Ask a Designer: From Concept to Cover

We sat with Creative Director Rich D. this week and he shared what goes into designing a cover, and more specifically, cover concepts.

Swoon is very unique in that we have online cover voting.  In an effort to give a variety of options to voters and to build on this new approach, we usually have 2 -4 designers within our art department working on any given Swoon Reads title.  This differs from most imprints in which we only have one designer per title.  Each designer comes up with several concepts.  A concept (or direction), is the basic design we start from in creating a book cover. It can be a hand drawn sketch or a composition using stock photos for comp. It serves as the skeleton or visual reference to help convey the look we want for the cover.

Before designing concepts, each designer reads the manuscript, and is provided initial thoughts from the author and editor on pivotal moments in the story, significant themes, who the audience is and any other information that can help inspire concepts.

For A Little Something Different we did something a little different (ha)! Our talented designer Anna Booth, had originally illustrated this beautiful poster.  She made her own prints which she used as a Valentine’s gift for members of the art department (perfectly fitting for the first Swoon cover – thanks Anna! :) ) It’s what inspired the concept we shared on Swoon Readsphoto (5)

For Love Fortune & Other Disasters, I mocked up this comp using sketches and stock images. Once it was chosen, we hired Zara Picken to re-illustrate..

Bridge Cover

Each designer takes their own approach to designing concepts, and it’s different for each book. Once we have the initial concepts, the design team meets to discuss them. At this point some get cut, new ideas are added, feedback is given and changes are made. Cover concepts are narrowed down to 8-12 directions that everyone feels good about. There can be approximately 30 designs that have been tossed around and later revised before presently to the other departments.

After the design team narrows down the cover concepts, we show them in our bi-weekly art meetings. These are meetings where the publisher, editorial, sales, publicity, marketing and design sit in a room and discuss the covers. Is the type treatment readable? Do we think this will appeal to both teens and adults? Does it look too young? Too old? Will book buyers like it? (You may not realize this, but your retailer actually has a say in covers.) Coming out of this meeting, we have another round of feedback. Sometimes everyone loves the covers, and sometimes there are changes. At this point, we’ve lost count of the number of concepts that have been created and revised but we have numerous options to present to the Swoon audience.

This all happens BEFORE the Swoon Reads community sees our cover concepts. And that is why we first share “concepts”. There is a good reason why we don’t immediately hire a photographer or an illustrator or design every detail of a book cover before we’ve chosen a direction. It’s a lot of work. And it takes a lot of time and can be costly.

For Karole Cozzo’s How To Say I Love You Out Loud, there were 5 selections that we’d narrowed it down to before the Swoon Reads community voted. You can see them here.

This was the winning concept that you chose. But this was just the start. comp 1

There were a couple of changes needed. First, the concern was that the female on the cover could be mistaken for a teacher. I also wanted to give a nod to the speech and autistic elements that are core to this book: using crowded design approach with numerous speech bubble to convey the idea.  Also, we added a multi colored puzzle pieced heart relating to the Autism Speaks logo. I shared this sketch with the team.

step 2 after vote art notes

From there, we also did a photo shoot. You may not recognize this because after the photo shoot we decided that the original image had more personality which seemed cheerful and fun!

step 3 - photo shoot

So we went back to the original image and added the illustrated speech bubble design you see below and added in another layer of detail. We also added a friendship bracelet to her wrist to make her look younger so people knew she wasn’t a teacher. This was the final result.

How to Say I Love You Out Loud_lo[1]

How many rounds was that? I lost count. And that is why we share concepts with you first and not final designed covers. The Swoon Reads process is fun, because as a designer there’s more room for experimenting with the covers to see what you like. And you don’t always choose the one we expect. Together, we create a better book.


Come back tomorrow to vote on the cover direction for Sandy Hall’s new book Signs Point to Yes!

Have a question for our designers? Let us know in the comments below.

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