[Video] Giller Power Panel: The Art & Craft of Book Cover Design

January 19, 2022

Elana Rabinovitch 0:00

Hello out there and welcome to the inaugural 2022 Giller Prize master panel. My name is Elana Rabinovich, and I’m delighted to welcome you to tonight’s event, focusing on The Art and Craft of Book Cover Design. It’s the first of six master panels this year, one each month through June. I’d like to welcome tonight’s moderator, Lisa Jager. Lisa is an experienced art director and designer at Penguin Random House Canada. Most recently she designed Disorientation by Ian Williams, and his 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel Reproduction. Our panelists are Kelly Blair, who designed last year’s Giller winner What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. Laura Boyle, who are directed Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House, Kelly Hill who designed Miriam Toews Fight Night, and Jack Smith, the artist behind The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill. Audience please feel free to use the q&a button at the bottom of your screen to submit questions. There’ll be put to the panel in the last 15 minutes of tonight’s broadcast. I’m as eager as you are to get to it. So without further delay, please welcome Lisa Jager and our panelists.

Lisa Jager 1:29

Hi, everyone. Thank you, Elana. Thank you for joining us everyone out there. I’m Lisa as Elana mentioned, I’m art director and designer at Penguin Random House Canada. I am super excited to be here with this panel of great book designers. So let me introduce them. There’s Kelly Blair. She is designer of the winning book. What Strange Paradise. She is art director at Pantheon Books and associate art director at Knopf both in the US and she’s a freelance illustrator. We have Laura Boyle. She is art director at Dundurn Press and has worked in book publishing for 13 years. As well, she is a freelance illustrator and designer of children’s books and other special projects. She designed The Son of the House. Kelly Hill has over 20 years experience in publishing and is a published author and illustrator of four children’s books inspired by Anne of Green Gables. She designed Fight Night. And Jack Smith has worked as a designer at Little Brown, Simon and Schuster and 4th Estate and in 2019, setup his freelance studio in the UK. He designed The Listeners. So welcome everyone. I am thrilled to chat with you all. And I know you’re excited to be here too as well. Because typically as book designers we are behind the scenes and we don’t often get together and chat. So this is special. But before we get into it, I wanted to learn just a little bit about you. And I was wondering what’s your favorite way to start your workday? Because I know for me it’s a cup of coffee. I stream my news, I check Instagram, but what’s it for you guys? Do you exercise? Do you call a friend? Do you walk the dog? Jack, why don’t we start with you because you’re going to be up in a few hours, right?

Jack Smyth 3:41

Yeah, I haven’t gone far to go. I just like to get up and try getting into my studio as early as possible. I’m lucky that my studio is only about a 10-minute cycle from where I live so if I can get in there like before eight o’clock in the morning then I’ve got an hour to myself before emails start coming in and just have a cup of coffee and you know settle into the day and try not to look at social media. That’s the last part of those go very well but yeah, that’s that’s kind of, if I can get out of bed early enough that’s what I’m aiming for.

Lisa Jager 4:13

Nice. And what about you Laura Boyle?

Laura Boyle 4:18

Uh, yeah, I try to wake up a couple hours before work starts just so I can, I don’t know live a life I guess that’s not just work since now work is in my house. So, I get to try to move around a bit and and wake up.

Lisa Jager 4:36

And, Kelly Hill?

Kelly Hill 4:39

So yeah, definitely coffee starts my day. And then ideally, everyone who lives in my house leaves. Which hasn’t happened consistently over the last couple of years but by some miracle my children went to school today so it was a good day.

Lisa Jager 4:56

Kelly Blair, what’s it like for you?

Kelly Blair 5:00

Yeah, I think I don’t have a lot of exciting things to add. But coffee for sure. And um, I read the paper online. So I start the day with the news, I would say more than anything. And walking the dog, of course.

Lisa Jager 5:15

Yes, well, it sounds like we all like to ease into our day, which is understandable. This list has beautiful covers. Congratulations for such wonderful work. As designers, we are often using a combination of skills. Whether it’s sketching, a concept, painting, hand lettering, collecting samples from nature, or working digitally, most often. When I looked closely at all your covers together, I realized there’s a variety of styles being used, and you’ve each chosen a different technique. And I wondered about the importance of technique in cover design, did you consciously choose the technique? Or does it come naturally? And, and maybe tell us a little bit about your process in using it and and you know, getting to that final design. And maybe we start with you, Kelly, you have the award-winning book, What Strange Paradise, which has a gorgeous photo on it, but I feel like there’s more to that photo than meets the eye, than we’re just looking at?

Kelly Blair 6:33

Well, thank you. It’s such an incredible book, that I just, I honestly felt so lucky to work on this book jacket. It’s such an important story that I think we’re all reading in the news, but maybe don’t, didn’t have like, such a, an incredible sort of access to the emotional side of it on such a more intimate scale. And I think that is part of what came into the design of this jacket. I think it needed to bring kind of into focus when it felt like an individual level, like the loneliness and the fear. But also the scale, playing with scale between the image and the type also gives this like you kind of zoom out and realize, like, sort of how small and how precarious The is situation is with refugees traveling by boat.

Lisa Jager 7:30

That’s true, there’s a lot of tension between the type and then this very calm image. And I noticed like the glow of yellow on it, which is amazing. Would someone else like to go next, Jack maybe?

