Cover Drama

Intern Becky

YPG and CoverSpy Present: Cover to Cover: A Conversation on the Art and Science of the Book Cover

The front of the room with the table and books.

Pretty covers on display!

We all know the old saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.” Let’s be honest though. Who doesn’t pay attention to covers? We can’t help it! Some books deserve second looks. Others make us cringe. It’s difficult to muffle our initial reaction and focus on the text itself even though in the end, that’s what really matters. Have you ever really thought about the people who are behind the packaging? The magical folks who design and pull the strings from behind the curtain…or rather, the book jacket?

Allow me to introduce our lovely cast:

Robin Bilardello is Senior Art Director at HarperCollins Publishers. She also has a pretty nifty blog called The Preposterous Ostrich and is @robinbillz on Twitter.

Tal Goretsky is a book cover designer at Penguin. His blog is Tal Designz. He loves Britney Spears and cats.

YPG Audience

The seats filled up fast.

Elda Rotor is Editorial Director at Penguin Classics.

Designing a cover is a long, tedious process. There is a lot of trial of error, rejections and revisions. One must consider color, font, style, and countless other factors. Many departments ultimately play a role in cover design, such as, logically, the Art Department, but also the Publisher, the Editorial Department, and Marketing. Designers cope with time limits and constraints while Marketing needs copies of the JPG as soon as possible. Editors want to make sure that the cover matches the content of the book.

Tal described the process of approval: Art Director –> Editorial –> Author & Agent –> Sales –>Stores

There are layers of approval and the cover has to get the thumbs up from each and every one of them. Each publisher has a slightly different process.

Robin mentioned how it’s often a puzzle that one has to put together. She goes in wanting to know what does the paperback copy of a book needs to accomplish? Did the hardcover not sell well? Where is the book going to be sold, and what is the audience? It is only through considering all of these multivariate aspects can she even begin assembling potential designs. She has around 175 titles a season.

Robin talks about cover evolution.

The evolution of Wicked's new cover. Aka, how do you convince adults to read about a woman with green skin.

She also pointed out that as a general rule of thumb that people like to buy books with an image of books on the cover. Why is this? She’s not entirely sure, but I suppose, if you’re a person who already likes books enough to purchase them, then you find books appealing.  A picture of a book will catch your eye more than say, an image of a stapler.

Tal emphasized the difference between hardcover and paperbacks. HCs are simple and minimalist. PBs tend to be more fantastical and busier. These preferences are dictated by the markets for each type of book.

Elda strives to shake things up with the classics. By teaming up with artists, Penguin Classics are breathing fresh life into favorite books. Professor love it because it gets kids excited about schoolwork. Classes are able to discuss what decisions and interpretations artists are making when adapting the work. Penguin matches the artist with each project, selecting styles that work with the book’s themes. For instance, the artist Lilli Carre was chosen for The Adventures Huckleberry Finn because of the friendly quality of her work. Elda wants to showcase beautiful book design and attract a new audience.

The panelists lecturing

Elda shows us the art process for several covers.

Apparently, half of the 4th floor at Penguin secretly shops at Etsy during their lunch break, which helped to inspire the Penguin Threads Deluxe Classics. There’s a beauty to handcraft that people continue to admire, especially in this day and age. Penguin commissioned Jillian Tamaki to create three original embroidered works for covers. And they are stunning. Jillian posted the process over at her blog.

The digital age brings challenges and advances for covers. When it comes to e-books, there tends to be less copy (subtitle, blurb, etc). Designers also have to consider what their art will look like when it’s small, for example, when it’s resized into a tiny JPG for Amazon.

The cover of Blood & Moonlight

So, what are some of your favorite covers and why?

My Dorchester pick would be Blood & Moonlight by Amanda Ashley, Lisa Cach, and Barbara Monajem. I love the sense of elegance and the looming darkness. The delicate detailing created by the branches and filigree of the fence intrigue me, and the touch of red to the white font of the title plays with the words. A bloody moon.


2 Responses to Cover Drama


    In keeping with this theme, the New York Times recently posted an article titled “Book Covers That Got Away.” It highlights rejected covers whose designers loved them too much to let them go.

  2. I really love the cover of Sacrifice by John Everson. It’s a simple image of blood stained cliffs, a frothy sea, and just a peek at a cave in the background. The metallic blue title and author’s name contrast nicely with the red blood. Every time I run across this book on my shelf, I find myself running my hand over the cover. Many of Dorchester’s covers are fantastic!

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