Monday, May 8, 2017

The Art of the Book Cover

An Interview with Lesley Worrell, Senior Designer at St. Martin’s Press
by Shari Randall

Few things are as exciting to an author as that moment they see the cover of their book. Before that, questions swirl - Will the illustrator capture the heart, the essence, the feel of the story?  Will the cover entice readers? Will I love my cover?

How does the mysterious art department of a publishing house work? Who makes the decisions about the look of the cover? Who hires the illustrator?

When I started wondering these things about the cover of my book, Curses, Boiled Again!, I decided to contact the Senior Designer at my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for answers. She kindly offered to answer my questions about the process of making a book cover. 
Please welcome Lesley Worrell to Writers Who Kill.

Thank you for joining us, Lesley.

1. Please tell us about your art journey. Are you an artist yourself? What medium/media do you work in?

I do consider myself an artist though I don't practice as much as I should. Art was always my favorite subject in school, and I've explored a lot of mediums from drawing to painting to printmaking and sculpture. Most recently I took a pastel class and found that I liked how you can get results similar to painting.

I used to look at book covers as a kid and wonder how you get to be the person who makes those. I'm truly fortunate to be doing something for a living that was a childhood dream.

2. How did you come to work at St. Martin's?

I worked for number of years at Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House. After leaving two years ago I freelanced for a while, working for other publishers and a nonprofit, when the former publisher from Berkley (now at St. Martin's) recommended me for this job. I came in to interview and the rest is history!

3. Can you walk us through the process of creating a book cover?

First comes the cover conference where the editor presents the book and talks about what is wanted for the cover. In this case she had an artist in mind that she wanted to use and a clear concept. I hired the artist, someone I'd worked with before on other covers, and gave her the manuscript and the concept from the editor. This particular artist is great at picking out details and creating great compositions, perfect for cozy mysteries. She sent three sketches and the publisher and editor picked one. The artist finished the painting, and I added the type and logo. I like to present at least two type treatments to the editors. One is picked and sent to the author for approval.

About seventeen people work in the art department, of which fifteen are designers and/or art directors, one, the studio manager, and another serves as an administrative assistant.

4. Do authors typically have any say in their covers?

Typically an author will discuss the idea for a cover with the editor before it's presented at a cover conference. Sometimes the publisher disagrees because there may be a better way to package the book. Publishers and editors have the expertise of knowing the marketplace and what covers may do better than others. Ultimately we want to end up with a cover that the author loves.

5. Do you have any favorite covers - ones you've designed or the work of other designers?

I'm inspired every day by book covers. I follow a lot of designers on Instagram along with book cover blogs. I'm working on a new cozy mystery right now that's going to be super cute, but as I haven't shown it to the editor yet, it has to stay under wraps!

Two of my favorite covers I've worked on were for The Lost Daughter and Another Woman’s Daughter. Both books were a pleasure to read and, as a designer, I have the most fun figuring out how I'm going to translate what I read to a cover.

6. Have you noticed any trends in book covers? What's next?

I've noticed a lot of hand-lettering on covers, something I've done twice since working at St. Martin’s and I've been here less than a year. I've also noticed covers that use some sort of paper art, whether it's creating a collage by hand or creating a diorama. Maybe this trend of stepping away from the computer and doing more by hand will continue.

7. What do you like to read?

A lot of Young Adult novels, some Women's Fiction, and Sci Fi/Fantasy. I mostly read fiction though there's a long list of nonfiction I should tackle soon.

8. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

Reading, music, hanging out with friends, and spending time outside now that summer is approaching. Oh and shopping!

9. It's traditional on our blog to ask "Mountain or beach?"

Definitely beach!

Thank you, Lesley! It was a pleasure having you on Writers Who Kill.

Readers, please feel free to share a photo of your book cover or a favorite book cover. Do you judge a book by its cover? 


  1. It's interesting to look at book cover trends over the years as a microcosm of looking at societal trends over the years. Subtle appears to have mostly gone by the wayside. Perhaps that will change with hand-designed covers?

    ~ Jim

  2. I love that book cover designers get paid to read novels and make art. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes peek at the process!

  3. Great idea for an interview--and a great interview itself, of course! I so much appreciate these glimpses into the process.

  4. Interesting interview. I loved the two covers you showed. Like Warren said, covers are very important.

  5. I do judge books by their cover. If there's a book I know I want to read, I'll read it no matter what the cover looks like. But if I'm scanning books I don't know about, I'll be much more likely to pick up a book with a cover that appeals to me. Usually, that's a moody cover. (Not sure how to describe that exactly.) Dark or atmospheric. Not that I read dark books, but I like an intriguing cover.

    Anyway, nice interview, Shari!

  6. Carolyn KitrinosMay 8, 2017 at 4:20 PM

    Interesting interview, Shari. I'm influenced by the cover when I'm browsing. I remember looking at a huge table of books and being immediately drawn to Tigers in Red Weather solely because of the cover art. And I did buy it - cover art counts.

  7. Thank you, everyone who stopped by. I know the old saying about not judging books by their covers, but we all do! And sometimes we even buy the book based on the cover. A good cover can just reel me in.

  8. This is fascinating. I always wondered how cover artists did it. Sometimes I've wondered if they've read the book. Now I know they do. What a great behind the scenes look. Thanks Shari!

  9. Great questions and fascinating answers! Although I'm an author, a lot of this was new to me. Thanks for such a neat interview!

  10. Fascinating interview! To a certain extent, of course, we can judge a book's "type" by its cover, and I was interested to read all this information. Thank you!