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.

Justified Design

There are a lot of things that can make a book unreadable: the content, the prose, the plot holes. The list could go on and on. For me, nothing makes a book more difficult to read than badly justified type. When there are large gaps between words, I want to throw the book across the room, even if it is well written and interesting. The science behind how our eyes track when we read is fascinating.

Eye movements flowchart

In the journal article “Eye movements in reading and information processing,” Keith Rayner writes, “When reading English, eye fixations last about 200–250 ms and the mean saccade size is 7–9 letter spaces (see Table 1). Letter spaces are the appropriate metric to use, because the number of letters traversed by saccades is relatively invariant when the same text is read at different distances, even though the letter spaces subtend different visual angles.”

Eye movements in reading and information processing

If the spaces between words are too large, then it becomes a distraction for the reader’s eyes. Type that is not properly justified can turn readers away because the book is physically difficult to read. Readers will become frustrated and put the book down. It’s our job as editors, designers, and publishers to create books that people won’t stop reading.

Here are some things to consider when working with justified type:

For books and longer works, hyphenation is crucial, and there is an etiquette that goes along with it. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Leave at least two characters behind, and take at least three forward:
    fi-nally, not final-ly.
  2. Avoid more than two hyphenated lines per paragraph.
  3. Link numbers and equations with hard spaces.
    These look like a regular space but won’t convert to a line break.

Line Length
Line length is an important aspect of designing type. The number of characters in a line can also affect readability. Have you ever been on a website where the text spanned across your entire browser? Did you read all of the information or get bored? I get bored! According to The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, forty-five to seventy-five characters is industry standard for a single-column serif typeface layout. However, sixty-six characters, including spaces, is widely regarded as the best line length. More than seventy-five characters is too long for continuous reading.

Justification Settings
Make sure that your justification settings fit with your design. There are many different suggestions to make when it comes to settings. If you trust InDesign and are able to comb through afterward and make sure the justification is to your liking, then I would recommend these settings.

InDesign justification settings

Happy designing!

Five Important Lessons We Learned from Freelancing

Do you like making your own schedule and choosing your own projects? Are you someone who doesn’t mind being home all day and is probably also a night owl? Chances are you’ve thought about being a freelancer, perhaps for design, editing, or marketing. The publishing world, like many other industries, is increasingly relying on outsourcing work to freelancers, especially since the technology is available to make this process easy. There’s certainly a demand for freelancers, and best of all, you would be working for many different companies, organizations, and publishers, both large and small, rather than limiting yourself to one job, one set of responsibilities, one type of product.

But you’ve probably also heard that it’s incredibly difficult to make it in the freelance world. Being responsible for your taxes, your health insurance, and your ability to bring in enough income is a daunting task. These are tough questions to figure out, but if you like being both boss and employee, then don’t let the challenges outweigh the rewards. While we can’t possibly tell you all there is to know, we’ve both been in the business of freelancing in publishing-adjacent fields for a few years now, and we’ve provided five of the most important lessons we’ve learned the hard way.

A bit of background on us: Jenny primarily works in freelance graphic design and book design, though she occasionally does a bit of social media and editing freelance work as well. Adrian’s specialty is in freelance copyediting and building custom ebooks. In the past they also freelanced as a traditional illustrator.

    1. You have more connections than you think, so use them proactively.

      Jenny: I got my first big freelance job because I noticed that an organization I had connections at could use graphic design and social media help. The day after a simple inquiry and meeting, I was asked to draw up a proposal for the kind of work I’d be willing to do as an independent contractor. I’ve received steady work from them for almost two years now and have been offered other freelance work because of my time there. Take the initiative; the worst they can say is no. Other jobs have come from listening to friends, family, and coworkers. By just offering your services, even if your first clients can’t pay you much, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole new network of potential clients down the road. And, if they’re your friends or your relations, they’re far more likely to brag about you and your skills to others.

