Answers, Part Two: How it Works.
Yeah, Part One was insanely long. I’m kind of surprised that anyone actually read it! Sorry, I’m not a good condenser. Part Two is going to be a little easier to read, though, I promise!
Do you read the books before you design the covers?
Yes, for the most part. I’m very conscious of wanting to respect the author’s intent when I’m working on a cover, and as a reader, I know how nice it is to read a book and see the imagery on the cover start to take shape in words as the story progresses.
See that photo up at the top of this post? Those are all uncorrected manuscripts, and I’m usually reading one or two of them at any given time. Usually they just come to me as a stack of loose papers, but every now and then I’ll get a bound copy or a previous edition of the book if it was previously published elsewhere (in the UK, for example, or by a self-published author whose work took off). I usually clip together about 50 pages at a time to read during my commute to and from work so I’m not dragging the whole thing around with me. While I’m reading, I’ll fold pages that are visually evocative. Sometimes I’ll take notes if I get a specific cover idea that I don’t want to forget, but usually I just try to absorb the tone of the book and pay attention to recurring themes and any special objects in the book that might hold significant meaning.
The only times I don’t read a book before getting to work are, obviously, if the manuscript isn’t available yet (this tends to be the case with most non-fiction titles, as well as with some authors who have scheduled, multi-book contracts), or if the book is serial genre fiction (mystery, romance, etc.) with a pre-defined “look”. At the very least, I’ll get a short description of the book and its plot, and I can usually ask the editor to ask the author for character descriptions and location details.
How much say do authors have in the cover design?
It really depends on the author. Some are very easygoing and hands-off, and others prefer to get more involved and specific about exactly what they’d like to see. In general, though, by the time my art director comes to me with an assignment, the publisher, editor, author, and agent have all discussed the subject and taken various factors (sales of previous books, comparable competitive titles, publication season, etc.) into consideration.
As the process progresses, the publisher and editor will decide which submitted covers to share with the author and agent, who will then give feedback and request changes. In other words, there may be dozens of cover options that filter through various channels within the company before the author even sees a single one, but generally speaking, nothing goes to print without the author giving a stamp of approval.
Does the author get to decide who designs their cover?
It’s very rare that this happens, but when it does, it’s usually an outside designer with some kind of personal connection to the author. The publisher will always have the final say, though—Aunt Betty doesn’t get to design a cover in Microsoft Word just because her nephew with the book deal wants her to. If Rodrigo Corral is your best friend, though, then yeah, you can probably pick him to design your cover.
What’s your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?
I have a lot of both, but the best moment for me is always getting an email from an author letting me know that they love the cover I designed for their book. That’s the best feeling—even better than seeing the book hit the New York Times bestseller list (that makes me feel good too, though!). I really appreciate it when authors take the time to thank their designer. Not all of them do.
My least favorite part of the job is probably getting stuck and running out of ideas. This usually happens when I’ve gone through a dozen rounds of revisions and 30–40 different covers, and I’m nowhere closer to having an approved cover than I was on day one. That’s a bad feeling, and usually culminates in me getting very teary-eyed and sad when I come home at the end of the day. I don’t like feeling as though I’ve disappointed everyone.
Do you keep copies of all the books you’ve designed?
No. I design a lot of book covers—at least a hundred or so every year. Out of a hundred books, I’d say I’m happy with about ten of the final covers. I keep copies of the ones I like, though, as well as any that I might need to refer to in the future when working on subsequent books by the author. I don’t bring any of them home, though—they’re all on shelves in my office. I have an arm’s length mentality about that kind of thing.
How long is your commute to work?
If I’m coming from Newburgh, it takes about two hours door to door (ferry, train, foot). If I’m in the apartment in Manhattan, it’s about 35 minutes (subway, foot).
Do you ever get to meet with the authors face-to-face?
Yes, sometimes! Just a couple of days ago I got to meet Liza Marklund, who was lovely and charming and very kind when speaking about the cover design for Red Wolf. Sometimes authors I design covers for will find me online, which is fun. A couple of them read this blog! I always try to let authors know when I like their books, too. One of the best side benefits of my job is getting to read stuff I might not have known about otherwise.
Okay, that’s enough for now! I still have a bunch of questions to answer, and I promise I’ll get there. Thank you for reading along this far…