pile of brightly colored books

Not All Fonts are Cover Fonts

Choosing a font for a book cover is a critical decision. Strong cover typography can help draw target readers towards your book; weak cover typography will quickly suggest to potential readers that the book is unprofessionally produced, and that might very well turn them away. There’s certainly a lot more to typography than mere font choice, but font choice is an important start, especially when you’re starting out as a cover designer. With a seemingly infinite number of font choices at your disposal, how do you sort out the “good” ones? Here are some helpful tips for choosing effective cover fonts.

1. Not all fonts are title fonts.

And preemptively, not all fonts are professional-grade. If Tip number one is sticking to title-bound fonts, Tip number zero is to stick to credible foundries, and sticking to Adobe Typekit fonts is a great way to do that. Moreover, avoiding “free” font websites will keep you out of potential trouble with licensing issues.

Even in the pool of professional fonts, not all of them are built for cover typography. There are plenty of wonderful body text fonts out there, but they’re built such that they have advantages for body text typesetting that don’t translate well to use on covers. Steer clear of using these fonts as your cover title font. This would be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and we can’t have that. You wouldn’t use a display font for your body text, and the logic of that goes both ways.

Adobe Fonts can be helpful in suggesting whether a font is destined for cover typography or not. Even simply witnessing how Adobe presents the font and shows it off can offer clues as to whether or not the font is meant for display purposes. And as always, you can look to professional book covers to get ideas for examples of professional cover fonts. When it comes to book design, imitation is more than a high form of flattery; it’s a reliable learning method.

2. Tailor font choice to the book’s intentions.

On top of being credible, cover fonts should be appropriate. Of course you wouldn’t use a script font for body text. You also wouldn’t use a script font on the cover of a sturdy John Grisham-esque suspense thriller. It’s critical to choose fonts that match your book’s intentions, fonts that agree with the book’s content, and fonts that speak to the book’s target audience in tones that are both assuring and exciting. When designing a book cover, your goal is to attract the attention of your target market without misleading them, and that begins with selecting an appropriate font.

Again, looking to comp titles might be your best strategy here. Study the conventions of different genres to learn patterns about their cover designs. For example, romance novels often have decorative script fonts with fancy flourishes on the letterforms. Contrarily, contemporary mystery novels typically showcase crisp sans serif fonts with breathy, spaced-out typography. When choosing a font for a book’s cover, if you ignore context, you’ll miss the mark every time.

3. Typography’s work isn’t finished after the font selection.

As self-publishing pro Tucker Max expertly advises on his blog Scribe Media, “The fonts on professionally designed covers are never just typed onto the cover … Even the perfect cover font will look unprofessional unless it is worked into the overall design.” This is where using professional-grade software really elevates your work. InDesign allows you to expertly manipulate typographical elements such as spacing, shading, relative sizing, lines, and more. Once you’ve chosen the right font for your cover, spending some time and energy tailoring the typography to your specific uses will mean the difference between an amateur-looking cover and a professional one. Invest time into simply playing with the typographical capabilities of InDesign; maybe try to recreate some of your favorite covers. The more well versed you are in typographical manipulation, and the more comfortable you are with your tools, the more successful you’ll be.

It’s an important job, cover design. And picking the right cover font might just be the most important decision you’ll make in that design process. But following these three tips can help guide you along toward producing successful cover typography.

A collection of charts and logos on a laptop at a workplace

Meeting InDesign On Its Own Terms

If the only word processors you’ve ever known are Microsoft Word or Google Docs, the first time you start up Adobe InDesign you may feel as if you’ve upgraded cars from a Geo Metro to a Lamborghini. There are new sounds and behaviors, and although the controls seem the same, it’s obvious that there’s more “going on” with InDesign. The good news is that like many other professional-level tools like InDesign, we only use a small number of its features on a day-to-day basis. The bad news is that over the lifetime of a book, that exact “small number” changes, and by the time the manuscript is all placed, the layout designer will have checked or changed nearly everything the computer needs to know about how to format the book. The best way to become fluent with a tool like InDesign is to practice, practice, practice.

