The most ‘striking’ book jackets in modern Crime Fiction – Designer James Edgar drops in for a chat.

A little while back at the wonderful Goldsboro Books  for the launch of the great first adult crime novel by Eoin Colfer, PLUGGED, Headline’s Sam Eades kindly introduced me to James Edgar, the man behind the great iconic cover (see left).

Now, I’m very pleased to be able to be able to offer something a bit different in that this is not a book review, or an author interview, but a great chat with someone who is behind one of the most important parts of book-buying – the jacket.  Something that in the e-edition age is probably more important than ever to pursuade  wavering purchasers that a great hardcover would look very cool on their bookshelf rather than just hitting a download button on their pc or ereader.

So, here we go for a chat with James Edgar….

Keith B Walters:  I love the book jacket for PLUGGED and those you’ve created for the Bateman books – all are very striking and iconic, was the design a conscious shift from the brooding dark highways and images we see on so many crime books?
James Edgar: Definitely! As a designer it is my duty to push the Client/Editor/Author into creating something that is progressive and yet still answers the brief. Generally speaking it is very difficult to convince a Publisher to break the mould and style of a certain genre, especially crime fiction. The “brooding dark highways” you talk of and the classic silhouetted man is the crime genre’s style and some briefs actually specify that it needs to look like that, so there is not much room for creativity.
I am really pleased with how Plugged turned out. Germany have just decided to use my artwork for all their editions. It’s a great feeling to feel that your work is  appreciated, especially internationally!
KBW: How much of a brief are you given by the publishing teams?
JE: Briefs have been getting better and better over recent years. The more detail in the brief, the more chance the designer has of creating a cover that fits the content and something that people want to buy. A vague brief can lead to hours of design time and money being wasted. A good brief does the opposite and includes everything from a detailed synopsis, story specifics and more to comparable covers and competitors.
KBW: Do you always get to read the whole book first?  Or are you working from a basic outline story or pitch they give you?
JE: No not always. In the case Plugged, yes. I was fortunate to have been given the brief and manuscript together and actually read it on my iPhone. Sometimes the author hasn’t written the book, so a detailed synopsis and maybe the first few chapters are available. In these cases a good briefing by the Editor is essential.
KBW: In the case of Bateman, is there any truth you’re aware of that it was to boost sales by people squinting and thinking they were BATMAN books (as Colin joked at Harrogate last year) ?

JE: Not that I know of. I think that has been a joke of Colin’s since the publisher decided to lose his forename.  Personally, I have nothing against the name Colin but visually ‘Bateman’ looks good so I didn’t argue against losing it.
KBW: Do you have any/much contact with the authors prior to working on their jackets or during the process?
JE: It is very rare. In Publishing, the designer tends to have less interaction with the author than in other design roles where the designer works closely with the client. But in Publishing, there are other areas like Publicity, Sales and the Editor who all work very closely with the author so the designer solely concentrates on the cover.
I was fortunate to meet both Colin Bateman and Eoin Colfer after their books were printed and both were very complimentary. I think it is nice for the Author to meet the person who designed their cover.

However, you are more likely to work with the author during the design process if you design the insides of a book. I recently spent two days in a room with Peter Kay working on the insides of his new book, The Book that’s more than just a Book-Book. Now that was a surreal few days.
KBW: With PLUGGED, did you submit many versions, or were the publishers sold on the great design we have now straight away?
JE: It is quite rare that your first visual goes through, but for Plugged the general feel was not that far from what went to print. I was actually up against two other designers and my route was chosen to develop.
KBW: Is the figure on PLUGGED actually Eoin Colfer?  Or you ?
JE: It is neither of us. The figure represents the main character Daniel McEvoy. I’m sure Eoin won’t mind me saying this, but neither he, nor I resemble the character on the front.
KBW: Are you a big crime fiction reader yourself?  If so, any favourite authors?
JE: I do enjoy Crime Fiction and Bateman’s books are right up my street but I wouldn’t say I am a ‘big’ crime fiction reader. I like Stephen King, Christopher Brookmyer among others but I read all sorts of books. I read a lot of Biographies and Sport books. I’m reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell at the moment which is fascinating.
KBW: I know that you also design alternative football shirts – have there been any discussions to produce t-shirts from your book jacket designs?  I see no reason why, with sports fans and music fans wearing their favs, that us bookish types shouldn’t be given the same treatment.
JE: I don’t see why not. At the idea is so big we have decided to concentrated on a certain niche first and grow from there.

KBW:Can you reveal anything crime fans can look forward to seeing from you?
JE: I have been working on various crime books of late and for one particular Publisher I recently designed a new look for a very well known Crime Author. I was really pleased with the designs and thought they were very strong, but this time the Publisher wanted to stick to a safer route by another designer. One that was more like a step forward more than a leap. It’s disappointing but this is all part of the job. Follow me on Twitter @edgar_uk  and I will post up any new work.
KBW: Is there a favourite book that you’d love to do a jacket re-design for?
JE: As I mentioned, I also design the insides of books. So to design a large colour book and its cover or maybe a series style would be great. A series style for an author like Martin Amis or a cook book for a top restaurant like El Bulli would be something special.

Many thanks to James for his time and, if you’d like to contact him regarding his work then please email him at
James is also Director of design agency:
and clothing label:



Filed under Interviews

2 responses to “The most ‘striking’ book jackets in modern Crime Fiction – Designer James Edgar drops in for a chat.

  1. Excellent interview. James’s Plugged jacket makes for a striking change from the, as you say, “brooding dark highways” approach of most crime novels. I’m of the belief that publicity folk should get the hell out the way and let designers be more creative on covers (with input from editorial, of course – ahem), but increasingly I’m in the minority on that one.

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