Jack Smyth 7:49

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that the rest of you guys, but sometimes when you’re reading a manuscript for a book, you get an idea. And the first one comes to mind, and you kind of go I am sure that’s not the one but you know, I keep going. And then sometimes, your first idea is the is the one that works out and with this book, it was that. The book is, centers around characters who hear, like a hum that not everyone can hear. And it kind of pushes them into into like strange paths. And I just tried to, you know, think about how to visualize a hum. And you know, spiraling out from you know, from a central character is one easy way of doing it. But the technique of using a hand-drawn spiral was just initially to get the idea down. But then I kind of really liked the way that that felt in terms of the, you know it’s imperfect and it seems a bit like jaunty and a bit, almost done by a human hand, as if someone who’s being affected by this hum is doing this, doing the drawing as well. And I think in terms of technique, that’s something I’ve always been really interested in is, is using doing something by hand, whether it’s gorgeous or nice lettering, or if it’s a collage, or if it’s a piece of illustration. The technique of choosing a hand-rendered piece really communicates like a really human factor to the viewer. I think that’s a really nice aspect. And I think that’s the thing, you can have the same idea but you have an idea, but the way in which you, you, you, you, you’ve manifested will have changed the meaning of the effect it has in the viewer.

Lisa Jager 9:28

Oh, yes, certainly, like that spiral could have been done digitally, but you chose to do it hand-drawn.

Jack Smyth 9:36

Yeah. Or I didn’t even necessarily choose I kind of just did it you know, kind of…

Lisa Jager 9:40

Started that way.

Jack Smyth 9:41

Yeah, just sort of started out. And it’s like that’s a lovely thing. Sometimes we’re working by hand is that you surprise yourself by going Oh, I thought that would look bad that atually probably might work and but yeah, it could be done in a variety different ways. I think this felt right for the book, which is you know, lovely when that happens when you don’t necessarily plan it out, you know, the process takes you in that direction.

Lisa Jager 10:04

Kind of a happy act accident.

Jack Smyth 10:06

Yeah. Yeah. It’s nice to allow for those in in the process work.

Lisa Jager 10:12

And Kelly Hill, you have, yeah, and iconic flame and jewel tones on your cover as well. How did that come about?

Kelly Hill 10:23

Um, so I would say that this is sort of a type-driven cover. And it did come naturally. Because I think all designers would agree that if you get two short words for a title that rhymes, and a name like Mirian Toews, especially in Canada, you’re going to want to make the most of all of those words on a cover. So the font that I used is Champion, which is, comes from like, woodcut type, and is the sort of thing that would be used on a boxing poster, an old boxing poster, which I thought was apt for this title, which is, of course, not what the book is about at all, but I just thought type people might be interested in that. And the flame came from, within the book, there’s a relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, 10-year-old granddaughter, and the grandmother tells her that she has a light inside of her, a flame inside of her and it’s her job, and it’s almost her only job to not let that go out. So, the flame became an important sort of theme. And then just the palette. I love colour and, and Miriam, Miriam’s voice is so unique, and she leans into quirkiness so I thought I’m going to try sort of a more unusual color palette with this one. And just sort of an aside about Miriam, one of the very first books that I ever designed was A Complicated Kindness back in 2004, so I feel like I can kind of summarize my whole career in terms of Miriam Toews which is I mean, I’ve every couple of years I’ve been designing Miriam Toews books, so… But just what more could you ask for she gets, she’s amazing. And you know, she gets Giller-nominated every once in a while as well. So, it’s amazing.

Lisa Jager 12:12

She is amazing. And so are are your covers for her books, they’re they’re great. And that’s a great cover. And that was interesting, it’s interesting to hear about the type because that’s not just one font, you’re actually mixing the weights that are offered in that font.

Kelly Hill 12:29

Yeah, so just so that the ‘IGHT‘ wouldn’t stack exactly, you know, it’s more interesting if it doesn’t, I think. And then and then the different widths of this of this font are named, like for boxing categories like heavyweight, welterweight featherweight, that sort of thing. So, yeah.

Lisa Jager 12:48


Jack Smyth 12:50

It’s really nice to, like, the different weights give like lots of depths to the type, which you know sometimes can feel very flat when you when you have a tableau cover. But it there’s so much to like, lean into and when in that cover, it’s really, really reflecting.

Lisa Jager 13:04

Yeah, it’s almost like they’re moving in and out. That’s good point, almost like the flame as well, like it has that. And these are all things we think about too. Like the movement on the front cover, or, you know, your spiral is very mesmerizing, in a way, I find, and the fact that you’ve got it over a spine. Over the type on the spine, is like how did you do that?

Jack Smyth 13:32

They won’t they won’t go through this. But yeah, I mean, yes, it is good of the author and the publisher to lean into it. And to go with that, because sometimes the legibility question comes up quite a lot. I’m sure you’re in here with us quite quite frequently. But there’s…

Laura Boyle 13:49

It looked like the, it looked like the back cover was also only the image was there….

Jack Smyth 13:57


Laura Boyle 13:57

Oh, okay the type’s on the side I see. Cool.

Jack Smyth 14:00

Yeah. So just kept, kept, kept quite. Yeah. Didn’t interrupt the spiral at all.

Lisa Jager 14:07

And, you know, this is interesting, because I do feel like a lot of book design is, you know, that balance between concept and type and colour, and tone, and it can get, you know, there’s, I don’t know a lot to play with there. It’s not just about having a photo and putting type on it. You’re thinking about, like, you know, Kelly Blair you could have chosen, you know, much smaller type and made a much quieter cover overall, because that that photo is quite serene.

Kelly Blair 14:47

Yeah, and it would have a whole different feeling like each of those choices, expresses a completely different mood, I think. And yes, scale is something kind of amazing to play with in that regard. And, um, I think your type, Kelly Hill plays into scale also because you kind of get these receding and more like forward characters, which also feel like different voices at the same time.

