It’s no secret that I LOVE book covers and today I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Liz Casal, cover designer extraordinaire! She has designed many wonderful covers, such as the cover for The Geography of You And Me. Many thanks to Liz for agreeing to be interviewed. You can find Liz on her website.
1. Thanks so much for joining us today! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Liz Casal and I am a book designer. I am from Miami and have lived in Brooklyn since May 2008. I’m almost always working, but in my spare time I like to read, draw, listen to music, and hang with my husband (who is an amazing digital designer).
2. How long have you been designing? Are you self-taught, or did you go to school for design?
In May 2008 I graduated with a BFA in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College. I got my start right away with a design internship at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. In January 2015 I left my post as senior designer at LBYR to try my luck as a freelancer. That means I’ve been a professional book designer for nearly seven years!
My design education started in high school when I was the designer of my high school newspaper and literary magazine with the help of a very patient young teacher named Ms. Olga Martinez. From then on it was all self-taught, besides a couple of magazine and book design classes in college. The best way to master the programs is to sit in front of the computer for about half of your life and just play. That’s how I learned!
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?
The process is crazy. Most of the time. It can be like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes genius strikes and you go straight to acceptance, and unicorns exist. But most of the time it takes a lot of research, hard work, problem solving, revision, and rejection to land at the final cover.
This is how the process went for me as an in-house designer:
- Art director assigns the title.
- You read the uncopyedited manuscript (not reading the book makes the work much harder, but sometimes it isn’t available or there just isn’t time, but I try to read everything).
- Take notes while reading and pay attention to symbols, motifs, descriptions, tone, etc. A book cover design is hiding somewhere between the lines of text!
- Research competitive titles and design trends in the same genre.
- Meet with editorial to go over anything else that’s good to know before getting started on the design process. Find out if the author hates something, or already has an idea they want you to try out.
- Begin design process.
- Work with art director and editor to land on 3-5 solid directions that can be presented before the jacket committee. I always try to have one photographic direction, one illustrated or graphic direction, and one type-driven direction.
- Present the designs to the jacket committee (each house is different, but committees are usually comprised of the heads of each department including editorial, sales, marketing, art, production, and the publisher; so basically not intimidating at all).
- Jacket committee approves a direction (this almost never happens on the first try and can take months. Think of it like getting a marriage proposal on a first date. But let’s just pretend that we are unicorns and we get everything approved on the first try because we are magnificent).
- Share the cover direction with the author, agent, and anyone else who has a say.
- Once everyone is on board with the direction–the jacket committee, the agent, the author, the author’s cat, etc.–the designer may proceed to final with the art. That could mean organizing a photo shoot, licensing stock photography, hiring an illustrator, or creating the art herself.
- The final cover is presented to jacket committee again and they accept it without a doubt! Because we are unicorns today!
- The first place the cover appears is on the ARC, a.k.a. advanced reading copy, a.k.a. blogger candy. The ARC is given to reviewers and presented by sales to accounts. Sometimes accounts will say something like, “Love the book, hate the cover,” and you have to start all over, and this is when you start eating cookies. Lots of cookies. But let’s pretend that doesn’t happen and the accounts love it and are going to buy 100,000 copies of your beautifully designed book.
- The front cover art is done and now all you have to do is design the full jacket mechanical, route it through copyediting/editorial, and release the final files to production. You will also need to pick out all of the pretty specs like foil and embossing and spot colors. You may also need to design the case cover and pick out specs for that, too.
- And then you go to Hawaii. In your dreams! Because you have to go through this process for about ten books a season, and at any stage a cover can be “killed” and you have to start at the beginning.
It’s hard work, but it’s pretty great. I get to collaborate with brilliant authors, artists, and publishing pros, and do what I really love to do. Doodle, make things pretty, play with typography, obsess over baseline alignment. Every rejected cover is just a challenge to create something even better.
4. What software do you use?
I have an Adobe Creative Cloud membership which is awesome. For book design I use this software:
- Adobe Photoshop: for creating the actual cover composition, retouching images, and creating artwork.
- Adobe Illustrator: for manipulating or designing type, creating vector illustrations (I love to create vector art in AI and drop it in as a smart object into PS), tracing, etc.
- Adobe InDesign: for laying out cover/jacket mechanicals and book interiors.
- I use a MacBook Pro with a fabulous Thunderbolt Display and my new favorite thing is the oversized trackpad instead of a mouse.
In addition to software I also have an array of inks, brushes, paints, pens, a whole cookie jar of various Sharpie’s, pencils, erasers, scissors, and paper that I use almost every day. I draw or hand letter on paper, scan it, and finalize it digitally.
I’ve also started sketching out everything before I hit the computer. It has helped me kill bad ideas and remember good ones. Trust me, you can go to la-la-land when you’re doing this kind of creative work on a computer, so a paper full of even the messiest notes and sketches helps anchor you and keep you on track. Moleskine daily planner, lots of legal pads, blue pens, and highlighters! Always!
5. Do you have any tips or resources for aspiring designers?
Tips. I could go on forever. But my main point is if you want to be a great designer in today’s world you must master the programs. If you don’t know how to use them, how can you execute your brilliant ideas? Spend time with the programs and get to know them. Create art for fun in Photoshop and Illustrator. Ditch Word and set all of your documents with care in InDesign. Not only is it good practice, but you will enjoy it.
Never forget about good old pencil and paper as a starting point. Look at everything. Everything is inspiration. Including Netflix (scrolling through all of those movie and show covers does something to you!). Go to a bookstore and look at real books. But don’t copy.
Look at fashion week slideshows for pattern, color, and texture inspiration. Listen to music and admire album cover art. What I’m trying to say is that ideas are everywhere, and books are a huge part of pop culture. Know what’s out there, and then do your own thing with what’s available to you.
Resources: lynda.com for learning programs (I even think you can use Lynda for free at NYC libraries!); myfonts.com for typography (really nice to browse–the endless scroll could fill an entire afternoon); Pinterest for creating mood boards. This is just a starting point. But if you know how to use the programs, understand typography, and have creative vision you’re in good shape.
Try to get an internship as soon as possible. The one at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is exceptional. If you can’t get one, then redesign books for fun and put them in your portfolio. If you want to be a book designer you have to be active about it. Use creative networks like Behance and Dribbble. You can do this!
Thanks so much to Liz for sharing her insight with us. It was a pleasure to have her!