Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Events: Children's Literary Cafe - Book Jackets

Last time I wrote about one of these I attracted a little bit of controversy - let's see if I can make it through unscathed this time!

While half of the country was digging out from Snowmageddon this weekend, NYC had a few flurries and some vicious winds. Yet that was apparently enough bad weather to knock the subways out of whack for awhile, meaning that instead of arriving 10 minutes early for this month's Cafe, I was almost ten minutes late, but the first speaker, John Rocco, didn't seem too far into his remarks, so I don't think I missed much more than introductions.

John Rocco, probably most famous now for illustrating the covers for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, went over a bit of his biography and how he ended up on track as the "re-do" guy. He was illustrating another Hyperion book when he was sent the original version of The Lightning Thief which had a rather un-inspiring cover. When asked if he could re-do the jacket, he said "of course!" despite never having done a jacket before! After sales of The Lightning Thief shot through the roof, he's re-done several more covers, either when the original jacket just wasn't working, or updating a cover for a new printing.

In the wider blogosphere discussion about race and representation on book covers, it's been said often that jacket illustrators don't often read the manuscript of the book they're given. I didn't have a chance in the question portion to ask if this really was standard, but John says he reads every book he's given to work on. He tries not to show faces, choosing to either obscure them shadow or have a character facing away from the reader, appearing to look into the book, which he finds to be more inviting than a character looking out at him. Like I said, I didn't have a chance to ask if his way of doing things was standard or not, but I imagine he might have more leeway than other jacket illustrators because he's currently enjoying quite a bit of prestige and since he's the re-do guy, the publisher's are acknowledging that something didn't work the first time around and they want someone else to take a stab at it.

The next speaker was Laurent Linn, the art director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. He had some really great insights and an entertaining slide show!

He opened by talking a bit about how the dreaded economy has affected the publishing industry - kids books (including YA) are doing slightly better than adult books, but everyone's hurting right now. Because all of the publisher's are still vying for your dime, the sales and marketing departments have a lot more say over cover design now than they used to. Basically, the publishers are scared and don't want to take chances - if covers with girls on them have been selling well, the marketing department doesn't want to veer too far away from that into an arty cover. It's the same reason why all of the movies now are remakes of other movies or media franchises and the shows on Broadway are revivals - the sales and marketing people think we consumers will only spend our hard earned money on sure bets for entertainment.

Laurent works with both picture books and YA books and has a slightly different process for each. With children's picture books, he gives the manuscript to the artist and doesn't say anything else - after all, he's hired that artist because of their skills, and doesn't want to interfere there. The cover is usually the first thing an artist will create so it can go to sales & marketing and be seen by all sorts of other people while the artist finishes the rest of the book.

Of course, sometimes this process is smoother than others. Laurent walked us through the absolutely nightmarish process of completing the cover for the book The Lion Who Hugged - first the artist refined her style over the course of illustrating the book, which meant the cover didn't quite fit with the rest of the book. Then some people didn't like how one character on the cover looked. Then someone decided the cover illustration was too broad and needed to be narrowed, and so on and so forth. I think the illustrator had to totally redo the cover three or four times! What a nightmare.

For YA books, there are different "rules" for what covers "should" look like - children's books obviously are almost always illustrated covers. Middle Grade novels are also usually illustrated. Young Adult novels, however, must have a photographic cover - unless it's fantasy, then you can go back to illustration. Want to convey that your novel is truly a literary work rather than mere entertainment? Add "a novel" under the title.

For photographic YA covers, it seems like Laurent is often the designer for the whole process, especially since he rarely has the budget to order a photoshoot to create original art for a book. So he spends his time going through stock photography and playing with images and fonts in Photoshop until there's a final image everyone is happy with. When books move from hardback to paperback, every title is considered individually when it comes to redesigning the cover. Sometimes serious, literary covers in hardback will be changed to something lighter for the paperback release, since paperbacks are seen as more for pure entertainment than hardbacks.

Several questions were asked in the Q&A session that I didn't get to take down because I was trying to figure out how to phrase my own question (which I finally figured out just when we were told there was time for one more question! Since I was in the back of the room, thanks to being late, I wasn't seen in time). However I did make note of one - there was a question about ebooks and how that's affecting children's publishing. Laurent said that the numbers he'd heard were 20% of adult books being sold were ebooks, while just 2% of YA and MG books being sold were ebooks. However, those numbers represented additional readers - the people downloading ebooks are the ones who wouldn't consider buying a traditional book anyway, so these additional formats are just helping to get books into the hands of more people, which I found quite interesting.

Thanks to the NYPL for hosting another great event!

Regarding my next Twilight post: that's going to be another few days - I've finished the book but now I have to go over my notes and read up on a lot of critical responses to Granger's work; I feel like I'm in college again! I'm definitely enjoying it, but now I'm coming down with a cold (ugh) and tomorrow I have an interview for a new job! So keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow morning, that I do well in the interview and don't sneeze all over everyone there, and regularly scheduled blogging will continue on Thursday (I hope!)


Rachel Stark said...

Thanks for this, Angela - yet again, I wish I'd been there with you!

I'm always delighted and fascinated by the cover (and interior) design process, and I would really have liked to meet those guys.

Good luck with your interview! I want to hear all about this position once you know more.

Angela Craft said...

Not much was mentioned about the interior design process - but Laurent did make another comment in regards to the ebooks - he is also responsible for designing everything from line spacing to margins to page number placements, and all of that hard work is totally stripped out of current e-reader formats.

I will let you know more as soon as I know more :-) The impending snowpocalypse has delayed the interview though - I'm not going in at 2:30 rather than 9. The suspense is killing me!

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