Lisa Jager 15:15

Right. Good point. And Laura Boyle, you have managed to, you’re working with an artist’s work Aaron Marin, and you are putting type with an artist’s work which can take, you know, some sensitivity. Right? And a lot of collaboration there. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Laura Boyle 15:37

Sure. I mean, um, yeah, so um, I was with the typography, I wanted the the type to interact with the image somewhat just so that they weren’t like, you know, one on top of the other. Aaron Marin is an illustrator from New York City, and he does a lot of collage work. And oh, his, his illustrator name is Neu Tokyo, you guys should check out his Instagram page. We were looking for this cover for, to put across a lot of boldness and vibrancy. And another aspect of it too, that we were hoping to bring out was the dual narratives of the two two women, main characters. The Son of the House had been previously published by Penguin, South Africa, and also another publisher in Nigeria. So it did already have two covers existing. So we decided like so many publishers do to give it our own treatment. So yeah, we were, I wasn’t really sure of the direction to go. And I didn’t really have like you were mentioning a technique in mind when I set out looking, I was just kind of trying to show a vibe, I guess, or a tone. And yeah, so when I found I came across Neu Tokyo’s work on a website called African Digital Art. And there was already like, I heard already, like, considered a bunch of different directions. But his work was, I don’t know, it just felt like a perfect fit, I guess. He does a lot of collage. And his work often centers, black women. So, he did a lot of the imagery research for the cover, or not all of it, I guess. He, he found these photographs in the collection of a photographer, a New Zealand photographer, Brian Brake. And, and then the botanical illustration behind the women is the Nigerian National flower. That’s a print from 1905. And, yeah, so that’s just a bit of background, we ended up bringing some of the elements from the front cover onto the back. And it was our publisher, Scott Fraser, who acquired the book. And he he when he saw like, we were sampling different colors for the cover. He was like, I want that orange! So I was like, you got it! Yeah, I don’t know. Like, I think it all came together really well. But it was a pretty long process that spanned over a year, really, because we acquired the book in 2019. And then the pandemic hit, and I was furloughed for a couple of months. And we pushed back all of our books, for a few months. And then when I came back to work, this was one of the first books that I turned my attention to and yeah.

Lisa Jager 18:44

Well, it’s a great cover I, so you kind of knew you wanted to, to bring in another artist to to do the cover? Or did you sort of play around with mockups beforehand?

Laura Boyle 18:58

I did play around with some mockups and some ideas.

Lisa Jager 19:00

Do you remember?

Laura Boyle 19:01

Yeah, I mean, yeah, it was a long time ago. I had this idea of using like textiles, but specifically Ankara textiles, but then I was looking at other covers on the market and it just seemed like a lot of people were already doing that. And it maybe felt like it would be cliche or like, I worried about that. So it did feel like the right decision to look for an illustrator.

Lisa Jager 19:30

Excellent work really nice. Sometimes I’ll go on to our next question. Sometimes we’re put in touch with authors directly to work with them. Usually, we work with editorial. But sometimes we’re talking to authors, it could be a number of reasons. I recently worked with a, well recently – last year, worked with the first time author who wrote his memoir and he felt strongly about having a certain style of art. It was a tattoo, art on the cover, and super cool idea. And when we kind of figured out that I would be illustrating it, I wanted to know, my question was What, what does that mean to him? Like, I needed to know that and, and it was helpful to know, because along with input from sales and collaborating with editorial, it kind of helped me sort out what would be in the final art, as long as as well as, like feedback from the design team that we work with. And it helped me shape the whole visual story on the jacket. So in your experience, what questions do you like to ask authors or editors? Before you start designing their book? I mean, I know we all start with a cover brief. But you know, beyond that, what kind of questions do you like to, to ask? And maybe Kelly Hill, would you like to start us off with that? I know, you have some long-time relationships with authors who’ve mentioned Miriam Toews. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Kelly Hill 21:17

Yeah. I yeah, I think people might be surprised to know that we that many of us don’t actually speak to an author. Before we start designing the books, and that we actually would probably look at a manuscript, we would chat with the editor, we start with a creative brief, which has all sorts of information about the book. But my favorite parts of the creative brief are the ones that are sort of informed by the author in a way. So I love to look at, we’ve we’ve created our own creative brief, Lisa, and I work in the same art department. And so one of my favorite parts of the brief is looking at the meaning of the title. So sometimes that is very obvious. But other times, the title is not necessarily what you think. And because as designers were given, like, that’s a non-negotiable, the title, that is the word, those are the words that are going to appear on the cover. But how we treat those words and how we play images off against those words is sort of what’s really interesting to me. And I think Jack touched on that a little bit in his opening. And then the other thing that I love to think about, which is also put there by the author is in the manuscript, I love to find recurring imagery. And this is most mostly in novels. And sometimes I feel like they put it there just for me when I find it. So for example, so for example, when I you know, in, when a fox appears in a novel, and more than one occasion, or the family estate, in the novel is named Fox Corner, and the family name is Todd, which is a middle English word for fox, then you’d better do a cover design, with fox on it. And that’s what happened when I did Kate Atkinson’s cover Life After Life. And I had heard at the time that Kate liked it. And that was great. But what really confirmed it was this story from the publisher that said that she after this book came out, she did a kitchen renovation, and she had custom tiles made for her kitchen with this fox painted on these custom tiles. So, I felt like I had found the thing in the book that she wanted on a cover whether she knew that at the time or not. But, yeah…

Lisa Jager 23:39

Very nice.

