I went to see Jonathan Tropper (interviewed by Allison Winn Scotch) speak at the Borders in Columbus Circle last Thursday night, simply because his book, This Is Where I Leave You, was on my summer reading list. And his book was on my reading list because, well, I just liked the book cover. Turns out, had it not been for some serious rebranding, I might not have ended up at that fantastic event at all!
From a design standpoint, I found it interesting to learn that Jonathan had several thoughts on the evolution of his book covers. Until he moved to Dutton (the adult imprint, natch), his covers looked like this:
Not heinous, but not exactly future classics, either. Luckily, Tropper’s latest book cover (under a new designer’s point-of-view) transformed his image, and the book skyrocketed into bestseller heaven. But what amused me from Jonathan’s story is that, now, all his past books from other publishers have come out of the woodwork looking like this:
Magically branded – just like that! I’m not sure how common this phenomenon is for best-selling authors, but it’s a super-smart idea, and I love the end result across the board. Jonathan was clearly pleased too, and felt that the cover design played a huge role in the wild success of This Is Where I Leave You.
His comments brought up the long-debated issue of authors having control over the look of their covers. As a writer, one would have a pretty good visual of the book they’re slaved so hard over, you can imagine that they would want a say in it. Add to that the “make it or break it” effect that covers have on sales, and there’s enough pressure to make an author’s head spin over the very thought of a blah book design. Still, as we all know, writers are not designers (at least, usually), and may not know what’s best for their own books (even if they think they do). As with everything else in publishing, creating an amazing book is a team effort!
In children’s books, I often am asked why authors don’t get to pick the illustrator or make any directions as to the look of their picture books. Here’s why: an illustrator, working beyond the constraints of the author’s “vision”, almost always creates something more fresh and inspired than what the writer could have imagined. It is the same with designers – they add another layer to the project, not compromising their own skill and creativity for the author, hopefully resulting in a higher quality product that the author will love anyway.
Even more than that, editorial, sales and marketing teams all have years of expertise (and figures to back it up), that play a major factor in the outcome of a book cover. So, while an author may not get exactly what they envisioned, they will get a thought-out solution – hopefully one that will sell.
So should book cover design be left to the collective knowledge of the publishing industry – or to the author who has poured their passion and words into the book itself? Tough questions have no right answers, but feel free to share your feelings.
And go read all of Jonathan Tropper’s books – in their pretty new covers, of course!