Book Designer Joann Hill Shares the Tricks of Her Trade!

You’ve only got a few more days to enter the Spell Bound Design Challenge, in which one lucky artiste will win a copy of Rachel Hawkins’s new novel—professionally printed with their book cover!

Need some inspiration and guidance? Look no further. We sat down with Joann Hill, art director for Hyperion Teens (the publishers of Spell Bound), and asked her to spill all her trade secrets.

Obviously, it’s important that a cover be visually striking. But what are the other things a cover needs to accomplish? 

A cover should hint at the story inside just enough to lure the reader without giving away too much. I also feel a cover needs to attract the book’s intended audience. If we’re working with a romantic mystery for teens, we don’t want it to look like an action-adventure for 8-year-olds. That 8-year-old kid would NOT be happy. 😉 Another important design issue is recognition. At Disney–Hyperion, we have many well-established series, such as Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan, Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz, and The Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima. We want fans of that series or author to find the next book in the sequence. Our challenge, then, is to make sure that all the covers resemble one another—but not so much that the reader thinks that they’ve read the new book already.

What are the 5 best book covers you’ve ever seen? 

This is my top five today, but tomorrow it may be different 😉

1) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was a game-changer in its simplicity—those hands holding a perfect red apple—and plus, it was one of the first teen books that also appealed to adults.

2) Another game-changer for a younger audience was when John Rocco created the cover art for The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. The main character, Percy Jackson, is small on the cover, which was unusual at the time. Also, his back is to us as he gazesat the skyline of Manhattan, which is dominated by the Empire State Building. The whole image is rather sophisticated, but at the same time, it’s exciting for an 8-year-old reader.

3) Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. A beautiful image. A knife dominates this cover, and the girl protagonist is only shown as an eye, reflected in the knife.

4) The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. The illustration of the polar bear by Eric Rohmann delightsand pulls you in.

5) Lost in Time, by Melissa de la Cruz. The whole Blue Bloods series is lovely—this last book is gorgeous and sexy, with an intriguing black feather.

Do you get designer’s block the same way authors get writer’s block?

One of the hardest things we have to do as designers is start over. Sometimes, you work on a concept and revise and revise, and then it gets rejected. The designer must then go back to square one and create a fresh and distinct concept. When a designer feels blocked, I always recommend that they turn back to the text. Rereading the book can remind you of details or subtle themes and hopefully spark a new idea.

How do you respond to trends in cover design? Are there any you love?

Our covers have to compete out there in a shrinking bookstore market. One recentdevelopment that helps our books stand out are the cover effects we use. We use embossing, debossing, foil, even glitter to attract readers! One gorgeous new cover is for BETA, by Rachel Cohn, designed by our lead designer, Marci Senders. The image is printed on an opalescent paper stock, so that the whole cover shimmers and glows.

Do you do any market testing for your covers? 

Informally, we sometimes share early versions of covers with the children of our staff members. We take their feedback seriously. We also have a good relationship with booksellers like Barnes & Noble and if we want to show them early compositions of the cover, we can get great feedback from them.

How long does it take to design a cover, from start to finish? 

It varies, but generally we start to design the cover more than a year before the book is published. Sometimes, a concept emerges from discussions between the editor and designer, and we just run with it and it goes quickly—a few weeks. But sometimes it’s a struggle. Earlier, I mentioned that there are times when we have to restart the whole design process from scratch. In some cases, when we can’t get the right look for a jacket and our original idea has “gone stale,” we have to start again with a new designer who can bring a fresh perspective.

’Fess up: Do you always read the book before you design the cover? 

I love to read! And a love of reading is why many of the designers I work with today got into book publishing. Even if I don’t have time to finish the book, I always read a good chunk of it. Sometimes we have to design the cover when the manuscript is still being written—in that case, we work with character descriptions and a synopsis and a lot of discussions with the editor.

What’s the one book you’d love to design a cover for?

That is a great question! I would like to design so many favorite books—maybe I’d like to take a crack at Catcher in the Rye. I always think of Chip Kidd’s version of The New Testament as a brilliant reinvention. It is modern, arresting, and most of all, provocative.

Do you have a least favorite font? 

Remedy is one font I will never use again unless I am forced to. Designers have such strong opinions about fonts. Like, people either love or hate Helvetica. They made a great documentary about it!

3 thoughts on “Book Designer Joann Hill Shares the Tricks of Her Trade!

  1. I love “opalescent paper stock” !!!!!!! And foil and glitter!! I Also like the velvetly textured covers. Matte, gloss, metallic, holgraphic…I’m obsessed with the special covers.

  2. Also, I don’t like helvetica or arial either. I’m a graphic design major, so I’ve been learning alot about typography lately. Some of my favorite san-serif typefaces are optima and futura (for body copy). I downloaded a ton of fonts from fontsquirrel and dafont. I really like angelicwar (as seen on EVE by Anne Carry).
    I make book cover for fun. How do you become a book cover designer? Because it sound really fun (but I heard doing layout is a cash-cow, but that stuff is kind of dull).

  3. There seems to be a real trend these last few years of having faces on the covers of books. While it is a striking image, I sometimes get lost trying to figure out which books go with which series. And those Blue Blood books. The covers look so alike, I can never tell which book I don’t have. I love the image in the HUGO book where the kid is looking through the number in the clock face. That is so striking. Love to see something like that on a cover some day.

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