Do you read the book you’re designing a cover for or are you given notes or....
In many cases, the publisher and editor have a concept or some thoughts, and I am provided with a synopsis and notes. This can be helpful, but at the same time I don’t really feel comfortable designing any cover without reading the text. As an art director, it’s especially difficult to direct another designer’s work without fully knowing the material. So I try my best to read as many manuscripts as possible.
When you are designing a cover, what do you do first?
First, I read the manuscript. The story is the true catalyst for the design. When I design, I’m really trying to create a visual based on the author’s words. It may be conceptual or literal. It’s difficult to pick up on the personality and subtle tones that make a story without fully reading the manuscript.
As I read, I scribble notes, flag pages, draw sketches, etc. I have tons of sketch pads and manuscripts with penciled notes and doodles all over. It’s more a free stream of thought which I come back to later and edit down.
The cover image for Girl Stolen is a direct response to reading the manuscript. The book is incredibly intense! The perspective of a blind girl caught in a desperate situation is a brilliant way to pull the reader in. I wanted the cover to be a bit unnerving. I would not have come up with this image or concept without reading the story first.
Once you have created comps, then what happens? Who is involved in the decision making?
Once we have our ideas, I rough out some design directions. I try to comp up at least three different concepts and within these approaches I flesh out different layouts and designs. At this point, I show the designs to my publisher [April’s note: the “publisher” is a person - I didn’t know this until my third or fourth book] and editor. If we all feel comfortable, the preferred comp(s) are shown at our art meeting. Here the material is presented to the head of sale and marketing and the president of the children’s division
Did you work in the era before digital comps? My husband is a graphic designer and he says they have definitely changed how clients view comps.
The process has changed quite a bit since I started in publishing. More and more designers are using computer generated reference material, images or text to create a sketch. Although this can be helpful in many ways, the “sketch” is taken more literally because the sketches have a more finished look.
Sometimes people have a hard time seeing beyond what is presented before them. They can get caught up in the details of a well-defined comp, even if the image and text are just place holders. I’d prefer to present a rough pencil sketch with dummied text or a B&W comp so that when I am presenting, everyone knows without question that it is a sketch.
The “sketch” originally served as a means of getting approval on a direction before moving forward with a design, illustration, photo shoot etc. You don’t want to get caught up in too many comments and revisions before you even get started. So it’s definitely not good to show a comp too early or to use placeholders that don’t truly match what you are trying to present or sell. Digital comps are great and do help me get further along with my designs but they have also added extra steps that are now a part of the process.
Are most of your covers designed in-house, or do you use freelancer designers?
The majority of our covers are designed in-house. The most exciting aspect of my work is coming up with the concept and design for covers, so I try to design as much as possible in-house. We definitely use outside help, both because of the work load, and more importantly, for the skills, talent and variety that out-of- house designers bring. However, like many other houses, we do less freelance now due to the current economic conditions.
Is it a concern when stock photos are used for more than one book? Is there a way to avoid that?
Stock photography has become a major part of modern book cover design and it has both pros and cons. It can be a great resource, giving designers access to millions of great images that we would not be able to obtain from an affordable photoshoot or illustration. But creatively, it can be limiting when a designer depends too much on stock photography for a “quick fix” or presentable option. The best covers are usually based on strong concepts and original ideas, not just a pretty picture.
I do find that designers have become more illustrative; using and manipulating a combination of photos to create an image that is more specific to an original concept. When this is done right, it can be a great option.
I’d rather use an original artist or photographer so that the image is more unique. Unfortunately, stock photography is usually the most cost-effective option, which in turn has been quite damaging to illustrators and photographers. I find it pretty sad to see illustration and traditional mediums becoming less prominent on book covers due to the ease of using stock photography.
When possible, I like to create images with my own photos and illustrations. It feels more natural than looking through a million images trying to find something that almost suits what I am looking for.
Do you ever have contact with authors?
In general, the editor has the direct communication with the authors, even to discuss or present the cover. It’s usually after I design a cover that I become more acquainted with the authors, whether its from an author visiting the publisher, attending conferences or via e-mail. I’ve been lucky enough to form good relationships with many authors along the way.
Tell me more about the photo you used on the cover of Girl, Stolen.
The image is actually a photograph of my neighbor. I’ve used her a couple of times over the past few years.
I took probably a couple hundred photos before we decided on this version. In Photoshop, I added the distressed texture and title lettering, and tweaked the color. The fingernail polish was a last minute addition - and then it was later scuffed up.
What is the best thing about being a book cover designer?
Creating! It’s kind of an odd addiction: I’m obsessed with the process of creating but ironically I’m never really happy with a final design (I’m always going back and redoing it mentally). But it’s a continuous circle. I get excited every time I see the new seasonal list of titles and start reading the manuscripts. There’s an excitement at that stage where my imagination kicks in. It also blinds me to the reality of how much work needs to be done and how I’m going get through it.
What is the hardest part?
The hardest part of my job is juggling managing and designing. There’s a lot involved in the process of making a book beyond design and illustration.
What kind of education do you have?
I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Graphic Design from Loyola University in New Orleans. I have additional studies in illustration and design as well.