Blackwells: Do You Judge a Book by its Cover? Review


Photographs by Char Bennett

A review of Do You Judge a Book by it’s Cover?                  by Char Bennett

On the 20th of February, a group of industry professionals and book enthusiasts gathered on the first floor of Blackwell’s Bookshop to discuss how publishers, authors and artists work together to create the all-important book jacket design.

On the panel was author Charlie Fletcher, who’s latest work of teen fiction Far Rockaway was recently published by Hodder Children’s Books, the cover being a result of a competition run within the Illustration department at Edinburgh College of Art. Joined by Charlie was Anne McNeil, his editor and Publishing Director at Hodder, head of illustration at ECA Jonathan Gibbs, competition winner Astrid Jaekel and hosting was publicist Rebecca Hearne from Hachette Children’s.

The event was ticketed but tickets were free. There was not a free seat in the house by the time I arrived. Fortunately I was able to perch on the side stairs. Rebecca opened the dialogue by encapsulating the dilemma facing publishers with very new product: what does this book look like?

Author Charlie spent many years writing for film and television before turning to fiction. It was due to this experience that he applied the screen-writing ethos of “best idea wins” – and so the competition for Far Rockaway was born. “We wanted to see what the sharpest minds in the country could come up with. The students are in the process of creating their own styles and developing them – it’s a chance for them to have professional experience and probably their first paid job.” Seeing the results, it seems to be an innovative way of generating ideas and beneficial to both the publishers and illustrators involved.

Astrid, the winner, explained her mentality behind the original artwork was “to capture the mood and atmosphere rather than a specific scene in the book.” Although the final cover has changed from the original, the basic composition and illustrative style was not compromised.

Publishing Director Anne McNeil gave a practical and business-minded approach to the concept of book design. “The book needs to be wrapped up in what it has to offer, but also be deceptively simple. It should illustrate a narrative journey whilst being confident that it’s sending the right message to the right market.” Anne also gave insight into maintaining a good relationship with the author as an editor, working closely with the design department, and thinking of the product practically – as she maintains: “a creative response to the text is definitely something you need to protect.”

Do you judge a book by its cover? revealed just how much preparation, work and thought is behind the simplest book cover designs – and the extent to which as a consumer, it affects our buying decisions. It also demonstrated that it’s not always the most expensive designer or illustrator that will be most effective – Charlie, Anne and Jonathan all expressed awe at the standard of work being produced by the ECA undergraduates. Perhaps we’ll be seeing more student artwork on our best sellers list!

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