Kelly Hill 23:39

I mean, I have had a lot of really amazing interactions with editors or with what with editors and with authors, and it is my favorite thing to connect with an author about a cover, but often it comes later, like after we’ve got it right.

Lisa Jager 23:54

That’s so true. I, I would say, how do you guys feel Kelly Blair? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Kelly Blair 24:03

Sure. I think my, I guess my relationship with the author starts with reading the manuscript in a strange way. Because we don’t have a ton of them. We don’t have direct contact so much with the author at Knopf and Pantheon. And I actually think that is valuable. I see the editor as sort of a catalyst for the book and the, you know, kind of the medium or the connector between the author and the whole inside of the publishing kind of machine. And I think that there’s a lot of value probably in buffering that relationship. I can imagine, only imagine that how overwhelming it would be to be involved in so many different parts of what publishing a book involves including the cover for an author. So yeah, my biggest hope is that the authors are happy but we don’t I mean, we communicate through the editor for the most part.

Laura Boyle 25:04

Yeah, interesting. Yeah. I can’t imagine not having like direct contact with the author, although I can see the benefits as well because sometimes it can be overwhelming to have a lot of input from from the author. But also, I guess I can imagine because when I started working at Dundurn, the editor did, was the person that direct contact. And I found sometimes there was sort of an issue or like, maybe varying results, because all the editors have different styles of, of delivering the cover. And I found they gave it, you know, with varying levels of enthusiasm. And, and, and sometimes they are afraid of giving the feedback to me as the designer. So I don’t know, maybe do the editors have, like training on, on how they bring you feedback and stuff?

Lisa Jager 26:00

I know, good question. I don’t know if they get training or if they just are careful about it.

Kelly Hill 26:06

I think they try to be kind.

Laura Boyle 26:08


Lisa Jager 26:08


Kelly Hill 26:10

But one thing you learn, like…

Laura Boyle 26:11

I just found like…

Kelly Hill 26:13

Sorry, go ahead Laura.

Laura Boyle 26:14

Oh, just sometimes editors were like sitting on their their email from the author for like, a week, because they didn’t want to tell me, whatever. The bad news.

Kelly Hill 26:25

Well, one thing you do learn, I think, is not to take anything too, personally. When you get into book design. Well, I take the good stuff. I take that to heart.

Laura Boyle 26:34

For sure.

Lisa Jager 26:36

Well, we put some thought into it. That’s true. And and, and we do get kind of attached to our ideas, in a way I guess, like in, because we are, you know, creating covers that have an emotional pull for the reader as well. Right. So but I do, I agree, I think we totally kind of develop a thick skin on on feedback. I don’t know, what’s your experience, Jack?

Jack Smyth 27:05

Yeah. I’ve only been freelance for about two years so I’m trying to like still trying to work out, you know, what, what questions I’d want to ask an author or like, what did they what’s the best way to work with an editor. One of the things I’m really enjoying at the moment is kind of just reading the book, and not really having much of a brief or not much of a discussion or not having any interaction with the author at first, because then you can just respond to just the book in kind of an isolation, and then you can go back and they’ll say, we hate everything you did. And then you have a conversation. But I think there’s something really valuable about that, I mean, I think there could be so many conversations between an author and an editor and an editor, and like marketing, publicity and sales, like all these different ideas got floating around. And that’s really valuable in many cases. But in other cases, it’s really nice to not have any of that like kind of impact what you’re going to do with the book cover, and you just read the book, respond to the book alone. And I think sometimes that can garner really exciting results, and terrible results as well, obviously, it’s some stuff that’s way off. But I’m really enjoying that at the moment, because I think you can bring stuff to the table that people may have not thrown out or struck off the list in their discussions, even though they might be successful routes. But I also think that, you know, I’m probably rarely going to be in, you know, working freelance where I do that, probably rarely gonna be in touch with authors. So I have to have to hope that’s a good way for me to work moving forward. But I think it’s case by case situation as well. And everywhere does stuff kind of differently, but not too differently. And you know, that there’s many different ways to do it. And I, it’s quite interesting hearing everyone’s different approach, like Laura, I think, I haven’t really spoken to very many people who have such interactions, the authors, and like, it’s quite interesting that that seems to be from, from my understanding, quite a rare thing in the industry.

Laura Boyle 29:06

I think it might be a thing, like a small house type thing, an independent publisher. I was very involved in like, the way that we created the whole cover process. So I created that brief and Kelly Hill, I have to say I love the idea of adding the significance of the title to the brief, I’m gonna steal that for sure.

Kelly Blair 29:30

I second that. I actually just wrote that down.

Jack Smyth 29:36

Sometimes you’re reading a manuscript and you’re like, this book is called The Bag Full of Frogs, but you finish the manuscript with nothing. There’s no frogs in the entire thing. And you’re like…

Lisa Jager 29:47

What’s the metaphor?

Jack Smyth 29:49

Yeah. What is the frogs? But, like having that as part of the process, like it’s, yeah, it makes so much sense. I’ve never yeah, I’ve never heard that be discussed properly before either. That’s a good tip.

Lisa Jager 30:00

Well, I was just gonna say there are those times when the manuscript is not fully done or ready, and we may get an excerpt to work with. So you’re working with the title and excerpts. Does that change anything for you?

Kelly Blair 30:23

It’s just less information to work with but I feel like we have to stay sort of nimble. And things are always changing, edits are happening, storylines change. And it’s really just kind of about communication with the author and editor through the editor. And yeah, just being open to kind of listening to what is changing the… Yeah, I think that we’ve all probably designed from a small portion of a manuscript, and then from the whole novel, I would guess.