“But how am I supposed to practice making books or magazines if I don’t have any?”

Now’s the time to imagine one up! Perhaps you do your own writing on the side or have friends who write. Try placing it into a fake book page just to see how it looks. If you’d rather not, then all you need to know is that between “educational purposes” and “terms of fair use” you can use pretty much anything you want. Scour Wikipedia for a good-sized article with some pretty images. Hit up Pinterest boards or a few Tumblr blogs. Copy and paste is your friend. But do keep your sources handy! If you make something you like, you may want to use it as a portfolio or demonstration piece, and then of course you’ll look like a fool if you don’t have your sources.

“I have some digitized Polaroids and my bassist friend wrote a bunch of really good copy for her snowcore/crust punk band. How do I make this look good?”

Use Benjamin Franklin’s method that he used to teach himself to write better.

  1. Find an example you like, as close to ideal and as real as you can: a magazine spread, a book, even a stack of index cards—InDesign won’t care!
  2. Examine the example and take notes on the stylistic choices, the dimensions, the margins, etc.
  3. Wait a while. Ben Franklin liked to wait a week, but some of us prefer as little as a day or an hour depending on deadlines.
  4. Attempt to recreate the original using only your notes. Do not look at the original; the point is to exercise your memory and creative powers. Emplace your own text if you like; unlike Ben Franklin, we’re practicing with layout and design, not the writing. In the end it doesn’t matter what the text is.
  5. Compare your reproduction to the original. Take more notes! Don’t worry if you didn’t do as well as you wanted; memory is an imperfect function and creativity arises from that gap between your memory and your uncertainty.
  6. Repeat these steps until you’re done, you’re sick of looking at the text, the deadline arrives, or your friend quits the band.

By using some other material as a “seed,” we take a shortcut around that dreaded blank page. Each time you try, you’ll learn more about which tools are critically important and which ones are less so. Taking notes is shown to improve one’s powers of recall and help you take on objectivity about how well you did. When you know how far off the mark you were, you’ll find it’s easier to reach it the next time you try.

InDesign is complex. Even those of us who use it regularly still have to look up small questions like “how to set lining numerals.” Many of the help pages on the Adobe website include video tutorials and example documents you can try out yourself to examine specific features and tools. Finally, there are several font websites out there that provide fair-use fonts for anyone to add, in addition to Adobe’s own typekit. Above all, don’t give up! InDesign might be daunting, but there’s nothing in there that practice and exploration (and judicious application of undo) won’t take care of.

small sailboat on blue waters with a city skyline in the background

An Author’s Guide to International Book Covers

You’ve written a book, and it’s been published—now what? First of all, congratulations! It’s not easy to get to this point. If your book has done well in the domestic market, you might consider trying your chances abroad. Like any new venture, research is key. A quick perusal of international editions of books reveals that they all have different covers—even American books published in England (or vice versa) get different covers.

So, why do international book covers exist? As the publishing world moves further into the digital age, the practice of separating copyright by territory or country is becoming less common. More and more often, publishers retain “world English rights,” i.e. the rights to publish a book in English in any English-speaking country in the world. Despite this change, many publishing professionals, especially those who work in rights, have pushed against the growing tendency for world rights, and their motivations largely have to do with covers and marketing.

It may sound oversimplified, but many people don’t realize how different markets are in different areas. What sells well in Boston may not sell well in Houston or Los Angeles, and this is doubly true for different countries. Even when a publisher or agent is absolutely sure that the novel they have will do fantastically in another country, they are always aware that the book will have to be repackaged to fit its new market. This includes the positioning, the promo, the tagline—and the cover.

If you want your book to sell well in a new market, it’s always best to have marketers and designers from that area work on the foreign edition. They will know which elements of your novel will appeal to readers in their country and how to entice those readers to buy your novel.

