The Winner Maker is an upmarket/literary thriller, and I'd like a cover that fits that genre: smart, stylish, subtle. Dangerous of course (it is a thriller), but no flaming text or over-the-top action movie scenes please. I've included three famous covers -- "American Psycho", "The Road", and "Gone Girl" -- as examples, but please don't feel at all limited by their styles.
My thoughts going into the contest are a bit fuzzy. I would love to be blown away with some classy, haunting original design. That said, I do have four ideas you might start from.
(These are in no particular order; #1 isn't my favorite, just the one one I'm writing out first.)
1) A teacher's empty desk. It would need to look old-fashioned somehow; Fiske is 74 and has a tough, throwback personality. It should suggest menace, danger. Possibly a window in the background could be open -- symbolizing Fiske's disappearance. Possibly the title scrawled across a chalkboard?
2) An image from the top or bottom of a skyscraper, depicting the prologue. I have attached the first 50 pages of the book so you can read it if you like. (Someone please let me know if you're not able to view the .docx file.) In the scene, a high-school boy bungee jumps from the observation deck of the Sears Tower. (It's a stunt to impress Fiske; the kid is desperate to be named a Winner.) He falls away from the glass with a bungee cord attached ("the cord dangled far below, lilting now back against the skyscraper, now out over the Chicago River, twisting and kinking, rippling, the greatest part shrouded in fog"), then, just as he disappears below, releases a chute with Fiske's signature phrase "LIVE BIG" in large print. Maybe it would be a view looking down, with a kid falling far below and barely visible. Maybe you'd show the "LIVE BIG" chute, maybe not. I would be relying here on the designer to create something striking, but still understated and stylish. It wouldn't need to be an actual image of Sears, of course -- perhaps it would be better abstracted. The symbolism of heights, achievement and its associated dangers, would be the key thing here.
3) A simple silhouette of Fiske, The Winner Maker. Again -- he should be old, 74, but somehow commanding. His hair is "wild and white, whorled with the passing clouds." I imagine the hair sort of like Albert Einstein's. Probably just him with no background. Perhaps you could try him at the edge of a cliff (there is a scene later in the book where people are searching Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which has dramatic cliffs and beautiful landscapes) or in front of a class. If you go minimal here, obviously the typography would become very important.
4) Some abstract representation of Fiske over a sea of students, the students all struggling over and against themselves to rise up out of the mass. I'm fuzziest about this one. The book is really all about what outrageous lengths Fiske inspires with his rhetoric. I think about that American Psycho cover, how the protagonist is half-devil; one of the Winners ends up being the villain here, so you could have the students (a few or perhaps just the one) transformed into some grotesque form. If someone could pull this off, or capture this idea in some other dramatic, arresting way, it could be a winner. Pun intended. :)
And, again, I am open to something completely different and amazing that never even occurred to me.
A couple quick notes about how I'll run the contest. I know many top designers prefer to protect their work, so I will be making this a blind contest.
Also, I will be blunt in my feedback. If I don't think your design or style is likely to win, I'll tell you immediately. Please don't take this as a comment on your talent. I am sensitive to the fact that designers end up doing lots of work without getting paid in these contests, and I want to minimize that as much as possible. I won't string anybody along. Take your best shot, and if it's in the running, we'll work on making it better. (Or closer to what's right for The Winner Maker.) If not, I don't want to consume more of your time.
That said, I will let you know why I didn't choose a design. I will comment every single design.
Thank you for reading my brief. I look forward to seeing your work, and please know that I am extraordinarily grateful for all the time, talent, and creativity you devote to my project.