Keeping things to a minimum

JD Salinger's name has become almost as closely associated with fierce artistic control as it has with creating classic literature.

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"There are strict rules about JD Salinger's covers. The only copy allowed on the books, back or front, is the author name and the title. Nothing else at all: no quotes, no cover blurb, no biography," said Simon Prosser, the publishing director at Hamish Hamilton, which prints the recently deceased author's works. Among the many legends, true or otherwise, about the notoriously reclusive writer to have resurfaced in the weeks since his death, few reveal as much about him as this. In the 30 years since he stopped giving interviews and the 45 years since his last work was published, Salinger's name has become almost as closely associated with fierce artistic control as it has with creating classic literature.

The author made headlines last June for stopping an unauthorised sequel to his most famous book, The Catcher in the Rye. In previous decades, he fought to derail a number of biographies and memoirs from mentioning him, and clung to Catcher's film rights with the same vigour that he clung to life until he died aged 91. Before Salinger's death, Hamish Hamilton worked with the writer to produce a set of new jackets for reissues of four books: The Catcher in the Rye, For Esme with Love and Squalor, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Originally planned for June, the release date has now been brought forward to next month.

The stark covers were designed by the typesetter and graphic designer Seb Lester, and contain thick, capital letters with calligraphic flourishes. The custom-made typeface has reportedly become known within Hamish Hamilton as "The Salinger". "We're not really sure why this is," said Prosser about the author's preference for minimalism, "but it gives you definite guidelines. Last year we decided it was probably time to redesign the covers and we wanted a unique typeface that stood out."

Although the colour schemes vary among the four reprinted books, Catcher's new cover is a conservative dark blue with beige lettering - a departure from the red jackets that have adorned many of the book's previous prints. "I feel incredibly privileged to have worked on this project," Lester told the graphic design magazine Creative Review. "It really felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so the pressure was on - not least because I knew JD Salinger would be approving the book jackets himself."

The Catcher in the Rye has sold more than 65 million copies around the world since its publication in 1951. It tells the story of three days in the life of the irritable teenager and narrator Holden Caulfield, who drifts through New York after expulsion from school. Despite initially drawing controversy for its liberal use of expletives, the book is believed by many to be the defining novel of the 20th century.

The book's first edition showed a blood-red carousel horse, drawn by the artist James Avati, on its jacket with the title in yellow lettering. The popular cover can still be seen on many recent reprints of the novel. However, Salinger did not want any artwork to accompany his story. After growing increasingly private, Salinger asked to have his image removed from the book's dust jacket and when he switched publishers to Bantam Press, the artwork was removed altogether. In the decades that followed, several other jackets were designed, most keeping the red or maroon background and yellow lettering, and often with no picture.

As well as new cover designs for Salinger's books, a slew of previously unreleased works by the author could hit bookshelves around the world in the coming years. A big-screen adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye is possible as well. Some of the writer's friends and neighbours have previously claimed that he could have as many as 15 finished manuscripts suitable for release if his estate allows it. A series of letters that are set to go on display at a New York museum, written by Salinger to a previous jacket designer, E Michael Mitchell, state that the author kept writing long into his retirement. Mitchell donated the letters to the Morgan Library and Museum in 1998 but they were kept under wraps until the author's death.

In 1957, Salinger wrote: "I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights [for The Catcher in the Rye] to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end... to know that I won't have to see the results of the transaction." With huge Hollywood names, including Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Harvey Weinstein, having expressed an interest in filming the story, that could finally be set to happen.