If you’ve been following Bookish Serendipity, you probably know how much I LOVE book covers. I’ve picked out books based solely on their covers (*cough* The Selection *cough*), and the cover design process has intrigued me for a long time.
Today, I’m interviewing Erin Fitzsimmons, who designed several of my favorite book covers, like the covers for Snow Like Ashes, Cruel Beauty, Dorothy Must Die, and so many more! She’s also the Associate Art Director at HarperCollins Children’s Books! Thanks so much to Erin for participating. You can find at her website, or on twitter (@erinferdinand)
1. Thanks so much for joining us today! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks for having me!
I am an Associate Art Director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where I design and art direct tween and teen novels. I’ve been at Harper for just over 5 years, and I absolutely love the people that I work with. In fact, I recently became engaged to one of them: the incredibly talented book designer, Ray Shappell! I’m originally from New Jersey, but I came here for school 12 years ago and never left. I live in Brooklyn with Ray and our three (adorably fat) cats.
2. How long have you been designing? Are you self-taught, or did you go to school for design?
I have been designing book covers for about 8 years. I did not go to school for graphic design. I went to undergrad at The Gallatin School for Individualized Study at NYU. They offer an interdisciplinary approach to study, so while my concentration was technically Photojournalism, I had the ability to study in each of the schools at NYU, and broaden my education beyond my major.
It was this freedom that encouraged me to try and design a book cover when my first Art Director gave me the opportunity to, even though I had never been trained in it. I learned to design through trial by fire, and discovered very quickly that I loved it far more than I ever loved photography. Since then, I’ve taken continuing education classes in other areas of design (mostly type design), and I’m always looking to build and improve my skills!
3. Could you tell us a little bit about the book cover design process and how it happens when you’re working with a publisher?
We always start with reading the manuscript. To me, this is the most exciting part of the design process. This is when we take notes, sketch thumbnails, and visualize the cover in our head. After reading and discussing with the editor, we’ll begin to rough out our concepts into compositions, or “comps”. These comps can be sketches, stock photographs, or images from other sources that we combine for a loose representation of a concept that will be sent to a photographer or illustrator to execute.
When we have a comp we like, we share in-house, and if the concept is approved, we have the go-ahead to create final artwork. This stage is also incredibly fun, because it’s like watching a dream come to life. All those images inside your head become one image outside. It’s so rewarding to see that process take place.
Whether in-house or as a freelance book designer, there are always many rounds of people at the publishing house who need to approve the cover — the Editor, Sales and Marketing teams, Publisher and Vice-Publisher, and ultimately, the Author and Agent. It takes a village to bring a book cover from sketch to final cover, and along the way the art directors and designers are tasked with finding a way to take all the feedback and direction and focusing it into one solid cover design that makes our team and our readers happy!
4. What software do you use?
I work primarily in the Adobe Creative Suite — InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator.
5. Do you have any tips or resources for aspiring designers?
When I was just beginning to design, I spent a lot of time designing for various free online competitions. I never won a single one, but I treated each competition like a school assignment, so I was able to learn and try something new with each entry.
One resource I wish was around when I was learning is Skillshare. There is a wealth of talented designers and letterers teaching classes there, if I had more time I would be taking all their classes!
And I always tell design students and those new to design to just CREATE (anything and everything) and POST it. Make a blog, post to Instagram or Twitter, or set up a free portfolio site. If you are putting work out there, people can find you and hire you!
6. Note: this was a question asked by a commenter (Chloe) and Erin was kind enough to answer it. Thanks!
Thanks for joining us today, Erin!