      Adrian: I bid for work regularly on Upwork (formerly Elance), but the best jobs have come from laborious networking and from existing connections. My first solid freelance copyediting job was a novel passed along to me from a writer/editor friend in New York who had worked on a previous book in the series. I got an email from the author out of the blue saying his editor had recommended me. This is how you build your client base: you don’t only advertise your services to writers—you also cultivate relationships with other editors and publishing professionals. So be proactive about widening your professional network and keeping those relationships strong. Focus on a long-term foundation of credibility and integrity, not a short-term payoff. You never know who is going to think of you when they’re swamped and need to pass off a project. Make these same efforts with your clients. An author’s trust is not lightly given, and they’re likely to come back to you or recommend you to their community if you’ve cultivated a good rapport with them. It’s not just your direct connections who will bring you work; it’s the people they know, too.

    1. Be flexible, but also know your boundaries.

      Jenny: Last-minute projects and lots of nitpicky edits are often part of the job. However, you should always be aware of the fine line between being “nice” and being a doormat: remember that you’re a professional and the relationship with your client has rules. You’re the boss now, so you have to be tough, even though it’s hard to confront someone about money. Communicate in writing about how much you’re expecting to be paid and when, what exactly you’ve agreed to do, and what the timeline for a project should be. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if the project is turning out to be a lot more complicated than you initially thought.

      Adrian: One of the earliest lessons I had to learn was how to say no. People will ask you to work for free. They will ask you to work for experience or exposure, or to wait to be paid until after a book is published. They will want you to copyedit their 100,000-word memoir for a flat rate of fifty dollars. They will attempt to argue your rate down at the end of the project. You’re a professional; the first step to being treated like one by other people is to treat yourself like one. Be clear about your boundaries from the start and stick to them. You know that anonymous quotation—”what you allow will continue”? It’s 100 percent true. Be consistent. If you take weekends off, don’t respond to client emails on weekends. Don’t let anyone convince you your time is worth less than it is. If you encounter rate resistance, refer to the common rates listed by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). Ask for what feels right for your experience level, and don’t suffer bullying.

    1. Present yourself professionally, but be honest about your abilities.

      Adrian: Know your limits. Don’t misrepresent yourself or your abilities to a client because you’re afraid to say no or because you’re desperate for experience. Never agree to more work than you can handle. There are a lot of writers out there who don’t understand the magnitude of the editorial process or the differences between levels of edits. And when you offer both editorial and ebook services like me, there are often writers who think you’re going to handle everything from developmental editing to copyediting to designing an ebook in a matter of days, especially if you’re foraging for work on a highly competitive platform like Upwork. The EFA has a quick guide to types of editorial work that you might invoke for clients who don’t quite seem to know what they’re looking for. Talk with the author about their needs; if what they want sounds more like a developmental edit than the copyedit they’re asking for, tell them so.

      Be crystal clear about what you’ve agreed to do, and don’t get caught up in the excitement of getting contacted for a job. Stay realistic, and if you realize partway into a project that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew—maybe the book needs a heavy copyedit, not a light one—be honest. You should handle yourself professionally, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an automaton. It’s okay to tell a client that the manuscript requires more work than you anticipated, or that you’ve got too much on your plate, or that you’re not going to be able to meet a deadline. Always offer a solution: Negotiate a new timeline or rate, or if someone approaches you with a project you don’t have time for, defer it to a colleague. Your colleague will appreciate it, and maybe one day they’ll return the favor.

      Jenny: It might seem counterintuitive to admit that you don’t know how to do something, but there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know how to do this,” as long as you follow up with, “but I’m willing to learn or find out how.” You’ll never know how to do every single thing a freelance job calls for, because every company and project varies. I recently completed a job for a Portland publishing company where I was asked to prep a PDF file for Amazon’s First Look feature. Had I ever done that before? No. Did I know how? No, but a five-minute Google search was all it took. Editing, graphic design, marketing, writing—they’re all different jobs, but all of them ultimately come down to knowing how to problem solve. And how do you learn how to problem solve? Be curious. Ask questions. Stop worrying about what your client thinks about you and figure out what you need to get a job done.

