cover design

Book Design: From Concept to Cover

Hi Swooners! 

I’m so excited to be sharing my first blog post with you! As a designer, I thought it would be great to share with you how we bring covers from just a concept, all the way to the site for voting. It’s a long journey, and it actually takes a team or designers, editors, and marketing staff (and of course a great, big, heaping helping of love!) to come up with a swoonworthy cover design. Here’s how we make that happen: 


It starts with an idea: YOUR idea. At this point in the process, the in-house designers are not familiar with the manuscripts.That’s where the brilliant Swoon staff comes in! Once a manuscript is chosen, it’s the Swoon staff’s job to break a manuscript down into key points so that the designer can begin brainstorming ideas. Some notes on a cover brief might include:

- the mood of the book
- the genre
- setting
- the age range/target audience 
- the appearance of important characters
- key scenes 

These are all massively important details for the designer to create not only a beautiful cover, but also one that accurately represents each book. You wouldn’t want a couple on a motorcycle as the cover design for your medieval thriller, right? (Unless, of course, this makes sense to your story. In which case, COOL!) 


Once a designer has this information they can start brainstorming ideas. It’s always helpful to bounce ideas off of the Swoon editors and art director. They’re already familiar with the manuscripts, and are experts at knowing a good idea when they see one.


All designers have very different creative processes. I like to start with thumbnails when I sketch. Thumbnails are essentially very tiny sketches. Mine are usually only 1 inch tall. I can fill a page or two full of thumbnails before I even start sketching. The benefit of thumbnailing before you move to sketching is that you can jot down a lot of ideas very, very quickly. By doing this, you can discover very early in the process if a layout isn’t going to work. You also have a lot of room for trial and error. If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s okay! You’ve only spent a small amount of time on a tiny drawing, and can move on. My thumbnails don’t really look like much at this point in the process (here's what I used to start designing Romeo and What's Her Name):



Sketching isn’t necessarily drawing with pencils. A lot of times sketching for me involves tracking down design elements and images for a cover. Usually the perfect image for your cover doesn’t exist. You have to pull a few different images and work that Photoshop magic to get the perfect image for your cover! It’s a lot of work but it’s also a lot of fun “Frankenstein-ing” your idea into a single tangible design. I personally like working in Illustrator, so my workspace tends to end up looking a little crazy.    



Now that you have a few ideas down, it’s time to get some feedback from your art director! Their job is to help you refine your ideas, as well as provide an extra set of eyes on a design. Sometimes designers get so involved in a piece that they don’t realize it’s not working. That’s why I always need an extra opinion on my work. Someone who isn’t familiar with a sketch can tell right away what isn’t working, which is the first step towards making your design stronger and more effective. For Romeo, the balcony cover had the most changes between sketch and refined sketch. You can see a super early version here:   



After taking notes from the art director, we make changes (usually only minor tweaks). These refined sketches are what goes to cover meetings.


Cover meetings are where we present to a larger team that consists of sales, marketing, editorial, publicity, etc. Their feedback in incredibly important to make sure we’re putting out cover options that readers will want to pick up! The group will choose the cover designs they like best, and suggest revisions to make our designs even stronger. 


Following the cover meetings, it’s back to work for the designers! It’s time for finishing touches. The sketches will need another round of revisions before they’re site-ready. Usually these changes are minor, i.e “choose a different font” or “Change this color from red to pink.” On rare occasions, changes may be significant. Much like trying to write a romantic story, sometimes the chemistry just isn’t working in any of my designs. In these instances, we’ll scrap what we have and hit the drawing board once more. That’s right! We start over. While it might seem scary to cut something out entirely, when it comes to writing or design, I find it’s a great opportunity to come up with something even better.


And then, the designs are finally sent out into the world for you to vote on. After you choose which cover you like best, we might make just a couple more minor tweaks, but then the cover is polished off and sent to the printer!

Have any questions about how a book cover comes to be? Let us know in the comments! 


Author spotlight

Becca S.

I'm a designer for Swoon Reads!

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