Now that you’ve decided to publish your novel internationally, what kind of cultural considerations should be examined for your new international book cover? Not paying attention to cultural norms and differences can lead to a lot of issues down the line and can dramatically impact sales. If your designer is not part of the edition’s target culture and market, or if you are designing your own book cover, research is absolutely necessary. Do a deep dive into how covers in your genre are designed in your target market—pay attention to colors, symbols, fonts, figures, patterns, ethnicity of figures shown, etc. Always do some beta testing—send your concept art to readers in the target market and see what they think. It’s important to be open to suggestions! It’s hard to predict cultural impact, and remember that while you may be an expert on your book, you’re not an expert on your book’s target market.

Book production is a collaborative process, and publishing internationally is even more so. Lean on your community and grow new ties as you go on this journey. We live in a global digital age, so you might as well make the most of it!

Design Trends In Contemporary Romance Novels

Romance novels have recently started gaining popularity. In light of the world’s current emotional climate, readers are looking for more feel-good stories to help lighten their spirits and escape reality. With the ever-growing popularity of the genre, there has been a surge in the number of contemporary romance book releases. I thought it would be interesting to explore the current cover trends and see how these trends have shaped designers’ choices.

It is important that designers capture the light-hearted, feel-good nature of a contemporary romance story through its cover design in order to gain the attention of readers. Here I will break down the design elements that I feel are the most prominent in some recent releases in this genre.

Color Choices

There has been a recent trend in color blocking and using bright colors in cover designs, specifically the use of colors such as yellow, pink, and light blue. These covers have minimal backgrounds and use these bright, eye-catching colors as the main backdrop, making the rest of the colors in the cover’s design stand out. The use of such bright colors alludes to the fun and happy nature of these romances. Having these simple colors as the background also creates a great spotlight for the rest of the elements in the cover. Designers seem to be keeping the overall color choices to about three or four colors per cover, and then incorporate those specific colors into different elements of the design. Simplicity is key!

Illustrations

Having people on book covers can be a big no for some readers. It is typical for romance novels to have real people displayed on their covers, and this frequently draws people away from these types of books. Readers do not want other people to see the cheesy “cliche” books they are reading. However, contemporary romance novels have recently incorporated illustrated characters, silhouettes, and other imagery into their designs. Most of the characters on these covers are faceless, but there are some instances where they have minimalistic features. I believe these are excellent choices and do a great job drawing in readers with these simple yet beautiful illustrations.

Font Choices

A majority of the recent covers in this genre have used sans serif fonts, with the occasional serif font sprinkled in. There is a lot less formality in a sans serif font, and it alludes to modernity. Sans serif fonts help contribute to the clean, minimalistic designs that have recently been seen in this genre. I think this is an excellent choice for these dynamic designs. These new and “trendy” designs are very eye-catching. The beautiful designs attract readers and intrigue them to learn more about these fun stories. I cannot wait to see what other beautiful covers will come out of this genre in the next couple of years.

How do you feel about these stylistic choices? Do you like these vibrantly illustrated covers as much as we do?

Personal versus Professional Branding in the Business of Book

In the age of social media, the art of personal branding is a vital aspect of ensuring the books that authors and publishers are putting out into the world are making it to the right audience. Everything from the cover design to the publishing business logo to the author’s Twitter account are all part of the message telling readers that this is a professional publication.

So what is the difference between personal branding and professional branding? Why does it matter, and when is it better to use one over the other? Let’s start by defining what each one is. According to Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System, a nationally recognized company that specializes in building online presences for both businesses and individuals, personal branding is “built around you—your personality, your interests, your lifestyle.” On the other hand, professional branding is “built around an identity that you create for your business.” This is not to say that a personal brand is not professional or that a professional brand cannot have a personal aspect or touch to it. More specifically, a personal brand focuses on an individual and a professional brand focuses on the business.

This is important for bookselling because, as mentioned above, branding fits into almost every aspect of writing and publishing. If you are a publishing company, you will need to have a brand for your business that represents what your goals and missions are. It should represent just what sort of books you will publish. Within your company, it is likely that you will either have inhouse editors and design teams, or perhaps you will work with freelance editors and design teams. In either case, these editors and designers likely have their own personal brand, even if this falls under the umbrella of the publishing company. They have a specific way they represent themselves to the authors and agents with whom they are working. If they are freelancers, they more than likely have websites, portfolios, and business cards with their own logos and individual branding that reflects the way they want to present themselves, both online and off.