    1. Keep a detailed record of your projects.

      Jenny: This includes how much you charged, contact information, whether or not you were paid for a job, and how you were paid (by check, cash, Paypal, etc.). Make yourself an invoice sheet and send one to every client you take on, so both parties have records of how much is owed. For tax purposes, I also keep records of my business expenses, copies of business-related receipts, and a record of how much of my income I should be putting aside for taxes. A sidenote: be knowledgeable about the business aspect of freelancing—do your homework! Read up on what you need to get started; it’s not as simple as telling the world that you’re open for business.

      Adrian: Find or make an invoice sheet and use it. Keep copies and make sure you have them backed up somewhere. I also utilize contracts on long-term projects to explicitly detail my editorial responsibilities and specify the agreed-upon rate and deadline(s). It gives the author and me a sense of security, establishes a legal relationship, and helps prevent misunderstandings down the road. You can find sample editorial contracts with a Google search to tweak for your purposes. When you’re freelancing, you’re a small business. You’re accounting and marketing and everything else. Thinking in those terms as soon as possible will go a long way.

  1. Imposter syndrome is real—but it doesn’t have to be.

    Jenny: When you’re just starting out, you might have a lot of self-doubt: Am I allowed to charge that much for a proofread? I think my client is wrong, but I’m afraid to tell them. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to think you’ve made a mistake. When I start to doubt myself, I imagine what I’d say to a friend who’d just asked me those questions—somehow, it’s so much easier to give advice to someone else than to tell it to yourself. You’ve done your research into average rates, and you deserve to be treated like a professional. You think your client is wrong, so you should send a nicely worded email asking about it. Finally, remember that even if the worst happens, it’s not the end of the world. There will be other clients, other projects, and you’ll improve with every challenge, every frustrating moment.

    Adrian: It’s so real! And it’s perfectly normal. Respect yourself, accept where you’re at, and don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues and mentors questions. When my editor friend deferred that first copyedit to me, I was so unsure of myself that I consulted her and former coworkers constantly about how to handle problems in the text. Most of the time, they confirmed the solution I’d already pulled from memory or The Chicago Manual of Style, but that process helped me learn to trust myself. Once, when I was nervously, noncommittally fumbling over an oral translation in class, my Ancient Greek professor said something to me that lodged itself in my philosophy: “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loudly.” All you’ve got is your best, so give it confidently. And, as Jenny said, if the worst happens, it happens. Own up to your limits and mistakes. There will be other opportunities. No matter how they turn out, you’ll learn from all of them.

Designing GIFs for a Publisher’s Social Media

Last year, the GIF turned thirty. GIF, the file format that helps people express their deepest emotions. Those blips of pure rage, elation, and calm peacefulness— those little loops always there for you, just waiting to be linked. They express your emotions better than you do.

GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, which supports both static and moving images. It’s a lossless format, which basically means that once compressed, the original image can be reconstructed perfectly, much like a zipped file. It was created independently of any specific software and originally mainly used for sharing and online storage of visual information by CompuServe and its customers.

Then the internet got ahold of it and we had the very first viral GIF: the ’90s variations of the “under construction” gif. Luckily, Jason Scott, a historian at the Internet Archive, compiled them all into one twinkling page for our viewing pleasure and adoration. Nowadays, there are thousands of GIFs that can be used to finesse any and all online communications.

Luckily for us in book publishing, marketing is included in the umbrella term “online communications” and we get to use GIFs on social media. Even better, we get to make GIFs for social media. Personalized GIFs of books or events that catch followers’ eyes and get them to stop scrolling and maybe even nurture an interest in reading the wise words of our authors.

The GIF could be of the book’s cover, like this one of Half Gods published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, or something related to the book, like our very own Flights and my personal favorite, the book GIF that inspired me to book GIF, the one made for Spineless. Speaking of my own book GIFing, here are a few I did for indie DIY press Civil Coping Mechanisms’ Instagram page, one for Coldwater Canyon, and one for Tom Sawyer.

These last two gifs are part shameless plug, and part proof that GIFing can be easy. There are a ton of online resources that can help you get started. I learned from this HubSpot tutorial. It teaches you to make GIFs with photoshop, using a series of still images to create a stop-motion looping effect.

