Though specific procedures will vary from publisher to publisher, an overview of how book covers are developed at the University of Virginia Press may give a sense of the collaborative process involved.
Gathering information is the first step. Authors are invited to complete a cover design questionnaire, which will be used as the starting point of the design process. It can be as important to indicate what kind of image or aesthetic is inappropriate as it is to offer specific ideas. Informed by the author’s comments in the questionnaire, the art director presents ideas at a presswide meeting to transmit the book from acquisitions to other departments. This allows members of the press staff, from acquisitions and manuscript editorial to marketing and sales, to contribute feedback based on their knowledge of the project, its target audience, publishing-industry trends, and any other pertinent considerations.
Next, our design team works with the various images and concepts provided by the author and press staff to prepare a design brief that will be sent to the designer along with a concise description of the book and a manuscript sample. This is where the design team’s creative expertise takes over, as they brainstorm and experiment with ways to render the book’s main concept graphically. Their aim is to produce a design that embodies the book through its combination of color palette, imagery, typography, and overall aesthetic style. The cover must also function effectively as a thumbnail image online, since that is where most book buying happens these days. In some cases, the cover may need to comply with a series design as well.
As an outgrowth of these conversations, the book designer will produce two to three possibilities for the cover, or “cover comps.” UVA Press’s art director designs about half of our covers; the other half are done by freelance book designers. In the latter case, our art director vets the comps provided and may select from these or ask the designer for modifications. Once a group of comps has been approved by the art director, these are circulated in-house for feedback from the press director, editor in chief, acquiring editor, project editor, managing editor, and marketing director. Press staff will agree to a final comp at this stage, or perhaps request further modifications. Finally, the chosen design is sent to the author for approval.
Authors should keep in mind from the outset that book covers are considered marketing tools. Ultimately, the strongest cover designs represent a merging of the author’s, the designer’s, and the publisher’s visions and areas of expertise. While the goal is for all parties to be pleased with the cover, the final decision will typically rest with the publisher. However, the collaborative nature of the process almost always produces a cover that delights both author and publisher.