From Digital Book World:
It all starts with the pitch. I can actually find myself on the edge of my seat when our editors present each season’s new books. It’s the art department’s chance to vie for which titles speak to us the most—which books might work best with our particular styles and skillsets.
After working at the same publishing house for four years, I can almost always predict which designer will gravitate toward a particular title. But inevitably, it ends up being a mix of interest, talent and workload that determines our selections. We give our creative director our first picks and she ultimately assigns the list. I’m fortunate enough to work with a team that is incredibly versatile; they can work across all genres successfully.
The list is actually somewhat fluid, so if I ever feel like I’m working on too much or too little, things can shift around depending on everyone’s workload. If I’m passionate about a book that I haven’t been assigned, though, I’ll often offer to assist on it. This could include doing photo research, setting up a shoot, or anything else that’s needed.
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Stylistically, I tend to lean toward lifestyle books and gritty true-crime type stories. These are the types of books that speak to my personal style, and are where I feel like I can do some of my best work. On a personal note, I also enjoy reading these books, which I think tends to help the creative process (though isn’t always necessary, surprisingly enough). I may be biased, but I really do love the clean and modern aesthetic of our lifestyle books. The Life and Style imprint at Grand Central Publishing (my publisher) has been built into a successful brand over the years, which only makes it easier for our designers to have a list of successful in-house titles that we can base our aesthetic off of.
Again, though, I do also adore the grit and intrigue of a crime book. That style can offer some very interesting creative opportunities that you may not find in another type of book, and it’s always an experience to be able to do a deep dive and explore that world. Perhaps more important, it’s also fun as an artist to be able to move between different styles depending on the book. I think it keeps me engaged and also helps me to use qualities from one genre on something that’s unexpected in another.
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When the titles are assigned, the work really begins. Sometimes, a book comes to us almost fully cooked. It’s been completely (or mostly) written, it’s got a concrete, confirmed title, and it’s up to us to capture the essence of the story on the cover. I think that’s how most people envision the book jacket process, and while it’s our best-case scenario, you’d be surprised at how rarely that actually happens.
Sometimes we’re given a book without a manuscript or even a full outline, and we need to rely on a synopsis or just some basic notes. Understandably, these can be the most challenging designs to capture, as it’s difficult to find that one visual feeling or icon that speaks to an overarching theme of a book. You can’t pull visual cues or themes from the book if the book doesn’t exist! But thankfully, there are other ways to crack the code.
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Don’t get me wrong, though: whenever I’m given an early manuscript or any sort of glimmer into what the book is about, I’m grateful for it. I find myself constantly thinking of different designs and directions I could take things in, and find inspiration almost everywhere—from New York City itself to weird posters and ads in the subway or the streets, and most importantly, from other books.
Sometimes I’ll see a type treatment or style working on someone else’s book and I’ll be so inspired by it that I’ll need to put my own spin on it. I think more so than most designers, book designers are inspired by each other.
Link to the rest at Digital Book World
Perhaps PG missed it in the OP, but he didn’t see anything about the cover designer actually talking to the author of the book about the cover.
Call him crazy, but PG thinks the author might — just might — have some good ideas.