But before getting started, consider these three design tips that affect GIF design the most. First, it’s always best to get the best-quality raw materials as possible. This will automatically make your GIF more visually pleasing and likely to stop a scroller’s mindless feed consumption. Whether it’s a photograph or an illustration, make sure it’s good quality.

The other thing to consider is the number of colors. GIF files can only support up to 256 colors, so the simpler the image, the better quality it will be. If more than 256 colors are used, the file will compensate in certain areas and replace pixels with the most similar color to reduce the color information contained in the file. This can lead to a “grainy” look which I quite like (here’s an example of a GIFed CCM author that exhibits this “grainyness”), but if your branding is cleaner than this, staying under 256 colors will allow for your aesthetic.

Another tip is from GIF-maker Andy Orsow at InVision. Basically, he tells us to be lazy because “people don’t need to see everything to get the picture.” He also suggests focusing on smaller, more subtle animations that will cut down on file size and time spent making them. This will also avoid overwhelming our viewers and confusing their perception of the GIF’s message.

There you have it, a drive-by GIF tutorial. Hopefully this inspires even more book GIFs to be birthed onto social media and the internet at large. Someday, I hope to follow in Jason Scott’s footsteps and make my own twinkling, blinking web page of book GIFs. What a day. But, until then, all I really want to say is happy thirty-first, GIF.

The Business of Bookstagram

Search for books on Instagram, and your screen will be flooded with pictures of books in various settings, from sitting next to hot cups of coffee, to being surrounded by objects that represent the contents of said book. Often referred to as bookstagram, the bibliophile’s side of Instagram is filled with aesthetic pictures of books and hashtags like #bookstagram and #shelfie, and is used by many a book blogger and average bibliophile to show off their favorite books and current reads. The custom has become so popular that publishing professionals have taken note and use their own Instagrams to show off pictures of their books. But are publishers’ Instagram accounts as artistic and effective as those of bookstagrammers, or are they doing something different?

Two big publishers, HarperCollins and PenguinTeen, both have Instagrams featuring pictures of books they have published. And yet, this is the only similar thing about them. A quick glance through HarperCollin’s account (@harpercollinsus) and it’s evident that they do not have an overarching aesthetic. The colors are all over the place, and posts range from books to authors to drawings. However, the individual bookstagram posts do well to represent the colors of the books’ covers, such as in a post celebrating Beverly Cleary’s 102nd birthday. The spines on her books are striped in a rainbow of colors and have been stacked upon one another, and stand out against a pale yellow and white striped background. PenguinTeen (@penguinteen), on the other hand, has a love of bright colors evident in all of their posts, and the vast majority of them feature books and little else. Their book posts range from simplistic books by themselves to elaborately arranged books and objects. One particularly effective post for Undead Girl Gang features the book wrapped in a jean jacket and surrounded by pins, which mimics the cover image. Interestingly, HarperCollins hardly ever uses hashtags to promote their posts, and when they do, never use #bookstagram or #shelfie. PeguinTeen, on the other hand, frequently uses both of these hashtags and many others, resulting in more interactions with their posts.

While I was searching through other publishers on Instagram, I also came across literary agent Carly Watters (@carlywatters) and her #bookstagram posts. Her posts have a clear aesthetic of soft greys, blues, and light browns. Her book posts feature books in various settings; held up against a textured backdrop, nestled on a bed or armchair, next to many, many cups of coffee, and more. Each bookstagram is appropriately tagged as such along with various other book-related hashtags. In an interview with Huffington Post, Watters said that she used her bookstagram as a way to connect with potential clients and promote current ones, and to announce exciting book deals. What a clever way to make use of Instagram for a literary agent!

So it’s not just bibliophiles who are making the most of the bookstagram side of Instagram. Publishers and other publishing professions have seen the potential of a great book pictures and are now using them to promote their own brands. It would also appear that the power of hashtags has a great effect on the visibility of said posts, and publishing professionals would do well to make the most of #bookstagram.