Jack Smyth 30:56

I suppose that’s another place where that kind of thick skin in a different way comes in that you have to sometimes be like, oh yeah, I have done these and they’re like, Oh, the book is has changed dramatically, it’s gone a different direction to be okay, with being like, Okay, we pivot to a new direction. And that’s, that’s quite an important part of the job, I guess, as well doesn’t get talked about that often is doing lots of stuff in different different directions.

Laura Boyle 31:21

And also um…

Lisa Jager 31:22

Go ahead, Laura.

Laura Boyle 31:23

I was going add too, I love seeing authors comp covers the, what they think is a good cover what what they could imagine working on their book, I find there’s a lot of information on that as well.

Jack Smyth 31:37

Or for when, or when they they put a cover on that they really don’t want it to look like or a few that they really don’t want. You kind of go, Oh, okay, you got you, got to steer clear of those directions. I think that’s always really telling as well, the one’s that they want to avoid.

Kelly Hill 31:53

And then it’s always tricky if sales puts up those exact covers as comparison titles that they would like it. So, the dance we have to do.

Lisa Jager 32:05

Totally. Great discussion, guys. I do want to get to another question. We must encourage and support voices that have long been marginalized. And I know Kelly and I, we are having a lot of conversation, training and reflection about diversity and inclusion in our workplace. How is this reflection influencing your book design? And I know, Laura, we had talked before, that you had done some research. And you I think you mentioned it tonight as well that you’ve done some research to find the artist for The Son of the House, Aaron Marin. Is, can you tell me about that? Like, how what did it involve?

Laura Boyle 33:00

Oh, well, so like Dundurn has, you know, as a small independent Canadian publisher, we have a limited budget for hiring illustrators, but, but I try to like set aside at least the majority of that for books or covers that would benefit from having a perspective other than mine, someone with a similar background to or like at least some, some background that relates to the content. To bring in a greater depth of knowledge and avoid stereotypes, you know, which can be a pitfall if the designer doesn’t have a great understanding of the subject.

Lisa Jager 33:55

Good point.

Laura Boyle 33:56

So yeah, I guess there’s an ever expanding amount of resources for finding illustrators. There’s a ton of websites that feature designers that can, that will like bring in, you can like filter by cultural background or, you know, various filters that you can apply if you’re looking for a specific designer. Off the top of my head, there’s a really great website called Women Who Draw which I love checking out. Black and Brown Book Designers is a is a website and an Instagram. It’s a great resource. I don’t know I mean, I guess I could go on and on but there’s just like a ton of resources out there for oh, I just received from the printer today, this book Di-bayn-di-zi-win an Ojibwe Anishinaabe pedagogy and I thought it was a good example of a book where I wouldn’t be the right person to work on the design, it was important for me to look for an illustrator to work on it. So I found the artist, Mariah Meawasige on a website called the Native Designer List, which is interesting, because I mean, there’s not always going to be like a handy list for every designer that you’re looking for, so you need to sit down and do the research. But before launching into a design, like, question, whether or not you’re the right person to do it, or someone else would be more appropriate.

Lisa Jager 35:45

Yeah, definitely. I think searching is something we’re all kind of looking at, like finding new ways to search, not just the, you know, just by agencies, or it’s like, reaching beyond that. Did you guys have any thoughts on that Jack, or Kelly, Kelly Hill, Kelly Blair?

Jack Smyth 36:11

I thought what she said about the tropes is really related to stereotypes or, you know, there’s certain things that come up. And I think a lot of times those things happen, because people aren’t putting in the research, the proper research to understand the, the, you know, the different cultures that are perhaps representing on a cover, or the different stories that they’re trying to sell. I think that as I said, that the research and really putting that time in there is something that where, you know, helps to not not use stereotypes that you often see on book covers, I think that’s very good point.

Laura Boyle 36:48

Yeah, because it’s not to say that you have to pair like a specific artist with this author of the same background, you know, there’s like, nuances to it.

Lisa Jager 37:00

Very true.

Kelly Blair 37:01

Something I, you know, we talk about a lot at work also is I guess, fostering people who maybe didn’t come from a book jacket background who are, could bring, like, totally interesting perspectives to the jacket design. And, you know, I guess, like mentoring, or reaching out finding designers from different backgrounds, rather than just, you know, like art schools. And I think in some ways, the pandemic has been so difficult for everyone. But it also opens up like such a more flexible, broader way of working with people from anywhere. So I guess, hopefully, that’s sort of an exciting possibility in expanding, you know, diversity and design and art and book jackets.

Jack Smyth 37:48

And opening the pathways for people that could kind of come into. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Kelly Blair 37:53

Even for people who could work in house who don’t live in a major city, where publishing is, you know, rooted.

Jack Smyth 38:00

Yeah. I also, like, I don’t know how you guys feel, but it almost feels a design illustration, or things to talk about now, or kind of get into a realm where there’s lots of people who don’t have a background studying design, working out, and I think we need to, we need to adapt ourselves to not think that there are certain, there’s one root way into doing something, and people can come from all different pathways and come from all different places, and, and that’s very, can be very successful as well. And that’s only gonna open open, open the doors for a much better working community, I think.

Laura Boyle 38:33

Yeah, because that’s probably one of the main reasons why Canadian publishing has such a lack of diversity, like, do you have to do? One to three internships, just to get in the door? And like, that’s not accessible for everyone. You know, just…

Lisa Jager 38:51

Right, and that’s…

Laura Boyle 38:52

Very part of entry.

Lisa Jager 38:54

Yeah. And that’s also another thing we’re looking at too, is like finding other ways to get people in for internships. Did you have anything to add? Just quickly, Kelly Hill?

