Since I’ve begun my blogging adventure I’ve become more and more interested in the people and process behind creating the beautiful covers that help to draw my attention. I’ve interviewed a couple of artists and wanted to see things from the designer’s prospective. When the cover for Mindy McGinnis’ upcoming In A Handful of Dust was revealed I fell in love with the simplicity, beauty and perfection of the cover. I needed to know who was responsible leading me to Erin Fitzsimmons. In speaking with her I found out that she designs many covers and I was thrilled when she agreed to answer some of my questions.
Could you give us some insight into the process of developing a book cover from start to finish and which types of job roles are involved?
It all starts with the Editor(s), designer, Art Director, and Creative Director. Sometimes the Editor will talk to the author to get their ideas beforehand, and sometimes we start brainstorming in-house first. We develop a few ideas within our small group, and when we have concepts we like, we show them to our Publisher as well as the Sales and Marketing teams. We work with that team to refine our concepts, and eventually settle on a direction which is shared with the Author(s). We then hire an artist to finalize the cover. The artist could be the designer in-house, a freelance designer, a photographer, an illustrator, or a digital artist. More and more we work with illustrators and digital artists, but every now and then we get to do a photo shoot. After we finalize the cover, we’ll show the accounts (and cross our fingers) and if all goes well, the cover is done. The last steps are designing the full jacket, and determining specs…also known as the fun stuff!
Did you always know that you wanted to be a designer/artist?
Yes, in some form or another! I grew up in a very artistic family. My parents both went to art school, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. The medium I loved best was photography, and I wanted to go to school for it, but my parents (wisely) encouraged me to find a broader field of study. Luckily, I found the Gallatin School at NYU. Technically my “major” there was photojournalism, but I actually spent my four years studying visual storytelling. From there, I started a job in photo editing for a small publisher, and I found myself designing book covers a year later! It was love at first design.
I imagine you design many versions before a final is approved on, how long of a process is it typically and how many versions might there be?
So many! I have a hard time editing myself, so I will usually do way more versions than I need to. Often I find that I need to get a lot of bad ideas out of my head first, and then I’ll arrive at some good ideas. The whole process can take anywhere from two weeks (very rare) to a few months (most likely). At our very first presentation, we like to show a number of different concepts, and that can range anywhere from 2 to 20 (usually somewhere right in the middle, at least for me!) Hopefully from there we’ll settle on one concept, and it will take a month or so to execute, depending on whether we hire digital artists, or do a photo shoot.
Do you get to be involved with all the different aspects of the cover design?
I do! And I love it all. At Harper, we design our own jackets, interior, and cases. We have the opportunity to conceive of the book as a whole, and integrate our design throughout the entire package.
You’ve designed many book covers; could you tell us some of your favorites?
Am I allowed to choose favorites? I love so many, I feel awful choosing! That said, I definitely feel more of a connection to some designs. Tease, Blackout, Cruel Beauty, Not a Drop to Drink, and Taken all stand out for me because I was really able to explore my own crazy ideas from concept to finish, and somehow they worked. Even in Paradise is probably my most recent favorite; it just embodies the entire book in an image. And the original blue Delirium cover will always have a special place in my heart!
You also choose the type for the book’s title, etc. How does this help to set the tone of the book?
As a self-proclaimed type nerd, I find the typography to be integral to the cover design. I came from a background in fashion textbooks, where type was so important, but when I started in children’s, typography maybe wasn’t seen to carry the same weight.
Every typeface has a personality. Most are adaptable; they don’t only work in one situation and one situation only. Once you start to get to know their characteristics, you can start to find ways to bring out the best in the typeface. I’ve found that having the right type will make or break a cover, so I often spend as much time finding the right type as I do coming up with the right image.
A great thing about the YA market right now is the focus on hand lettered typography. It opens the doors to so many more possibilities–it’s a blessing and a curse that way, I suppose!
I have to mention the cover of Cruel Beauty because it is absolutely stunning. The red is so vivid and is hard to miss on the shelf. What elements of the story did you feel had to be conveyed in the final cover design?
Oh, thank you!
We definitely wanted to reference the classic imagery of Beauty and the Beast. In the story, the castle is as much of a character as Nyx and Ignifex, with its constant shifting and changing forms. Initially she is trapped inside and scared of what her destiny holds, but as the story progresses, she begins to see beauty in her prison. From the very beginning, I had this picture in my mind of the spiral staircase and a rose. I am so happy I was able to find the right imagery for it and bring the idea to life.
For the two Mindy McGinnis books, Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, you did the design and art work. How is it different doing the artwork as well?
It is super fun! I wish I had the time and skills to do more artwork, but for these I was able to create the compositions in-house. Because the books are so descriptive, and the scenery is so important, finding the right combination of imagery is key. Like with Cruel Beauty, I had a very clear picture in my head while I was reading both books, and I tried to bring that image to life for the cover. Fortunately, the picture in my head seemed to be the same as the picture in everyone else’s head! I think being able to pull the compositions together myself was what allowed them to be so successful.
I love that the setting was so prominent in the covers since it’s so important to the story.
The setting in both Mindy’s novels is like another character; the way she is able to bring the landscapes to life is remarkable. We actually presented the cover for Not a Drop to Drink without any figures at first, but our in-house team thought it was lacking the human element to really draw you in. I was upset at first, because I liked the starkness of the cover, but when I realized I’d be able to show Lynn standing on the roof holding her rifle, I was okay with adding her into the scene! It all worked together pretty nicely in the end.
Thank you Erin for answering my questions and sharing information about the creation of book covers.
Be sure to check out Erin’s beautiful site to see more of her work.
I am giving away one of the book’s Erin has worked on–the winner gets to choose which one. If you would like a book that has not released I will do a pre-order for you. This giveaway is international (if Book Depository ships to your location). To enter you must be over 13 years of age.
a Rafflecopter giveaway