The Bookseller’s Joel Rickett offers the scoop on what it’s like to sit in on a jacket cover meeting at a publishing house. In these notoriously fraught affairs, Rickett writes, editors, marketeers, publicists and sales staff plough through piles of cover mock-ups fresh from the art department. Dozens of jackets may be quickly approved, but sooner or later there’s a stumbling block: the editorial director loves a cover, but the sales director hates it. The designer is sent back to their Mac with a brief to incorporate 17 new elements from previous bestsellers, while simultaneously trying to make it look “more original”. Most of the decision-making is internal unless someone like Amanda Ross, producer of the Richard & Judy book club show or B&N’s Sessalee Hensley objects, and then they go back to the drawing board.
But now there are more options, especially with regards to backlist titles. “Research can be useful to take an author up a level,” says Ed Christie, sales and marketing director of Transworld and RH Children’s Books. “Sometimes publishers can get stuck in a loop, and research breaks the cycle. You’ve still got to be bold, not slavish, but you can learn from a particular market.” The new-look Vintage Classics, launching in the UK this August, also benefited from outside market research. Vintage publishing director Rachel Cugnoni said the groups “wanted something they could trust, that wasn’t too overstated, with a sense of aesthetic style. Books that would feel as happy in Heal’s as in bookshops.”
But as Egmont publisher Helen Stables pointed out, no matter how solid the research is, it cannot supplant good design skills. “Any data you get needs to be translated by an excellent art director into a bestselling cover. It is a guide to target audience preference, not a substitute for creative excellence.”