How Are Book Covers Designed?

A good book cover acts as the window into the story inside and is often the main reason why someone picks up a book in the first place. 

The task of conveying a whole story into just one or a couple of images and ensuring that it targets the right people, is a job that is performed not only by fantasy book cover artists, but also by the editors, the marketers, the sales people, and the production teams. Collaboration between all of the parties and individuals involved plays a big part in the design process. Sometimes this may involve working with individuals from outside a publishing organization in order to get the desired outcome. 

As the process draws to an end and an almost finished design has been developed, the author is consulted for their opinion. Whilst their input is important, it is the art department or artdirector that has the final say on things. The individuals often have a great deal of experience and expertise under their belts and understand what it is readers are looking for and what types of decisions are likely to make a book sell. 

The full design process, from brief onto the bookshelf, is explained below to provide greater insight into just how book covers are designed. 

Accepting the brief and doing the research

A brief is given to the artist / designer for the title from the editor. Once they have received the brief, the artist / designer works with the editor to ensure that they have got everything that they need before starting the process. The choice of reading the entire book or not is very much down to the designer – some do and some don’t. While some artists / designers read the book and do lots of research in order to pick up on some of the smaller elements, some prefer to just sketch out lots of different ideas till they find one that works.  

It is important that the artist / designer keeps the audience in mind at all times during the design process. The questions that they should be asking of themselves include who is the book for? What type of people are the target audience? Who are the target retailers? And what is the competition like?

Producing the initial visuals

Some artists / designers work by creating mood boards to not only help themselves but also to get their idea across to the editor. This will give them a good idea of the mood or look that is trying to be emulated in the book cover. Seeing these visuals and inspiration pieces really can energize an artist / designer and helps to focus a direction that they can move forward in. Having a collection of images makes it very easy to communicate to the editor or anyone else, the direction that the cover is going to be taken in.

When designing children’s books, the process is very much the same. The artist / designer will sketch out a number of ideas that they then share with their Art Director or someone similar, before then proceeding to create a full rough draft that they take along to a covers meeting with them. At this meeting, everyone is brought on board with the idea and the full design of the book cover is then tackled. 

Attending covers meetings

When attending a covers meeting, it will likely be the case that the artist / designer has already produced several different visuals to present to those in attendance. When it comes to the realization of a book cover, the editor plays a big and crucial role. They spend a lot of time going over the manuscript and so get to know the book just as well as the author does and so have a good understanding of who the audience is. As well as the editor, the sales team also have a certain amount of input into the cover as they have insight on the target audience and what they respond well to. Once a rough draft has been produced, the typography is then designed.

There are usually around three covers meeting for a cover. However, in some cases it can be much more and as many as twenty. This is because there often can be multiple different ideas and routes all being worked on at the same time. Once the design has been signed off by everyone involved, it is then sent to the author and the rest of the cover put together, including the spine, the back cover, and the endpapers. Each of these elements are very important, especially the spine as it is often the only part of the book that is on view.

Throughout this part of the process, the artist / designer worksvery closely with the production team. It is their job to turn the design from a digital asset into an actual cover around a book. They may use a wide variety of techniques and methods that include foiling, embossing, laminating, UV spotting to give the book a unique look and feel. After this has been done the book is good to go and can be stocked in both online and brick and mortar stores. 

The finished product

A finished book cover should grab the attention of potential readers by conveying certain ideas or emotions. However, it is important that too much information is not given away at the same time. For instance, any twists or plot changes should not be pictured on the cover. Some of the best book cover examples include Harrow by Joy Williams, Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, Dead Souls by Sam Riviere, The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate, The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams, Double Trio by Nathaniel Mackey, A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke, The Plague by Albert Camus, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Nectarine by Chad Campbell, Stranger to the Moon by Evelio Rosero, and A Little Devil In America by Hannie Abdurraqib amongst many more.

Leave a Reply