Designing book covers for a series: Stuart Bache interview

Stuart Bache is Art Director of Books Covered, a design agency for publishers, independent authors and literary agents. Here Norah Myers interviews him on designing book covers for a series and more.

1. Tell us about a recent cover design project you worked on. Which part was the most rewarding?

My most recent project was a series style for five Edmund Crispin reissues being published in the US through Ipso. Designing a series style can be tough, especially when they’re reissues too, because you need to plan them as a set and know that your design direction can work across more than just one or two titles. My technique is to design the cover with the longest title first, that way you won’t get stuck when you reach that novel and there isn’t enough space to fit the text on it (which will mean you then have to redo the previous covers to match). The rewarding part is seeing them sitting next to one another as a complete set.

2. In which circumstances do designers need to design different covers for the same book?

There was a time when a paperback cover was just a smaller version of the hardback design (which was affectionately named a ‘shrink-down’), but that seems to be quite rare these days. Paperbacks are seen as a new opportunity to reach readers who didn’t buy the hardback and, although there may be similarities to it’s predecessor (such as font choice and author branding), a new design is created. Occasionally we have to create two different covers for the same book if we’re selling the novel in Australia and they’re not overly fond of the UK edition.

3. As a designer, how do you work with editors and other stakeholders when creating book covers? When is the best point in the process for the designer to be involved?

Personally I like to be involved from the very beginning. A good designer should be more than someone who just works from a brief, they should create a dialogue with the editor, keep up-to-date on current design trends (within and outside of publishing) and be open to ideas that aren’t their own. More often than not, designers are involved only after the briefing process – which could simply be because of time-constraints and the sheer number of titles – which I think is a missed opportunity. This is why, at Books Covered, we talk directly to the author/agent and offer advice on both the design direction and the briefing process.

4. Who signs off the final cover of a book? Is it more of an editorial or design decision, and how are conflicts of interest normally managed?

That depends on who you’re working with. I work with a lot of independent authors and publishers, both are very different. With publishers, the final decisions are made in their infamous cover meetings; where the editorial, sales and marketing departments discuss what they think would work best (the author always has input somewhere in the process). Whereas independent authors will be involved throughout and, for the most part, the final decision is mutual. This is likely due to them approaching me and Books Covered directly.

5. Which upcoming covers do you look forward to designing?

I have had the honour to work very closely with the literary agents PFD and their burgeoning imprint Ipso, so there are always plenty of backlist titles from wonderful authors to design covers for. Next up are the Dennis Wheatley books, 52 in total I believe… it will be a lot of work but I’m very much looking forward to it.


Stuart Bache designStuart has worked in publishing (both as an in-house designer and freelancer) for over ten years across a varied and diverse list of literary, children’s and mass market fiction for a host of publishers including HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton, Canongate and Simon & Schuster.