Designing Book Covers with Genres in Mind

What happens when the book you’ve written doesn’t neatly fit into one specific genre? For instance, what if instead of a book that falls unquestionably into the mystery thriller category, you’ve written one that beautifully straddles the line between personal memoir and war memoir? While this question can certainly influence any number of factors in the book publishing process, it comes into a particularly important light when a publisher begins to develop the marketing plan for a new book.

One project team at Ooligan Press found themselves faced with this question as they began work on an exciting new acquisition—a memoir from Rosa del Duca. Breaking Cadence is a remarkable book that deftly straddles the memoir and war genres, and as the team begins to develop marketing and design plans for the book, they find themselves faced with questions surrounding potential book covers. Current trends in covers for war memoirs differ widely from those for personal memoirs, which means the trick will be communicating the book’s unique position within a few of the larger genres. In other words, the team here at Ooligan wants to develop a book cover that accurately depicts and honors the intricacies of del Duca’s story.

This is proving to be a complex undertaking, as war memoir and personal memoir cover designs generally differ significantly. As Rachel Woodward and K. Neil Jenkings report in their article, “military memoirs in the contemporary period frequently provide a participation in armed conflict as the preserve of a specific masculinity.” The aggressive masculinity Woodward and Jenkings reference here is certainly reflected in the covers of war memoirs and books. A quick Google search yields a plethora of book covers dominated by red and black color schemes, bold and heavy typography, and images of soldiers and guns. This is certainly no accident. At a quick glance, readers know what to expect from the historical and military sections of their local bookstore. But following this particular book cover design will narrow the potential audience for Breaking Cadence significantly. Furthermore, it will do a poor job of setting her memoir apart as a book written by a woman in the military (a rare occurrence in the genre) and featuring more about her personal life than simply her time there. The Ooligan team hopes to market her book to readers who don’t just frequent the historical nonfiction sections, and they also want to signal her unique story, so following a genre that features mostly men and centers largely on war isn’t the route we want to take.

So what are some other trends at work in the book cover design world? An article from The Bookseller rounds up a few trends of 2017, and notes that quirkily illustrated titles, handwritten typography, and watercolors were last year’s dominant themes. Interestingly enough, Danny Arter also notes that a trend for centered type “may be a visual attempt to gear darker criminology titles towards a female audience”—an idea that could prove handy for the Ooligan team. Perhaps it’s not a matter of picking one cover trend or genre in which to place del Duca’s memoir, but instead a matter of delicately balancing the two design directions. certainly offers the team a lot of exciting design possibilities, so keep your eyes peeled for more updates as the project progresses.

Print in Patterns

We’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but let’s be honest—everybody does. While the cover design on a book doesn’t necessarily make-or-break the sales of every individual book, it is the first thing a reader notices. Before reading the back-cover blurb or looking up reviews online, the reader’s first instinct comes from their impressions of the cover design.

What were the main cover design trends for 2017? And what beauty do we have to look forward to with 2018 releases?

To start with, many genres have a standard for how their covers are constructed. Since the cover often sets the original tone for a novel, covers generally have some sort of stereotype to live up to. For example, when reading a true crime novel, you wouldn’t want the cover to be abundant with rose petals and rainbows. Instead, you would be looking for a more gritty cover—something dark, potentially with boxy lettering to clue you into the world of the book. These tropes are not likely to go away with the new year, but they are likely to enhance themselves to appear new and genuine and exciting.

Some of the more recent trends of 2017 include the use of muted colors and nature imagery, mainly found on young adult and women’s fiction covers. A few great examples showcasing these trends are Anna Todd’s The Spring Girls, Anne-Marie McLemore’s Wild Beauty, and our very own title, The Ocean in My Ears by Meagan Macvie. Going on theme with Pantone’s last few rounds of “color of the year,” these novels, along with many others from 2017, have striking covers that continue to catch the attention of readers worldwide.

With those trends in mind, what can we expect going into 2018? While our upcoming release, 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests, is beautifully on par with nature imagery, a few more trends are expected to spike in the cover design world within the next few months. According to The Digital Reader, we are expected to see a number of things including bold typography, minimalistic backgrounds, “throwback” styles, and hand-drawn covers, among many others.

What do you think about these upcoming trends? And what are your favorite cover reveals of 2018 so far?