Authors, too, have spent time building their images. At one point in time, we looked to the author’s personal history or biography, their book cover designs, and even their work itself as the evidence of how this author was meant to be perceived. I’m sure many of us remember high school or undergraduate Shakespeare classes where we discussed authorship debates. The things that we use to define a play or sonnet to be “Shakespeare’s” are the marks that his work has revealed with consistency: iambic pentameter, sonnets and the syllables and rhyme schemes therein, and the themes of the plays. This, for all intents and purposes, could be considered Shakespeare’s personal brand.

It is still more important today for authors to build their personal brands. So much of life’s interactions are done online these days, from Twitter to Instagram, Facebook to Snapchat, LinkedIn to TikTok, and email or personal web pages. Many well-established authors have, at very least, some form of social media. Many others have websites that are also linked to social media. In all of these aspects, they have learned the importance of building their online personas, or in other words, their personal brands.

A common misconception of personal branding and social media, especially among novice authors, up-and-coming artists, and other such individuals, is that self-promotion is a bit of a narcissistic trend when it is in fact a rather vital aspect of the success of one’s personal brand. It’s important to have that presence and persona in order to network both online and off, as well as aid in the success of your book sales. So yes, it is self-promotion, but for the purpose of self and for the purpose of your audience finding what very well could be their next favorite book. You want your work to make it into the right hands: the right agent, the right publisher, and the right readers. Making sure you are well-represented through a personal brand is the foundation on which you will build your career. Make sure it reflects yourself well.

Should You Design Your Book in Microsoft Word?

Mon, 03 Aug 2020 16:00:16 +0000

There are many stages to publishing a book. You have to write the manuscript, go through multiple rounds of editing, do marketing and publicity for its publication, and of course, it has to be designed. In the world of self-publishing, all this planning and work falls on the author, which, to some, is a great position to be in as it gives them complete autonomy over the entire process. However, this also means that, unlike working with a traditional publisher, the cost of these also falls to you—and it can start to add up very quickly. This leads to having to make some tough decisions and prioritize certain parts of the process over others.

One piece of advice given to authors to help them save money is to lay out and format their book in Microsoft Word as opposed to something like InDesign or hiring a professional book designer.

I can see the appeal of this. Word is a program that is familiar to most of us, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a lot cheaper than InDesign, which is a more professional tool that is also very technical and has a steeper learning curve.

However, there are many reasons why Microsoft Word isn’t the best tool for this kind of work. So, before you commit to doing all that work in this program, here are a few things you should take into consideration.

First: Word can be very difficult to control. If you have a book with elements like images, graphs, sections, etc., it’s difficult to get them to sit exactly where you want. You get very little precision when it comes to design and placement, which leaves a lot of room for mistakes. Some are small, but others will impede the readability of your book.

Second: Word has limited options for customization. With Word, you have a limited number of fonts you can work with to truly customize your work and make it stand out. While you can download custom fonts and use them, only system fonts will transfer over from one person to the next. So, all that work you put into your layout with all of your customization will disappear when you hand over the file to someone else and transfer it to another computer, as there’s no way to embed or package these elements to prevent this from happening. There’s also the issue of version compatibility. Since each version of Word is so different, chances are your design will not transfer over to the latest version.

Third: Word is not set up for print production. Currently, there are no options for setting up bleeds, no control over spreads, no way to package files, and Word also works in RGB as opposed to CMYK (the print color mode). All these seemingly small details can cause so many problems when you go to print as they can cause things to be off-center, your colors to be off, or your fonts to go missing, just to name a few potential snags. While there might be some workarounds for these, from what I’ve seen they don’t always work out, so there is no real solution.

These are just a few of the reasons why you wouldn’t want to use Word for layout and design. If you’re doing something very simple and straightforward that you’re not looking to put into the consumer market, then I see why this would be a good option for you. But if you’re going for something that looks professional and enhances the reading experience, Word is not going to be your best option for that.

