Stanford UP’s latest fall catalog has just come from the printer, with a blatant Anne Geddes rip-off on the cover that I’m quite pleased with. A seasonal catalog is always a jerry-rigged masterpiece of flim-flam, filled as it is with descriptive copy and fully realized cover designs for manuscripts that haven’t been copy edited yet, let alone gone to pages, and always two or three that haven’t even been completely written. We didn’t always try to have a cover designed for every single title a full season ahead of time, and I won’t go into the reasons people decided it was a good idea. But suffice it to say that now, every spring and fall I feel like I’m coordinating about 65 weddings, all at the same time. You’d expect this for trade titles, of course, but it turns out that even scholars of Latin American history, authors of books on business valuation, analytical philosophers . . . all of them get kooky, too. He won’t even pay for a good haircut, but a kid’s first monograph on Hölderlin gets accepted for publication, and he goes to sleep nights dreaming about display fonts and halftone screens.
For a few years I’ve wanted to scribble down notes for our scholar-authors about book covers, and I’m thinking now while the trauma is still fresh in my mind, it might be a good time. So here’s my list of observations and things to remember:
- Your designer doesn’t have to know how to spell to do a good cover for you. She has to know how to do a good cover.
- Thank you for letting me know your nephew knows Photoshop. It will not save you any money if he designs your cover.
- Aesthetic judgment is subjective. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
- Don’t ever use the word “collage.”
- An image with a specific reference to something in the book isn’t always the best image for the cover, especially if it’s ugly and needs a four-line caption on the back to explain what it is.
- Thank you for letting me know your nephew has designed his own website. We need to design a printed book cover.
- If you absolutely loathe blue, we can accommodate you. But you might want to think about why that is.
- Sometimes you have to see something before you know what you want. I’m the same way. But remember I’m working on anywhere from two to forty other book cover designs at the same time, depending on the time of year, so a little help on the design memo up front can save me some time.
- If your editor shows you three different cover designs, please pick one. Don’t ask for the typeface from A, the picture from B, and the colors from C. That’s designing, which is what the designer has already done.
- When giving reactions, general is actually better than specific. Say, “The cover seems a little harsh for a book about kittens.” Don’t say, “Could you please airbrush out the snarling kitten?”
- It’s amazing what some people can do with Photoshop these days. At Pixar.
- Your book is going to be purchased by two hundred libraries and read by eighteen scholars. Changing the title font to Galliard is not going to raise these numbers.
- Thank you for showing me the mock-up your nephew has done for your book cover. No.
- If my design has completely misconstrued your critical theory monograph, do not even think of getting catty about it or condescend to me in any way, because I will rip off your face and feed it to my pigs.
- Thank you for showing me the mock-up your nephew has done. It actually has possibilities. No, I will not pay him.
- I actually enjoy doing your book cover. I really want to know what you think.
- I change my mind about book covers all the time. Do I contradict myself? I am large. I contain multitudes.
- If you’ve decided you don’t like the amazing cover I’ve done for your book that you were perfectly fine with yesterday, you’d better give a damn good reason.
- It’s called embossing. No, we don’t do it. Who do you think you are, Barbara Cartland?
- Yes, I can make your name bigger.
It all sounds way too snarky. I am a nice man. I’ve just come off another three-month book cover marathon, though, and I’m still a little fragile. I’ll edit it eventually into something more helpful and less intimidating. But enjoy this first draft.