Burning Questions About Book Publishing: How is a book cover created?

By Ruta Rimas

The cover of a book is by far its most valuable marketing tool, and many ideas (and opinions) factor into the final design. Publishers want unique, eye-catching book covers. Ask yourself what makes you pick up a book, and that is the very question publishers ponder at every stage of the design process.

Well over a year in advance of a book’s on-sale date, the cover design process begins. There’s good reason for the early start: we need the image and a printed jacket for the sell-in process, which occurs about six months prior to a book’s on-sale. A book has a stronger chance of being ordered by booksellers if they can visualize it. No book cover? Many booksellers will skip an order, especially if the book is by an unknown or unproven author.

AllEyesFINAL
This is the final cover for a book that goes on sale in June 2019.

The process of book cover design looks something like below, though it varies from publisher to publisher.

Editor presents the book to design: The editor shares what the book is about, who the audience may be, what  comparative and competitive books are already on the shelves, and then offers some ideas to the design department. To give you some perspective, for my Fall 2019 books, I started talking covers with my designers in… August 2018.

Designer is assigned: The creative director assigns a designer who they feel is the best fit for the project. The designer and editor begin bouncing ideas around. The designer often reads the manuscript at this stage, if one is available.

all-eyes-on-us-comps-3i-e1539887216977.jpg
This was the first cover direction for the book pictured above, scrapped after input from sales and marketing.

Designer drafts ideas and presents to editor: The designer whips up several different directions using inspiration art, stock photos, unique lettering, even illustrations. The editor offers input and sends the designer back to work until finally, an idea is agreed on. This stage has a lot of back and forth and is often the longest. Once everyone is on the same page, it’s time to set up a photo shoot or to hire an artist. Sometimes, we use stock photos for book covers, too. It all depends on the need of the book, our budget, and where we see the book shelves at stores.

Editor shares with author and Editor shares with sales/marketing: This step can happen simultaneously or sequentially or flip-flopped. Editors want their authors to be happy and proud of the book cover. Most editors take their author’s feedback into consideration and will share that feedback with the designer. Sometimes if an author is very unhappy with the cover, the cover is scrapped and a new idea pursued. We also take our sales and marketing feedback very seriously. Sometimes sales and marketing might even ask us to rethink a cover. And then we start all over again, until…

All Eyes On Us_cover comp
Take two! The author saw this version and provided feedback, which was incorporated for the final cover.

BOOK COVER IS DONE! Then…

The cover feeds out digitally to retailers: About six to nine months prior to on-sale, just in time for sales calls, the book cover posts online at Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound.

Jacket proofs are printed and mailed: Once a final image is agreed upon by everyone, and as the sales force continues their sell-in process, the production department creates jacket proofs for the sales team to show accounts. The proofs may not be the final jacket that wraps around the final book, but generally they are very close and will include things like special effects (embossing, spot gloss, a unique finish like “soft touch,” for example).

The above steps are a general overview of the process, but talk to your author friends and you’ll find exceptions to every stage. Sometimes books don’t have manuscripts available early enough for the editor — let alone the designer! — to read and publishers have to create covers based on a synopsis or sample pages. Some books are crashed onto a season after the sell-in process begins, and so the cover has to be whipped together immediately. And sometimes, books change cover design from the hardcover to the paperback.

But one thing is certain. All book covers are tailor-made and with a common goal: encouraging readers to buy the book.

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