Zoe Norvell on Designing Getting Off

Zoe Norvell is a Brooklyn based freelance cover designer. Among her incredible work is the cover for Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addictionby Erica Garza. Here Norvell details her process for developing the work, in her own words.

The title is Getting Off, the subject is masturbation, and the look is literary. 

Wow. I did a little happy dance when Jackie Seow of Simon & Schuster asked me to design the cover for Erica Garza’s deeply personal memoir. This is not the type of book you see every day and for me, this was a dream design challenge.

Erica’s story isn’t easy material and it isn’t a topic we often hear from the perspective of a woman. Her story was introduced to me by her editor like this: “For almost two decades, Erica’s life was dominated by the pursuit of orgasm. Back-braced, teased and isolated in adolescence, she found solace in masturbation and porn, which only led to increased feelings of shame and self-hatred. From soft core cable to streaming hardcore clips online, the proliferation of sexual images propelled her addiction towards greater depths of depravity and an endless need for more. In an attempt to escape her habits and forge a new path, she jumps from one relationship to the next, from one side of the world to the other. Her journey takes her through the brothels of Bangkok, the yoga studios of Bali and the edges of her own mind as she learns how to confront her addictive habits.” 

I absorbed the manuscript at a slower pace than usual because I wasn’t just looking for pieces of inspiration, I was completely taken by Erica’s story and prose. Her writing is blunt, graphic, vulnerable, at times ugly, and very raw. I felt added pressure to give this book a cover worthy of her experience. 

This assignment posed a unique challenge. I couldn’t put the book’s core subject matter (masturbation, orgasm) on the cover. The cover needed to say “sex” without looking sexy. There’s a lot of sex on these pages, but it’s not a sexy story. Her journey is painful and lonely (but, spoiler alert, with a happy ending!). 

I wanted to avoid the all too familiar tropes that we often see on books about sex: flowers, papayas, lipstick, or lingerie, to name a few. To my delight, the team at S&S said they were open to illustrations instead of photography, so I explored a few covers in that direction. One of these options included paintings by a young artist from Saint Petersburg, Russia.


Artwork: Nickie Zimov


I discovered Nickie Zimov’s work a couple of years ago. I pinned his paintings in one of my digital toolboxes hoping there’d be an opportunity to come back to him in the future. This was definitely the time. His nudes, colored an exaggerated pink, exist in empty black voids. They’re alluring yet they often appear lonely and sad. Luckily, Nickie was just as enthusiastic to be a part of this project when I contacted him. There were several paintings from his collection that could’ve worked on the cover (the hand that wants to be between a woman’s legs, the torso cut off at the forbidden zone, the woman reaching down her white dress), but when my Art Director and Publisher chose the woman lying in bed, I agreed it was the best image for our purpose. Lying there with her back to us, facing black nothingness, she appears utterly alone; but at the same time she still draws you in. The author, agent, and editor loved “the vulnerability, loneliness, sexiness and shame that the image exudes.” I couldn’t agree more.

To complement the painterly quality, I hand painted the title and author name using chunky, dimensional brushstrokes. Then…voila! We had our winner.  

Cover: Zoe Norvell

Cover: Zoe Norvell


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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.