Kelly Hill 39:07

Yeah, we we’ve been talking about with our art director, doing some mentorship program of some sort. And I think that’s a really exciting thing to look at. We, from for the short term, I, I feel like we’re assigned books all the time. So as designers we can kind of bring forth these more marginalized voices as photographers or illustrators. And, and, and, you know, sometimes those artists are suggested by the authors. I’ve had a couple of situations where that happens, but I like what you said, Laura, about the idea of not necessarily having to use an indigenous artist on an indigenous book, and we can just kind of just use talent and these books,

Laura Boyle 39:52

I guess, yeah, it depends if you’re like, trying to, to get at a traditional style of art or you know, you obviously don’t want to be, yeah.

Lisa Jager 40:02

Well, there’s also using like, I know, we were looking for an Indigenous artist who’s Indigenous, that the author felt, Wab Kinew felt very strongly about having an Indigenous artist working on his cover, but didn’t necessarily, wasn’t necessarily traditionally styled. And we did come up with someone, Wab came up with someone who’s fantastic. He’s a perfect fit. And, you know, but it’s hard to kind of find those artists, because they aren’t traditional but…

Kelly Hill 40:37

And the internet keeps giving you the things that you say you like. And so sometimes it is harder to come up with these others, but I think it’s, you know, it’s worth doing those deeper dives. For all books.

Laura Boyle 40:48

Oh, the other. Yeah. A good thing that I’ve seen publishers doing recently to is calls for submission when you’re looking for an artist. I haven’t done it myself. But yeah, it’s a great way to find people.

Lisa Jager 41:02

Yeah, we haven’t done that yet either. Like using our social media to reach out to potentially get those people in. So we are getting close to getting into the q&a. So I’ll just ask quickly, you guys, you got a couple couple of trends, top trends that you think might influence your work this year. Jack, would you like to go first? What are your top trends? Top two trends?

Jack Smyth 41:37

Well, someone else John Gray was saying quite recently that everything is really bright really zingy at the moment and he was saying that it’s because we’re trying to replicate RGB because we’re all, you know, Instagram is so prevalent Bookstagram stuff. That’s the the pushback of that. So I reckon now you got to go. Black and white are like really dull. They’re just to be against the brain. And the other trend is book cover trends, because there’s so many articles coming out about bookcover trends, that is the new trend, just spotting them as well. Which is mad.

Kelly Hill 42:12

As soon as you name them, they’re kind of ruined, right?

Jack Smyth 42:15

Yeah, absolutely. They’re off the table.

Lisa Jager 42:20

That’s right. Did you, did Laura Boyle? What do you think? Is there a top trend on your mind?

Laura Boyle 42:25

Along the same vein, oh, I don’t know. I was gonna say I was gonna add the way that digital platforms influence typography, because now everything also has to be really legible at thumbnail size. And that’s just the reality. I think that we have to accept that, that we want to be we want our covers to be really visible. But it’ll be interesting to to learn how to still create, like, really original type within those parameters, I guess.

Lisa Jager 42:59

Very good, very good. So I think I could move to the q&a, because there’s some, there’s some interesting questions here. And since we have people from the UK and the US, and Canada, of course, um, there is a question. It’s, “I have a UK edition, with a different cover for What Strange Paradise. Do artists of the original design collaborate with original, with international covers?” And we get asked this often. And sometimes it even comes up in promotion. You might see the UK cover, or we might see the US cover, and there’s a Canadian cover. Who would like to take that question first? You, maybe Kelly Blair, would you like to question first? Because it’s based on What Strange Paradise.

Kelly Blair 43:56

Yeah, sometimes foreign markets will pick up our jacket that we did. But a lot of times we’re publishing at different time periods. And oftentimes, we will be designing our jacket after the UK. And I think that they’re, you know, it’s interesting, as global as everything is, I think that there is a really different design language in different countries, which I think is like, amazing, because so, you know, I don’t know everything has become sort of homogenized. So when I see something like a different vernacular, it’s exciting. But yeah, I think it’s like each publisher kind of decides whether they’re going to pick up or do something new that we’ve, I rarely communicate, we don’t collaborate so much with a foreign publisher.

Lisa Jager 44:41


Kelly Hill 44:42

I know really, yeah. Yeah. I know in Canada when we, when we see a book from the US that we are publishing in Canada, and the question is always whether we’ll keep the US cover or whether we think we need something different for our market. And, and what you’re weighing off is the, all the marketing that goes into and behind the US title. And if we have a different cover, are we going to benefit from that? If it looks entirely different? And so, so yeah, it’s always kind of weighing off those two things, you know, marketing and, and being recognizable and then thinking that that Canada has a different kind of aesthetic than the US does, which I agree. That’s interesting. I don’t know what it is.

Lisa Jager 45:31

And here’s the question, we get asked a lot. Um, it is, Historical fiction novels often have women as main characters on the cover, they could be walking away, they could be facing us. They’re walking, I can even add, they’re walking in foggy scenes where we don’t see their face. How does that happen? How does this become the cover approach for a genre? And it’s kind of tough, because I feel like when you have a genre, like historical fiction, there are some tropes we kind of have to stay with, because they’re signals to readers. Who would like to, Laura?

Laura Boyle 46:23

Well, it’s a very convenient way to show a woman and also not have her face the the thing that like sticks in the readers mind as being the character that they’re reading, which I find, I think most readers find a little distracting. So…

Lisa Jager 46:42

True, we don’t want to necessarily define the character on the cover, we may want to sort of explore a relationship, though. So you know, there may be that or a setting. And to make the setting interesting, or to have more of a narrative. We could be adding a person to it, I think. Jack, do you work on any historical fiction at all? Or?

