What’s your specific position at Catapult? Can you give us a general overview of your position and/or describe what a standard workweek looks like?
I remember hiding behind a book at certain points in my life when I wasn’t sure what to do and finding comfort in books being there for me.
Can you take us through your design process, starting with where you go for inspiration when beginning a new project?
What does the book-design timeline look like? At what points in the process do you interact with other departments?
DL: I find that it really varies! Generally speaking, I’m given around a week to complete a round of four to five cover options for each title, then pass it along to my creative director, Nicole. She shares the cover options with various stakeholders; then feedback is collected and bounced back to me. This is repeated until a cover is approved. Nicole facilitates all communication between our department and others, so I’ll let her speak to what this process looks like!
LE: I will get an assignment from Nicole, including a cover memo and manuscript, as well as a request to see comps in about a week (“comps” is short for “composite layouts,” which are page layouts of the proposed designs). If those are good, she will show it to stakeholders in the company. If everyone likes the same option, it can be approved and sent to the author, but often there will be ideas on how to improve the design and revisions will be made until we land on something that works for everybody. The author has final approval, and we always want to be sure the cover is something we are all happy with.
NC: Shortly after the season list is announced (which is a mostly final list of the books we’ll be publishing in fall and spring), I will start receiving the cover memos and other reading material about each forthcoming title. I read through that material to get a sense of each book so I can then assign each title to the designer who I feel is best suited to it and select the projects I will be designing myself. From there, deadlines are provided. Once the designs come in, I select the strongest options, provide any additional art direction needed, and request edits to prepare the covers to be shown to the stakeholders who weigh in on our covers. After that, the covers are shared with the publisher, editor, and heads of publicity and marketing. Feedback is collected, and I, the editor, and our publisher decide upon what we as a group feel strongly about—whether we have one design that really shines or perhaps a small selection to share with the author. The actual timeline from start to finish varies depending on the project.
What design tools, digital or analog, do you use the most, and how do you use them?
DL: It really varies depending on the cover project! I’ve been relying a lot on my iPad for illustration and hand-lettering. The Procreate app has a bunch of different brushes, so I’m able to switch between styles quite easily, which is nice. I love a good crafting challenge and enjoy using analog materials whenever I can—my X-Acto knife and stock paper have become quite handy in the past. Ultimately, though, everything I do ends up back in Photoshop, where I compile and edit all of my designs.
LE: I always start out with a pen and paper. After writing down cover details and thumbnailing, I draw a small rectangle representing the cover with a rough version of my design ideas. Then I move the drawing into my computer. I primarily use Photoshop and InDesign as digital tools, often testing out type layouts in InDesign first to see how they work with images. I also occasionally use an iPad for screen mirroring and illustration. Other tools I use are a printer, a scanner, watercolors, and a marker or brush pen for lettering. I’ve even tried torn paper or other types of media when it fit the book. My materials will often be driven by the concept I am pursuing.
NC: My tool kit consists of many of the items mentioned by both Dana and Lexi. My most used tools are Photoshop, a scanner, vellum paper, marker paper, and India ink with a selection of brushes for hand-lettering and illustration that I will then color digitally. I also use Tombow brush-pens for lettering. My illustration work is created by hand using ink, charcoal, oils, conte crayons, etc., or by iPad, and is often digitally manipulated in some way. I also like to have a nice broad workspace tabletop, whether in my office or on the porch, with some sunlight and some wildlife outside the windows—and quiet, comfortable nooks for focused reading.
I try to be as spongelike as possible and move around the world with as much curiosity as possible.
What would you recommend for folks interested in breaking into the industry and book design as a career?
DL: Breaking into publishing can be really difficult. Know that any potential rejection isn’t personal or a reflection of your value! I’ve found online spaces like Blk + Brwn Book Designers and People of Color in Publishing really welcoming and great resources for job posts and general publishing knowledge if you identify as part of those communities. To get better acquainted with cover design, I highly recommend online publications like Spine magazine, The Casual Optimist, and Lit Hub’s design section, which observe design trends and publish write-ups by cover designers.
LE: I’ve found that going to events and being a part of a community has been beneficial and inspiring. In design, there are often in-person talks you can attend, or recordings of those talks you can watch, that will allow you to hear from working professionals about their processes. Most major cities have an American Institute of Graphic Arts, Ladies Wine and Design chapters, or meetups with other professionals that allow you to build a network or group of friends on the same path as you. A number of organizations do portfolio reviews as well, and it’s great to get someone’s eyes on your work. After the review, they might connect you with a publisher they think you’d fit with, and if not, you get more practice at showing your work. Submitting to design competitions like Grafis, Communication Arts, Type Directors Club, and PRINT magazine can be helpful too. If you win or get a merit honor, it is a line on your résumé that shows you are respected in your industry. Continuing ed classes are great too! A lot of institutions offer design classes that allow you to go to school outside of work hours and learn from inspiring people. It’s also wonderful to have a mentor, which is an area I have been fortunate in. If you are in school and you have a strong relationship with a teacher, take advantage of that opportunity and show them your work whenever you can. If there is someone you admire in the book-design industry, reach out and let them know. They might not be hiring, but they may know someone who is, or they could give you their opinion on your work.
NC: All of the above! Plus, I recommend reaching out to art directors you’d like to work with and designers whose work inspires you to request mentorship or a portfolio review. If your portfolio does not include books, I recommend purchasing a few or taking some from the library, reading them closely, creating some cover designs, and sharing them as unpublished designs in your portfolio and even on your social platforms. Be prepared to talk about your decisions from the typeface selection to your art research and chosen artwork. This will give an idea of how you problem solve. Type skills are extremely important, so I’d recommend taking some type classes online if you do not have traditional design schooling.
Eliza Harris is an editorial assistant for Catapult, Social Media Manager + Assistant Poetry Editor forDIAGRAM, and Director of Communications for The Speakeasy Project. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and is now based in Seattle, Washington. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @elizaeharris.