop all my photos.

In some cases they were cropped quite a bit.


The concept for the cover was to include herbs growing in containers, but the original photo was simply too loose.


So, for the cover Alethea wanted to emphasize just the container of Gotu Kola with its lively green leaves.  Each of the other photos on the cover performs a function to show the variety of subjects covered in the book.

A basket of Johnny-jump-ups as edible flowers:

Ohhh ... try these as crystalized confections - p. 156

Dill flowering in the garden to illustrate growing techniques:

Tammi made summer lunches come alive with dill ...

Propagating Rosemary from cuttings:

By now Tammi's nursery has sold these - p. 74

The tiny seeds from a Viola seed pod:

Alethea just wanted a little extra color here 🙂 p.122

Rose petals whipped into herb butter:

We spread this on the fresh bread at our lunches

Echinacea tincture.  This mixture with alcohol is called a menstruum:

Preparing Echinacea herb tincture

Color bleaches out as the tincture ages - p. 139

Raspberry throat elixer which is basically a tincture with a sweetener:

The kids will like THIS medicine - p.141

Now, don’t all these photos and all this information hinted at on the cover just make you want to know more ?  Do you now want to pick up this book and learn from the expert ?  Surely you, the garden book consumer, will have looked at this cover and realized it is crammed full of  all the best techniques for using your homegrown herbs.  The cover is a success.

The good thing is – it is not just a marketing hype.

It is so nice to be part of a team that delivers what it promises.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

Latest posts by Saxon Holt (see all)

6 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Loree / danger garden March 25, 2011, 8:09 pm

“Do you now want to pick up this book and learn from the expert ?”…yes actually I do!

Well then, the cover did it’s job ! – Saxon

nickie March 25, 2011, 8:10 pm

That looks like a book I MUST have!

Truly, if you have ANY interest in herbs, it is destined to be a classic, more due to Tammi than me…. – Saxon

Jess March 25, 2011, 8:20 pm

Yeah, I’m sold.

Kathy in Napa March 25, 2011, 9:24 pm

This cover looks really utilitarian-in a good way. If I were in the market for a tutorial type book on herbs I would bite on this.

An aside, I really enjoyed your talk at the SFGS on Thursday, your passion on this topic was evident , and Ros and Ivettes presentations made it a great bundle. My lawn has been gone for almost 10 years -I fall into the ‘Need More Room For Plants’ s’ camp. Kudos to you all.

Thanks Kathy. I will be posting a summary on the Lawn Reform Coalition blog, and then more on lawn reform here at GGW in months to come. – Saxon

Stan Horst March 25, 2011, 9:37 pm

I must say…I am a sucker for a good gardening book cover. I love the design of this one. It speaks with authority, and yet a very down-t0-earth feel as well.

Of course, I don’t mind buying a book based on the cover, as long as the inside meets up to the expectations that I’ve formed based on the outside.

Stan – I love that you say it “speaks with authority”. That is exactly the intent. Unlike the ‘rare’ ocassion when the camera lies, to fool you on any real message, the real message of this book is truth the information. No herb over will be disappointed. – Saxon

Kate @ Gardening and Gardens March 27, 2011, 8:13 pm

I love this book cover but even more, I really enjoyed your post with the explanations behind it! There certainly is a lot of work that goes into the marketing of a book.

Thanks Kat – It is an inexact science to be sure – Saxon

[shareaholic app=”recommendations” id=”13070491″]