It's been mentioned once or twice that there should be more about book covers on this blog and so this is the first in an attempt to bring monthly highlights of new cover designs from the Penguin Press part of Penguin.
But this will be a bit of a bloated blog entry because before we get onto July's choice of brand new covers this would be a great opportunity to answer another frequently asked question: ‘how does it all happen then, covers and that?’
Well, in the Penguin Press Art Dpt we have 5 in-house designers (including myself) and 2 people working on sourcing images, but we also tap into a huge range of freelance creatives too. This is in order to tackle between 30-50 new covers per month.
The birth of a book cover starts a cosily maternal nine months before publication. Every book we publish is championed by a Commissioning Editor or Publisher. At the very beginning of the process that editor will raise the new title at a weekly cover meeting where the design brief for the cover will be discussed. We thrash out the what is exciting about the book, significant thrusts, the author's previous, the potential readership and any unique aspects. It works best when there is a lot of free-association as well as factual details. As Art Director I scribble down as many key points as seem to offer inspiration. Then we take the brief and gestate. Figuring out a course of action is not always straight forward, but reading what is available (finished chapters, intruductions) helps incredibly.
Our Picture Editor, Samantha Johnson, also attends the initial cover brieing meeting and she and I discuss the potential direction of each cover and whether we need some picture research or specific image commissioning to be done.
Then I'll figure out a suitable designer to work on each book. We'll also have a departmental run through of the cover briefs and often one of the designers will particularly want to work on a specific book or throw in an idea or two. Designers tend to be very creative with solutions, and they'll pitch visuals using both recommended images and images they've sourced or created themslves. But I will always be trying to get them to convey the 'spark' of the book that was so thoroughly established in the original brief.
Ideally, and with all things in place, we could have up to 3 months to work up a cover. But in reality this is unlikely. We're often extremely busy with existing projects from previous months, and in-house designers will juggle half a dozen covers at a time.
Each cover may face a wide range of hurdles and conflicting opinions, his is the very nature of book covers. Good designers tend to be very focussed and resiliant, and the value of a good sense of humour cannot be underestimated. As with most design jobs there is a balance of concept, craftsmanship and time dexterity required. Any number of changes to the brief may occur even once the design is finished. But in Penfuin Press it is widely appreciated that the more a cover is 'tweaked' by a committee the less chance there is of retaining that original spark that we all know helps a book stand out in a world where thousands of books are vying for attention.
When a number of honed front cover visuals are ready I wiil take them back to the cover meeting and recommend one for approval. If others in the meeting concur, the designer will finish off any details or amends and prepare the back cover and spine artwork. We'll then circulate the artwork for sign-off from everyone involved.
At this point we've got to six months before publication and we have an important deadline to send that particular month's cover artwork to the printers for wet-proofing. The proofs are used by Penguin's sales teams to help win orders for each book from shops and outlets. We'll also re-circulate the proofs to key people at Penguin forchecking and signing off one more time. In the Art Dpt we also check proofs for colour, legibility, typos and ensure all picture rights are cleared.
Then at around 3 months before publication there is another big deadline where we send the final cross-checked signed-off cover to the printers to become a book.
And that's that. Easy as ABC.
I can go through a couple of our July publications to help illustrate it all.
Why Is Q Always Followed By U is one of the first books to be published on our new Particular Books imprint. It's a book about language quirks by linguistic expert Michael Quinion and the cover design process was about as straight forward as it gets.
I think I made this sketch soon after the cover briefing meeting:
Presented this concept at a cover meeting soon after for general concept before commissioning:
Commissioned illustrator Kate Forrester who did this lively interpretation:
This is the jacket we proofed:
And this is the final jacket we printed, with amended subtitle and added quotes:
If only they were all as simple as that.
Another July example is the jacket for The Junior Officers' Reading Club. This is a unique book written by Patrick Hennessey, an active soldier on duty with his regiment in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hennessey describes life in a modern army and our early discussions about the cover worked around the idea of showing the solace and escapism (or lack of) a book brings in tense surroundings. Hennessey even had a great range of photos he had taken himself and one particular shot of him at rest with some of his squadron seemed to sum up much of the book quite concisely. Hennessey is pictured reading while his colleagues sleep, weapons piled up around them:
This is the initial range of in-house visuals working with this photo. Here the designer tries a few different approaches, some too booky, and some possibly better for a paperback rather than a hardback:
This was the the front cover of the jacket we proofed:
But having lived with this cover for a couple of months there was a general feeling emerging at Penguin that this cover was possibly to journalistic and didn't convey some of the more literary qualities of the book. So I asked freelance desiger David Wardle to come up with some new ideas, and this one leapt out as a great front cover, and this is now the final jacket, printed and in the shops just a few weeks later. The book is selling very well:
Now let's have a look at some of the new Penguin Press book covers born July 2009.
Firstly, on the Allen Lane hardback non-fiction imprint:
In Search of Civilization (design in-house by Stafanie Posavec)
Also on our Particular Books imprint:
Onto the pick of this month's Penguin Press Paperbacks:
And the pick of new/refreshed Penguin Classics are here too:
The latest in our refreshed Orwell fiction Modern Classics (some already out), with illustrations by Marion Deuchars:
And the latest Susan Sontag Modern Classics (reportage for her non-fiction, paintings for her fiction):
And lastly for this month. A new cover for Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, with new illustration by Stephen Rothwell:
And that rounds up July’s pick of the month. Next month we can bring you images of the iminent publication of the next Great Ideas series.
Art Director, Penguin Press
* Yes, I know it is late August. We're sorry.