While it may seem like the interior design of a book isn’t quite as important, it’s actually one of the key pieces that brings your book to life. Think about it: your reader interacts with the interior design of your book just as much as the story itself. How they gain access to the story is through its design. If your book isn’t laid out correctly and efficiently, the reader can’t get to the story, which will affect their experience and overall perception of the book.

Whether you want to invest in the interior design of your book is entirely up to you, what your goals are, and what you want from your publishing journey. As a book designer, I am a bit biased, but I also understand that designing a book is a lot more than just putting words on a page and picking a nice font. There are so many rules and finer details that make your book legible and something that readers want to look at, even at a subconscious level.

A Brief Guide to Children’s Book Design

We all likely remember a children’s picture book (or several) that we adored as children. Personally, I had an affinity for Go, Dog. Go!, a Dr. Seuss-esque beginning reader written and illustrated by P.D. Eastman. As one of the earliest introductions a child gets to literature, a picture book’s design and content are important to consider at every stage of production.

According to the article “A Brief History of Children’s Publishing and the Art of Visual Storytelling,” pictorial storytelling has been a foundation in many cultures since the dawn of time, dating back to early cave paintings. However, the original “picture book” only dates back 130 years ago, from artist Randolph Caldecott.

Since then, picture books have evolved to serve different agendas, from educational, such as teaching the alphabet, to more “edgy” topics in recent years, such as tackling what it’s like to be a child of divorce. With every change, however, according to editor and illustrator John Shelley, one thing remains consistent: the design of a children’s book must keep a child interested and entice them to turn the page.

Shelley explains that there are four types of illustrations in children’s books. The first type is a “boxed” illustration, meaning the image is completely contained within straight, abrupt edges. This can be achieved by placing a border around the image or by cropping the image to give the edges a sharp, clean line.

The second type of illustration is called a “vignette,” or an illustration that has fading edges. The borders are more loose, giving the image a sprawling, this-was-drawn-right-on-this-exact-page feel.

The third type is called a “spot” illustration. These are the small, free-floating images sprinkled throughout the pages.

Finally, “bleed” illustrations are images that are situated up to the edge of the page. Some bleed images span the entire two-page spread, and an elaborate bleed image can be effective for a highly-detailed climactic point in the book. These illustrations require an attentive designer who knows not to allow important parts of the illustration to fall in the gutter, the place where the pages are bound at the spine. If there is any action or a central character in the center of these full-spread illustrations, they will get swallowed by the gutter.

Shelley argues that with these four different types of illustrations, designers can play around with pacing and the mood invoked by a picture book. For example, let’s say an illustrator used four spot images to show a character—let’s name him Fred—running to catch the bus. The first image shows Fred grabbing his coat, the next shows him closing the front door, the third shows him running down his driveway, and the final shows Fred stepping on the bus. By strategically placing these images, you can create a sense of urgency that you would not get from a vignette or bleed image showing him stepping on the bus with text saying “Fred raced to the bus.”

Shelley also explains that the way the images are placed in relation to the text is imperative. A picture book’s goal should be to get the young reader to want to flip the page, eager to learn what happens next. So, for example, if the image of Fred rushing to the bus is placed on the left-hand page with the text “Fred raced to the bus, knowing if he missed it, he wouldn’t make it in time to present his project at the science fair,” the reader will find out whether he made it or not by simply looking to the right-hand page. But if you place that image and text on the right-hand page, the reader must turn to the next page to discover if Fred caught the bus in time. Shelley argues that a picture book’s illustrations and text should lead the reader down the page and to the right. The bottom right corner should be the ultimate goal of a page’s design.

Other aspects Shelley mentions to consider for designing a children’s book include identifying patterns to maintain throughout the book and the use of large and small images to create drama or draw focus to specific details. The most important items to remember, however, are the following: First, consider both the images and the text, not just one or the other. Second, remember your audience: both children and the adults who purchase the books and read to them. Third, keep in mind that the ultimate goal of a picture book’s design is to keep the reader moving forward. And finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and break the rules.

