What makes a great book cover design

Book cover designer Carolin Liepins: What authors should pay attention to

The designer Carolin Liepins, born in Nuremberg in 1983, designs book covers for publishers and self-publishers.

In an interview with literaturcafe.de, she talks about her job, about good and bad book covers, why some cover decisions are driven by fear and too many housewife tests are not helpful.

Is book cover design a dream job for you as it would be for other writers, singers or actors?

Carolin Liepins: Singer or actor is often considered a dream job by children and young people, as they associate it with fame and fortune. I like my job very much, but nobody asks me to walk down the red carpet in a floor-length evening dress just because I've illustrated a book cover. The crowds don't cheer me, I'm completely indifferent to the features section, and my pay doesn't allow for a full life. I wouldn't differentiate between my job and the jobs of my friends who are architects, copywriters, lawyers, teachers, editors, etc. The glamor factor is about the same - namely zero (laughs).

What does your workplace look like? Can you imagine it as the classic artist's work table, full of pots of paint, brushes, pens of various hardnesses, paper and sheets of canvas? Or does the majority of your work simply take place on the computer, with Photoshop, InDesign and similar programs?

Carolin Liepins: I work exclusively on the computer with the programs Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. I operate everything with my graphics tablet and the corresponding pen. It's great when colleagues are still busy with colored pencils, brushes and paper, but I am much better at designing directly on the computer and I also find it much more practical, e.g. B. for changes and corrections. In addition to a computer and tablet, on my desk you can almost always find a teapot, a huge coffee cup and a bouquet of flowers.

Do you find that your work, which is very important for the sales success of a book, is actually valued highly enough?

Carolin Liepins: The pay could be better. But that's probably the same for everyone. Otherwise, the appreciation that is given to my work is enough for me. I get a lot of positive feedback from the publishers I work for and am also commissioned to design top-quality titles that are expected to sell very well. The content and cover must of course complement each other, in the best case a great cover packs a good book (laughs)

Who is your actual client, an agency or a publisher? Do you also see yourself as the author's partner?

Carolin Liepins: My clients are publishers and self-publishing authors. When I work directly with the author, I am of course primarily committed to his wishes. If a publisher is my customer, I naturally try to meet their ideas and needs. When I work for a publisher, I usually don't know the author and I have no contact, so I don't even know what he wants. When I get feedback from the publisher that the author is very happy with the cover, it always gives me great pleasure.

What is the new book information that you absolutely insist on? Just the blurb, or do you want or need to find out more in order to be able to design the cover that is really appropriate for the respective title?

Carolin Liepins: That depends heavily on the respective book title. If the book can be clearly assigned to a genre and the publisher has a specific idea of ​​what the cover should look like, I need very little information about the content. If you want to depict people, it is of course helpful to know how they are described in the book. The target group or the reading age are important, and how trivial or demanding the book is. There are definitely customers I work with, of which a few keywords are enough to get me started. In rare cases, however, it is also necessary to read a book beforehand, sometimes access is easier, sometimes more difficult.

We all certainly remember cases in which the book cover was so far removed from the content of the book that the buyer might suspect that it was a little ripped off. Does it happen that you look at the book table in a bookstore and at first glance think: Oh God, this or that cover is so ridiculous?

Carolin Liepins: Of course there are covers that I find not very successful, even without knowing whether they fit the content or not. Much is graphically implemented in an amateurish way, or simply completely irrelevant or irritating. There are bad designers, but there are also bad decisions on the part of the publisher. Sometimes you just don't have a choice as a designer and you have to meet customer requirements, whether you like it or not.

There are certain trends in cover design. I remember the program manager of a major consumer publisher who said the other day, “I can't see bloody knives and scalpels on crime covers anymore. And it won't be long until the flowers are ready!“Is it even possible to set new trends in covers in order to stand out from the colorful monotony on the bookstore's tables?

Carolin Liepins: Everything has certainly existed in one form or another. Reinventing the wheel or the book cover will hardly be possible. Bloody knives are scary. Every now and then there will still be surprising or unusual combinations of motif, writing, technology and imagery. If the publishers dared more, there would certainly be more variations and often something special. Often the decisions for one or the other design are guided by the fear not to sell and not by the fear of packaging books in a particularly innovative or courageous manner.

What are the parameters that make a good book cover? Do they even exist?

Carolin Liepins: A good book cover is aesthetically pleasing and does not contradict the content. Everything else is very variable. That is to say, this is a very complex topic, even if the result often seems simple. There is no recipe for book covers.

As a professional cover designer, what do you think of sites like 99designs.de, where basically anyone who likes Photoshop or InDesign can try their hand at a cover designer? Do you see this as the future? Is that serious competition or is it just a marginal phenomenon that is limited to self-publishers at most?

Carolin Liepins: I think it's really just a marginal issue. For one or the other self-publisher this may be an option, but I think it is very unlikely that publishers will resort to this offer.

Firstly, I am of the opinion that no sensible designer will offer his services there; secondly, book cover design is an area that is very niche and special. Publishers like to work with designers who already have a few references and are experienced in book covers.

Can you give tips for authors on what to look for in their covers?

Carolin Liepins: Self-publishers should make sure to hire a good designer or illustrator and trust them in their decisions. If you do too many housewife tests, i.e. ask your mother, husband, neighbor, cousin's dog from the hairdresser's, etc., you will hear very many different subjective opinions from laypeople. In the end, this only confuses and almost certainly leads to a deterioration in design. Following your own instinct is certainly smarter ... and that of the designer (laughs).

Ms. Liepins, thank you very much for the interview and wish you many more good ideas and exciting orders!

The interview was conducted by David Gray