May 1, 2017
When book covers go to heaven
by Marina Drukman
I became a book cover designer because I like variety. In food, in people, countries, music, everything. Every new book is an entirely new world with its own requirements, challenges, surprises. Every new cover is unpredictable, which keeps me excited — and anxious at all times. And every new cover is potentially the best cover I have ever done.
But there are obstacles. And there are more or less predictable reasons why the best cover ever will never see the light of day, and wind up buried on my hard drive.
Here are some of the potential dangers every best cover ever must avoid to become real:
Never rule out self-sabotage.
Authors are an unpredictable bunch. Sometimes they write heartfelt emails, describing in great detail how much they love their covers, and why. Sometimes they send cookies. Sometimes they offer their first-born (this actually happened). And sometimes they say my design is ugly, because their mother-in-law didn’t like it. Or their cat. Or that designer friend they have, who, by the way, can totally do this cover for me, if that’d be easier?
Because of the specifics of my current job, editors don’t kill my covers, which helps us maintain good relationships. Yes, I know that’s not the case for every cover designer/art director. Yes, I know how lucky I am.
Salespeople live in a magic land somewhere near Barnes & Noble Corporate HQ. I don’t see them. I don’t talk to them. They occasionally want to kill my covers from great distance. But because the distance is so great, they rarely make the shot.
You know who’s always right? Publishers. Always. Especially my publishers. I love them, they’re the best.
So these are some potential killers of the best cover ever. And now, please take a look at some of my favorite murdered designs — because if you don’t see them, they died for nothing:
We considered several cover possibilities for Michael Thomas’s financial thriller Fixers. Final cover on the bottom right.
Margot Singer’s debut novel, Underground Fugue, gave us a lot to work with — musical form, urban life, and family relationships are among the book’s themes. We considered the more musically-oriented design on the left before choosing the one on the right.
For Jonathan Lethem’s More Alive and Less Lonely, a book about books in which a writer’s writer writes about writing, we considered the design seen here on the left, before deciding on the more festive (and book-cover-inclusive) version on the right.
For Maggie Nelson’s acclaimed The Argonauts, which we published in the UK, we thought through a couple of sea-themed ideas beore choosing the beauty on the right.
One of the main characteristics of Per Molander’s The Anatomy of Inequality is its elegant straightforwardness, and we wanted a cover to match. We considered the version on the left, but went with the bolder version on the right.
Sometimes, it’s a drag that a book can have only one cover. Both of these, for Richard Beard’s The Apostle Killer, an exhilarating thriller set in the aftermath of Jesus’s death, were staff favorites; it was hard to decide, but we eventually went with the version on the right.
David Shirreff’s Break Up the Banks! posed a very particular kind of challenge: how to represent graphically the abstract concept of bringing financial institutions down to a manageable scale? After considering the possibilities on the upper right and left, we laid eyes on the flow-chart-inspired look at bottom, and knew we had our cover.
Marina Drukman is the art director at Melville House.