Minimalist Cover Design: Wave Books Press and Their Distinct Typographic Cover Designs

A book from Wave Books can be recognized from across the room. Their distinctive cover design relies on stark, black-and-white contrast and strong typographical elements. This look has set them apart as a small press that has a clear brand recognizable simply from their covers. Let’s take a closer look at how their aesthetic has come together over the years.

A book cover has several jobs it must perform simultaneously—it must serve as a marketing tool, offer a description of the content of the book, and be aesthetically pleasing. Wave Books predominantly publishes poetry, a notoriously difficult genre to design covers for. Rather than opting for a wide breadth of designs that would inherently be incohesive, Wave took an alternate route. Their design decision to have no illustrative or pictorial elements on their covers is a strong one, and frankly a dangerous one, since it makes portraying the contents of the book so much more difficult. This is where the reliance on typography and information hierarchy comes strongly into play.

For example, Dorothea Lasky’s Milk has one of the few covers which employs a large, heavy typeface. This move is both aesthetic and utilitarian. The restriction of only using a typeface, no images or illustrations, with such a short title was an immediate problem. However, the themes of Lasky’s poems span a variety of weighty topics. The solution they found was to use a dramatic, old-style typeface and to allow the letterforms to bleed together to allude to the darkness of the book. In contrast, the curvatures of the letterforms bring some softness and motion to the design.

They went in the opposite direction for Rachel Zucker’s collection of poetry, The Pedestrians. The thematic elements of this book are meandering, sad, and solitary, all set in an urban environment. The cover design emulates these themes. The title and author are repeated in uneven lines across the cover in a utilitarian sans-serif typeface. The orderly, unadorned aspect of the letterforms lined up in such a manner gives a literal interpretation of the title; they appear to be little pathways of pedestrians passing each other silently on a crowded city sidewalk. The overall appearance of the cover is predominantly white, and this coupled with the minimalist typeface gives it lightness and anonymity. Yet again, the entire weight of the content is placed on the choice of the text, and the designer managed to sum it up without relying on any imagery.

These are only two examples of the wide breadth of typographic achievements Wave Books deserves credit for. However, there is another aspect to their loyalty to this style of cover design: brand cohesion. Book publishers are not commonly known for having a strong visual brand that spans their entire catalogue. Wave Books is one of the few widely distributed contemporary publishers that has adhered to this ideal. Regardless of whether this cohesive branding has a positive or negative effect on their sales numbers, it is important to acknowledge their efforts from a design standpoint. Their dedication to pulling this look off consistently is impressive and inspiring. Here’s to their future publications, and seeing what typographic moves they make in the future!

Can I Do Graphic Design?

Graphic design is so much fun. There is so much you can do in this space, just within the context of book publishing alone. From print to digital, there’s no end to what you can create. Because it is such a vast and interesting area, a lot of people want to try it out, but they hesitate because they don’t have any formal art training. I get it—I’ve been there.

There is a lot of overlap between art and graphic design, as they require a lot of the same skills and an understanding of concepts like space, color, lighting, etc. But, while having a working knowledge of these when you start is helpful, it’s not required. These are things that you can learn and pick up as you go, and hand drawing doesn’t necessarily have to play a big role in your graphic design work.

You’d be surprised by the number of graphic designers who didn’t study art and can’t draw or paint. That’s what I find so wonderful about graphic design—how approachable it is and how it’s possible to build a vast portfolio of art using just the basics.

Let’s go back to Drawing 101. One of the very first things you learn is how to break down everything you see into shapes. From everyday objects to human anatomy, everything is composed of three basic shapes: squares, triangles, and circles.

For graphic design, that’s all you need.

There is a very common style in graphic design referred to as 2D or “flat” graphic design where very beautiful and detailed illustrations are made by placing those three shapes strategically, manipulating them, and distorting them. With just a few basic shapes, you can create anything from objects and patterns to people and landscapes.

The best part about approaching graphic design like this is that it’s very easy to get started.

