Nico Taylor on Creating the Cover for Claire Messud's The Burning Girl

Nico Taylor on Creating the Cover for Claire Messud's The Burning Girl

Nico Taylor is a Literary Art-Director at Little, Brown Book Group in London. Among the works in his portfolio is the cover for Claire Messud's The Burning Girl. Here he details the process for developing the cover in his own words.


Claire Messud is a literary heavyweight – especially in the US – and when her latest book, The Burning Girl, landed on my desk I couldn’t be more thrilled to have the chance to design the cover. Fleet imprint head, Ursula Doyle, left the brief tantalisingly open – ‘just make it appeal to contemporary literary fiction readers, but give it some bite’, which left me paralysed. I didn’t have a clue where to start. There was no series style to base a design upon and a crowded literary market to compete in (how to make a long-established author stand out from the pack?). I gave it a read – it’s very good – but I still found myself unable to get going, fearful of cocking it up.

The days ticked by and as I felt the weight of various deadlines descend I got started in a furious day of designing. The novel centres around two girls and their developing friendship so I set about trying to symbolise this – which led me to do a search for some atmospheric images. 


I had it in my head that a striking image would tie in perfectly with the title, however I found that although the images were ‘nice’, they didn’t make for a particularly distinctive cover. See below and imagine repeated a few times over…


At one point, I even found myself experimenting with Photoshop’s flame rendering tool – another foolish misstep. It’s the graphic equivalent of heading to McDonald's after a night in the pub. You think it’s the best idea going – only to wake in the morning to confront your mistake (not always in the case with a McD’s).



As I tried to strangle the type onto images, I began to find the title on its own had its own confidence – a nicely balanced title length and author name set in Beaufort. I began to feel I was clearly overthinking the cover simplifying it all might be the best way… just set the type and set it alight using some Photoshop brushes. Voila!


At this stage I hadn’t shown or discussed anything with the editor, so I set up a meeting and talked the editor through my process, revealing the fiery type image last. To my joy, she went for it. Fortuitously, our MD and Sales Director were walking by at the time (the bonus of an open plan office) so we ushered them over and they were keen on it too. There I was expecting a few rounds of revises/restarts and the rest, only to have the cover approved in a matter of minutes – a rare treat.

We did spend some time experimenting with adding profile silhouettes to the flames, but it gave it a distinctly horror edge so we quickly went back to the original flame. 


It’s easy to post-rationalise, and I could claim that the two flame colours represent the two central characters, but that would make it all a little bit too neat. Instead, I just hope the image is intriguing enough to ensure people head to pick it up. 

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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.