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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Art and Design: Judge a Book By Its Cover

Art and Design are the creative departments. Design does the interior, Art produces the jacket. The jacket is what we present to the world, but the interior text is what the actual book consists of. Both need a background in art, but you must be able to take criticism, be willing to edit your ideas, and understand that books are a collaborative effort. But you can be an artist with health benefits!

The jacket isn't just the front cover. It includes the back cover, spine, and flaps for a hardcover, and a front, back and spine for paperbacks. At the beginning of a season the Art Department will come to Editorial for a Jacket meeting. All of the books for the upcoming season will be reviewed briefly, with the editor telling the Art Designer if there is any direction for the book. They might say "It needs to look like a Big Book" (which usually means all big type on the front), or say, "It's a chick lit novel but please can it not be pink or yellow, those colors are so overplayed?" or "This book really appeals to readers of Jhumpa Lahiri, so can we do a design that looks pretty much like her last book?" They might bring in actual copies of book jackets to emulate or inspire this book's design. They should give a one-sentence description of the book, and if there's any important symbolism or talisman that ought to be featured prominently, this would be the time for it to be mentioned. The designers will get copies of the manuscripts, but given the time frame, if they're able to read the first 50 pages of each, that's a lot. The more direction Editorial can give them, the better. If this is not a first book, the back cover needs to leave room for blurbs for the author's previous book (or if it's the paperback of a hardcover), but if it's a first book, the designer might need to come up with something for the back cover to hide the fact that there are no blurbs. They need to leave room for logos, barcodes, pricing, and so on. The wording (title, subtitle, and author) on the front cover needs to be readable. The cover needs to convey the proper tone, feel, and atmosphere for the book. A jacket designer will need to initially come up with 4-5 different design concepts for a jacket. They then need to be approved by the editor, publisher, marketing, and sales, and one will come out as the frontrunner. Sometimes an author will have "jacket consultation" in their contract but that isn't the same as "jacket approval" (which almost no authors have) which can slow the process down. All of these people will rip the different designs to pieces. An Art Designer really does need to have a thick skin. While yes, this is art, it has to be legible, appropriate, accurate, and scream "buy me!" They will have to rework a design 15 times. They will get conflicting comments. They work on very tight deadlines. And they have small budgets for most every book. Any special features like a matte cover, spot gloss, a 5th or 6th color (silver, gold), foil, step-back, die-cut, adds expense. Sometimes a designer will be very clever and manage to squeeze a special feature into their budget, such as matte, by not doing a 4-color jacket. Some really appealing jackets have been done with only 2 or 3 colors.

Meanwhile, the Interior Designer is also working away. Most people don't notice, but usually the interior and exterior fonts and designs are completely different (not always of course.) They both might appeal to different audiences. And a font that's really cool for the title might really grate after 400 pages. The interior designer picks the fonts, the chapter headers, where page numbers fall, and if it's a heavily designed book, they might also work on sidebars, callouts, photo captions, quizzes, quotes, illustrations, maps, table of contents, and so on. For cookbooks, travel books, poetry and other specialized books there's even more detail work for the interior designer. Usually just the editor and their boss signs off on the interior.

While the Interior Designer doesn't have the glamorous job, it's almost more important, and it's lower pressure. It can have a lot more design elements to it, and can make or break a book. If a jacket really doesn't work, the publishing house will often redesign it for the paperback, but the interior will stay the same aside from minor copyediting corrections (these are fixed in Production and do not go back to the Designer.)

For you font dorks, here's a hilarious McSweeney's bit about Comic Sans, and a serif joke here. And last year I watched a documentary about Helvetica. This week's Publisher's Weekly cover article is about doing a photo shot for a YA series. The online version doesn't actually show any of the photos though, so you'll want to get your hands on a print copy.

Recently the winners of the AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers competition were announced, and you'll see half the winners are for covers, whereas half are for the book itself. My favorite cover is The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.

8 comments:

Lenore said...

I agree wholeheartedly in your favorite book jacket. It is also my favorite novel of the year, but the startling cover sets the scene magically.

Brenna said...

How do you know so much about the art and design that goes along with publishing?

Brenna said...

Ok I just read your "About Me" and now I understand :) It sounds like you've had a successful career in publishing. Congrats. I want to be you.

Carin said...

Lenore, I'll have to check out your review. It's funny how sometimes a book can become a physical object and it didn't even occur to me that the Emily Bronte book might also be good to read! :)

Brenna, you're so sweet! If you want to get a job in publishing, you might check out my other Thursday posts about a publishing career. I don't think it should be as much of a mystery as it is.

Priya Parmar said...

wow i just went through this but had no idea what was going on. i was just presented with the finished result. i wish i had understood the process better.

Brenna said...

Thanks Carin I will do that!

Kate said...

Great post! I included it as part of my Friday Five at Kate's Library!

Anonymous said...

We're predominantly visual creatures. The wrappers in which things come not only powerfully affect what interests us but also how we react to the contents we find inside. This certainly holds true for companies, which can convince us with professional-looking marketing materials, web sites, and offices that they produce professional-quality work. It also holds true for books, whose covers draw our attention, create an expectation that excites us, and suggest a certain quality of writing. Certainly the truth is laid bare once we start reading (just as the truth about a company's quality is laid bare soon after we hire them), but if anyone doubts how their expectations for a book they're about to read are affected by its presentation, I'd challenge them to examine their initial reaction to a book not with an unattractive cover but with an amateurish one.




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