Jack Smyth 47:12

Yeah, yeah. And I like I kind of almost visualize the cover that’s been described, you know what I mean, because it is, it’s almost a familiar formula that a lot of covers fall into. And it’s interesting trying to think about how that happens. Um, as I said, like, they’re signifiers to the reader so that, you know, it’s their own self fulfilling prophecy, the more than we do, the more that they, you know, solidify that something needs to look like that. And it is really hard for publishers to like, break out of that mold, because you’re worried that you’re not going to fly that flag to, to a possible reader, and then miss it. But I, yeah, genres, such as historical fiction, I think, can be so exciting. And visually, like, you know, the possibilities are endless, but we still are, you have have have to make sure that we’re not ignoring any possible readers by just by not playing to some of those notes. And it’s funny how those things happen. I assume they happen, because one book a long time, you know, ages ago, had that approach, and few other books at the time, emulated it, and then everyone started emulated it. And then you know, there’s too much momentum behind that style of that approach. And now, we can’t stop it, the the momentum is too strong. But it’s all over publishing. And every now and again something comes along that will break that momentum. And it’s very exciting when that happens. And we can see a genre or style kind of be disrupted. But yeah, I know, it’s funny when it’s identified, when you see it, like, Ah, well, those books kind of do that.

Kelly Hill 48:51

I’ve seen as I’ve seen, book designers be blamed for that. Social media as well. And of course, what we’re reacting to is its direction, often from in house. And and it is true if you do go, but but there are tables full of those books. So it’s not just one or two of them that these books are all finding their historical fiction readers or we wouldn’t continue kind of doing it. But I think as a designer, you want to kind of push those the way those books look just a little bit further into something new. But also not not lose your reader in the process.

Jack Smyth 49:27

That sweet spot in between the two. Yeah.

Kelly Hill 49:29

Yeah. Or at least make sure they’re well designed. And sometimes you do it through gritted teeth. But you know, the, the whole point of the book or a large part of the book design is trying to put the reader of the book in front of the right reader. So…

Lisa Jager 49:46

Right, and, you know, we’re just talking about historical fiction, but it can happen, really, in any genre, I would think.

Kelly Hill 49:55

Like thriller, suspense books, all have a very similar kind of look right now.

Kelly Blair 50:01

I would say about book jacket trends that I find interesting is I think every book jacket designer, I know is always trying to get the, I don’t know, push the limits, and always trying to get something approved, that feels exciting and new and fresh and different. And the strange thing is like, we’re all working in our sort of little vacuum, and the books don’t come out for a year. So when things emerge as a trend, we haven’t been seeing all of the books that come out at the same time. And I, it always fascinates me to wonder, like, what cultural influences are we sort, all sort of like reading in through osmosis that we’re all kind of reacting to, at the same time as well, I think you can’t separate design from what’s happening in the larger cultural world with art and anything that we’re consuming, TV even.

Lisa Jager 50:53

True. I mean, I think any aspect of design has influences, you know, its, its a, its group, right. Like, we see it in clothing and, and in fashion and interiors, as well. So there’s lots of influences there. Okay, here’s kind of a practical question for everybody. How many mock covers do you create for a title? And what is the timeline from mockup to final? That’s a tough one. Because it could be right away, you could be done. You could, it could take full three months or more, I guess. What would you say? Laura?

Laura Boyle 51:41

I’ve done up to 20/25. Once, I think I did about 25. But usually I aim for like, between three and five concepts. I usually do like, I’ll usually do like more than I actually show to the group that decide on the covers, because I’ll scrap a couple on my own. But, you know.

Lisa Jager 52:03

And how many times do you go through that process of showing two or three? Or do you often nail it after? When you’re presenting?

Laura Boyle 52:15

There’s so much variation in that I can’t think of. I had one book this season that I did only one mockup for. It was just perfect. It like nailed it right away. So it’s one of those rare, rare instances. But…

Lisa Jager 52:34

What about you, Kelly Hill? You’re a seasoned designer?

Kelly Hill 52:38

So yeah, so I’m done anywhere from three to like, honestly, I did, like 60 one time for a book. So yeah, it varies. And then. So I I’m always thinking about timeline. And so I’m, we’re getting covered briefs for this, or we’ve had cover briefs for a little while now for this fall’s books. So those go to press, I don’t know, in the spring at some point. So that yeah, so there’s, you usually have, we’re meant to have book cover designs from in four weeks from when we get the brief. We used to have a shorter amount of time, but I fought against that, because I always need more time to kind of process to read it and then process everything that you need to think about. And yeah, yeah.

Lisa Jager 53:32

Yeah, I would say I average about 40. You know, what I average about 40 mockups, those are just like, my, some of it is my experimental stuff, things I just have to get out of my head and out of the way, you know, I think they might be a good idea. But really, no. And then I get on to the good stuff. And I get into kind of a zone of creating some art and I and and, you know, we do create little works of art. And yes, we sometimes use like stock images, but it’s a lot of like playing off of those stock images and recreating stuff. So yeah, like you could you can have a ton of work and, and not even show it. Right? What about you, Kelly Blair? You’ve been doing this for a while, too.

Kelly Blair 54:22

Yeah, I guess it’s sort of like an iceberg. You just see this little tip of the iceberg, but underneath a lot of rejected sketches. It’s part of the process.

Lisa Jager 54:36

Very true.