The first step to creating your own graphic designs is to download a program to work in. Graphic design is all vector artwork, which is art built from “vectors,” or “images created with mathematical formulas.” Trust me, it’s a lot cooler than it sounds. Because it is digital art, you are going to need something more than pen and paper to create it. The most recommended program for this, and the industry standard, is Adobe Illustrator. This is the program we use here at Ooligan, but it’s not free and it’s not cheap. So if you’re just getting started and are looking to test the waters before you commit to some heavy-duty software, there is a free alternative called Inkscape. It offers a lot of the same features as Illustrator, and can be a great starting point for graphic design.

Next, try breaking things down into their basic shapes. Stop looking at the images you are trying to create in their full complexity and how they exist in a 3D landscape. Simplify them to those three core shapes. Look at a lightbulb, a cat, or a person and recreate them using only squares, triangles, and circles. Once you become comfortable doing that, take it a step further. Start thinking about how you can add more complexity to your designs, how you can add more detail and depth, all while still using just those three shapes. Then start exploring with other tools in Illustrator (or whatever program you are using), and see how they can take your designs to the next level.

And lastly, everyone’s favorite piece of advice: practice. The best way to get better at graphic design and to understand all its components is to practice. But make practicing fun! Make things that excite you and motivate you to create. Do you want to make a moon? A flower? R2-D2 or Pikachu? Do it! Experiment, create, and allow yourself to fail. It’s important to fail! Try to make something complicated that you’re not even sure how to approach. You’ll not only push yourself and test what you can really do, but you’ll also most likely learn at least one new technique to add to your arsenal, unlocking even more doors for you to explore design.

If this is something you are interested in trying, the best way to get experience is by doing it! And if you treat every time you open Illustrator as an opportunity to learn and grow, nothing can limit what you can create.

Conscious Book Design: How to Decrease Harmful Practices and Embrace Diversity

There is an ongoing conversation about conscious editing and how important it is to making great inclusive stories. I would be the first to tell you how crucial it is for books to be edited consciously, as it increases the accuracy and the quality of a book and helps it appeal to a wider audience—something that is very important in publishing. But that is not the only area in book production that has so much to gain from conscious practices, diversity, and different perspectives—design can also benefit from these things.

Incorporating culture, race, and ethnicity into a design is a difficult task on its own, and it can be even more difficult when you don’t have any personal experience with the subject matter. But there are steps we can take as an industry to increase the accuracy and effectiveness of cover designs and to be conscious of what we are creating, who we are trying to represent, and how our designs will be perceived and interacted with by people of different cultures.

First, it is essential to be aware of the design practices that are decreasing the visibility of characters of color or obscuring diversity in a cover. Making a conscious effort to be inclusive—rather than hiding the diversity of a book—is the first step toward reaching readers who long for diversity at a glance.

A well-developed and well-written design brief is also key. Working with a good design brief is the easiest way to avoid majorly harmful design mistakes like whitewashing characters on a cover, which is a very big problem we often see. While a character’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality may not seem relevant to the design of a cover, it absolutely is! Knowing these things not only will ensure that you are not accidentally misrepresenting a book but also can really inspire a design and can affect the designer’s approach and the final product.

And of course, the best way to ensure accurate representation in a book’s design is by actively seeking out designers who have firsthand experience with all the visual elements that you are trying to represent. It is no surprise that the publishing industry is very homogenous and mostly white. Graphic design is no exception to this. In this 2014 AIGA article, we see that around 86 percent of professional graphic designers are Caucasian. In the overall publishing industry, around 76 percent are Caucasian according to the 2019 Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey. These numbers are widely representative of this huge gap in the industry, and this lack of diversity in publishing can absolutely affect what books are being acquired as well as how these books are designed.

Cultural perspective is such an important thing, and it can bring so much more life to a design. Someone who has actually lived the experiences they’re depicting can bring something to a design that others can’t. They will know the difference between a Chinese dragon and a Japanese dragon; they will know the difference between a Spanish guitar and un cuatro; and having grown up hearing stories about their own mythologies, they will probably have a very good idea of how these mythologies could be represented on a cover.

At the end of the day, these seemingly small details can make all the difference to whether or not a reader will pick up a book, and in the business of books, that’s what it’s all about.