Have you ever wanted to follow a successful designer around for a day, in the hopes of discovering their magic secrets to success? Cover Designer Cherie Chapman chalks her success up to three key elements: preparation, communication, and an openness to change. In design as in life, no?
“My design process starts off with receiving and reading the brief through. Doing this gives me a better understanding of what the author or publisher is after,” Chapman told SPINE. “ I like to know a bit about the book, the genre it falls within, target audience, competitors within the market, my budget, type of design (as in photographic, illustrative or typographic), if it’s part of a series, time of year it’s publishing etc. Any of these factors can change, or restrict, the way I approach a project. If possible, I like to read the manuscript before I make a start but this can’t always be the case. It all depends on whether there’s enough time in the schedule or sometimes the book hasn’t been written yet! If this is the case then I at least like to get a synopsis.”
As far as inspiration is concerned, Chapman pays attention to her surroundings, knowing her best ideas are bound to come from curiosity about the world around her: “Anything can give me a spark of an idea, going from the title, doing research into the subject matter, to sketching any thought that comes into my head, however silly it may be at the time,” Chapman said.
After Chapman settles on a general idea for a cover, she begins to reach out to the publisher, author, and sometimes even potential illustrators. After all, it takes a village to make a book. “Once the ball starts rolling, and I’ve gathered the material needed for the ideas, it’s time to check in with the publisher, or author, to see if its going in the right direction. Which could be a rough sketch layout with 2-3 possible illustrators, who have potential of bringing the idea to life (it’s always good to have a backup in case one is too busy!) If it’s a photographic approach, I’d do a more worked up visual so they can get a better sense of the idea and layout,” Chapman said. “After both publisher and author have initially approved a route, I’d develop it nearer to the finished design. Obviously listening to any feedback and taking in any changes requested. This can repeat for many stages unless you strike gold and everyone approves the finished design first time round!”
But what really makes Chapman a designer with staying power? Her willingness to roll with the punches rather than succumb to them. Books and book covers are both artistic and capitalistic productions, and Chapman realizes that any element of her cover designs may be scrapped for reasons with which she may or may not agree. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s the fun of it: “[A cover] can also get rejected at any point within this process. From an editor saying it’s not right for the book, sales saying the supermarkets wouldn’t take it or marketing saying teenage boys won’t buy pink. That’s why it’s crucial to know this information before you start designing, preferably written in the brief. As in knowing about the books subject matter, where it’s potentially being sold into or who the core market is they’ll be targeting,” Chapman explained. “Someone has told me in the past, don’t accept that the book design is finalised until you actually get the physical edition in your hands. I live by that rule now as I’ve even experienced it myself. I’ve had to redesign a book cover literally two weeks before it went to press, that involved redoing the whole design, getting it approved, cover layout built, and signed off, to be sent to press within one week!"
"Once the design has been finalised, whether it’s photographic or commissioned, it gets sent for final approval from the author. It’s always such a lovely feeling having an author say how much they love it or that it portrays the book perfectly. A happy author makes me a happy designer! Once it’s all been approved, it can then start feeding out to the world.”
Mary Ryan Karnes is a freelance writer and a Master's candidate in fiction at the University of Southern Mississippi.