Jack Smyth 54:39

I tried to work all this stuff out as well. So I don’t have the benefit of being in house to like, have conversations with anyone I’m showing stuff to. But one thing I’ve found is that sometimes if I’ve done one thing, if yeah, if I do five or six different things, and one of them feels really right, I’ll just send that in knowing that there, I have the other ones because sometimes people won’t go for the more exciting one, if it’s next to something that’s a bit more familiar. So, you know, by removing the context of some props, safer, more expected options, you kind of force people to really engage with something, and they might still reject it, and then you just send you the ones in any way. But I’m trying to find ways to kind of nudge people into perhaps, going with a slightly more exciting route than they might do if they’re presented with, you know, more exciting ones to less exciting ones. And it’s quite interesting trying to work out how to do that. But again, yeah, the iceberg I think is the perfect, perfect analogy.

Lisa Jager 55:41

Right. And you know, and and like you mentioned, off off air, I think, if you don’t get a design approved for a hardcover, it could end up as a paperback.

Jack Smyth 55:51

Exactly. Yeah, you got to hold on to those. Those are very important. They never die.

Laura Boyle 55:58

I’ve had people say like, if only we could publish the book that belongs with this cover. Maybe gets commission a writer to create it.

Lisa Jager 56:09

I know people, I think people are kind as well, when they look at our covers sometimes. And they’ll say save it for another book. And it’s like, it never happens. But I am going to save it because I put a lot of work into it. Um, okay, one last question. From the q&a. How do you become a book jacket designer? Do you have to get degrees? What do you guys think? I feel like the landscapes changing a little bit, but degrees do help. Who would like to go? I mean, Laura Boyle, I know you have a lot of experience. A lot of education. Or not a lot of education, but like you’ve you’ve got an English Degree. Right? And…

Laura Boyle 56:58

I have an Art History Degree and..

Lisa Jager 57:00

Art History Degree!

Laura Boyle 57:02

Yeah, I mean, I want to say something that’s really encouraging to people who want to get into book design, but it is really hard, well, it’s not that it’s hard. It’s more like a fluke, I think at least that’s how it felt when I was, I guess, sort of aiming towards that, but I think, I guess just build up a really strong portfolio, even if they may be for fake covers, like just come up with a lot of ideas, because you’ll probably be hired on the strength of your versatility and, and work.

Kelly Hill 57:35

That’s what I’d say I’d say redesign your your favorite books, design new covers for those books. So yeah.

Lisa Jager 57:42

Yeah, I think thats…

Kelly Hill 57:43

They can see what you’re all about. Yeah.

Lisa Jager 57:45

Yeah, I think our creative director has mentioned that too, you know, go design some book covers, because it really, it’s not as simple as it looks. Okay, last question. Just a few short answers. What is your main hope for the future of books and book design? You guys have a sentence or two on what you think of that? Kelly Hil, do you want to lead us?

Kelly Hill 58:14

I’ve been thinking about this. And it’s more generally towards books and physical books. And I feel like the demise of books has long been predicted and greatly exaggerated. So I mean, everybody thought when ebooks came out, the physical books were going to go away. And that of course, hasn’t happened. physical books are still selling. And I sort of feel like book design is still maybe even more important because, like we’ve mentioned, like, you have to be able to see a book cover on a little screen like this. And and they’re more than ever kind of a marketing tool as well. So I’m not worried about books, or book design.

Lisa Jager 58:52

Kelly Blair, you have any thoughts on that? You’re in the US, you have lots of customers.

Kelly Blair 58:59

I you know, this isn’t the future, but it’s the present. I’m grateful that people are still buying books, and that we’re still thriving in this crazy world that we’re in right now. And I guess like my future hope for books is just that we keep publishing like the most interesting stories and reaching readers. And that’s the same for book jackets design in the in the most interesting way possible. So hopefully, we can, book jacket design will stay interesting. And that still sell books.

Lisa Jager 59:34

Laura Boyle?

Laura Boyle 59:36

Yeah, I agree. I’m constantly like, totally in awe of the book covers like, every single day I see a book cover that I’m like, Oh, that’s so good. So, I just want to I just feel inspired by what’s coming out and just keep keep going.

Lisa Jager 59:52

And Jack?

Jack Smyth 59:55

Yeah, like I think what we already talked about diversity. The bit around by, I think that’s something that is really important for the future of book cover design and publishing as a whole. I think that’s something that a lot of hope for especially in the UK there’s people doing absolutely incredible work and changing the way things are operating. And if that doesn’t give you hope for publishing as a whole, like I don’t know what will it’s quite an quite an amazing time at the moment. And I’m really excited for the next couple of years hold. And my big hope as well already mentioned, fewer articles about book cover trends. It will make me feel bad if I see something I’ve done mentioned and think oh no that’s just part of a trend then.

Lisa Jager 1:00:45

So true. Um, you know, and we are in the culture, this is a culture, it’s entertainment as well for people, books. That’s my thought on it. And as long as we need culture, as long as we need to hear voices, diverse voices and new voices and personal stories, I really feel like that’s all very important. And, I love I love the industry. I love books for that reason. Thank you all very much for tonight. It has been fantastic talking to you guys. I think Elana is going to come on soon. And I want to thank her on our on on your behalf. I know. She she invited us to talk tonight and we couldn’t be happier with that chance. Thank you very much, Elana.

Elana Rabinovitch 1:01:44

Thank you. Lisa, and Kelly and Kelly and Laura and Jack. You guys were amazing. I learned so much about about so much. So much I didn’t know about book design and all the intricacies. So thank you for the most edifying conversation I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. I want to say that for anybody who missed tonight’s video, it will be available on our YouTube channel and also on our website in the coming days. I want to thank you again and also let you know that to please come back, check us out on February 15, when we’ll be having another master panel to mark Black History Month. Thanks again for joining and goodnight.