Stephanie Moss: The interior design process is very collaborative and we work closely with the authors. When the manuscript is submitted to editorial, the authors also share art, design notes and reference material for the different types of pages throughout the book. Our first task is to then flesh out those ideas into the designs for the pages that appear most frequently. Afterward, we’ll focus on the more unique pages throughout the book. These pages often involve partnering with talented illustrators, like Marie Lu, Meinart and Stuart Wade, to create Hanna’s diary pages and the ship schematics and logos. Each set of designs is then shared with the editor and authors where we’ll discuss possible changes and finesse each idea until it best captures the vision for the book. After the main pages are approved, we’ll begin bringing all the different components together and lay out the entire book. This is also the time when we fine tune some of the one-off page designs.
Ray Shappell: Yes, indeed. The Illuminae Files are ultimately their brainchild, so our goal in designing the series was to enhance their unique storytelling with a one-of-a-kind package. This series is more technically complicated than any other, and requires a huge collaboration with everyone involved. Once editorial and design approve a cover, we share it with the authors and value their opinions through each step of the process.
Creating the cover for Gemina was actually a breeze, compared to the process for Illuminae, because I already had an established series design. When I start a new series, I always think about how the current design would work for a second and third book. (Or more if we’re lucky.) So when we finally nailed down the concept for book 1 in The Illuminae Files—a brightly colored explosion interacting with the redacted documents from the story through acetate and a printed case—I also had a rough proposal for Gemina and the third book in the series. When Jay and Amie were in the offices celebrating Illuminae’s launch last November, I shared the proposed visuals for Gemina and they loved it!!! Coincidentally, the color of the blue explosion fits perfectly with the description of a black hole in Gemina. And the proposed image for book three is…XXXXXXXXX (redacted).
What is your favorite part of your job?
Ray Shappell: My favorite part of the job is creative problem solving. After reading the manuscript, I have so many concepts and design ideas. I love sketching them all out—picking out typefaces, colors, textures, illustrations, hand lettering, or hiring an illustrator, photographer, or CG artists—all to match the tone of the story. But since I’m not the only one involved, there will be multiple moments throughout the cover design process that require finding a new solution that addresses the needs and concerns of everyone involved, while maintaining creative integrity of the original concept and design. This is extremely fun and rewarding when you are able to make a final piece of artwork that becomes the book jacket. The Illuminae Files is a great example of this working at it’s best – the end product is a much better version of the original concept.
Stephanie Moss: The best part of my job is collaborating with a lot of talented people. Particularly with Gemina, it was exciting to pull together everyone’s ideas then work with artists and a wonderful designer, Heather Kelly, and see those ideas get interpreted in really neat ways.
What would surprise a layman to know about your work?
Ray Shappell: I love keeping physical authenticity of design over digital effects when possible. So in the case of Gemina, I actually set the files up clean on the computer first. However, once copy is approved, I then print out the covers and take a bunch of Sharpie markers, highlighters and tracing paper over to a light box. I cross out everything, scribble over the redacted areas, and make it messy. Then I scan it back into the computer and continue to line up all if the sharpie marks over the type on a different layer. I think it looks more realistic than if I used a digital marker.
What did you most want this one to convey?
Ray Shappell: I think that a successful jacket does a few things:
- It intrigues you and draws you in, making you pick it up and want to learn more about the story.
- It has great design (visual balance of graphic elements, typography, artwork, color, etc.)
- It stands out from the competition in a new and fresh way
- It informs you about the content from a very quick glance.
For The Illuminae series, our goal was to portray as much of the interior as we could on the cover, since it’s such a creative and unique story telling experience. Using the acetate to reveal and redact text from the case underneath was our solution for showing pieces of the story—with layers of actual text and phrases—in a new and exciting manner. I hope you enjoy the secret messages that are printed in the negative of the opaque white ink!
How has your approach to designing covers changed over time?
Ray Shappell: I’m hoping to push what’s possible in our YA market. I know how to make covers that will be liked and approved easily. But I prefer the challenge to create covers that push the limits of what we have seen before. Yes, they may require extra convincing and more energy, but the end result is a cover that really stands out from the rest.
I also have been incorporating more technology into my designs. I’ve created animated gif covers for Illuminae and Gemina, but I just finished working with a CG studio to create a fully animated cover for an upcoming series. Along with an augmented reality app, it brings the print book to life! It’s AMAZING and should be out shortly!!illuminaefiles.com
- Where’d You Go Bernadette?
- Self Help
- The Vacationers
Where to start? In this particular case, the reader should feel free to judge a book by its cover: the contents may turn your worldview upside down, or at least challenge you.
Designer Paul Sahre and art director Jason Booher hit it out of the park – this book could sit under glass at the Whitney and fit right in. Great design is such a helpful tool for a publicist to get the media’s attention as well as to stand out in a bookstore.
Now that we’ve gotten the reader to pick the book up, what should they expect between the covers? This is where the fun really begins. Chuck is a brilliant cultural commentator, not only in the way that he makes a point or constructs an argument, but in how he gets the reader thinking. But What If We’re Wrong? has something for everyone: literature, music, politics, science, philosophy and more. I’m not a sports person, but the chapter on football is fantastic and now I can drop that knowledge on my brother-in-law (finally). Other readers will likewise learn a few things, without question.
How would you describe your job and how you worked on But What If We’re Wrong? to a layman? What are some of the steps you take when you first start working on a title?
I’ll start with the end goal of my job: to have a reader discover a new book and get interested enough to buy it.
Booksellers, media and social media influencers are my outside partners to help me reach this goal. Booksellers have events. The media does reviews or interviews. Social media allows us to talk to readers or those they care about directly. My job, alongside my brilliant team, is to pull all of these levers for a book’s publication.
When a dynamic and popular writer like Chuck pens a provocative, forward-thinking book that can be read by a wide variety of people, I’ve got a lot to work with. I collaborated with author, publisher, editor and agent to set goals of how we wanted to reach readers and the message we wanted to convey. We started working on this early –about nine months (or more) ago. It’s exciting to be almost at the point of publication after all of this anticipation in-house.
Describe the book in one sentence.
A book that makes a persuasive case for the importance of doubt – sorely needed in an age where we think we know everything.
Do you have a favorite line from the book, or a section you particularly love?
While there is no material benefit to being right about a future you will not experience “there are intrinsic benefits,” Klosterman writes, “to constantly probing the possibility that our assumptions about the future might be wrong: humility and wonder. It’s good to view reality as being beyond our understanding, because it is. And it’s exciting to imagine the prospect of a reality that cannot be imagined, because that’s as close to pansophical omniscience as we will ever come.”
How closely do you work with the editor, art department, etc. when working on a title?
All members of our imprint work closely together. Publicity and marketing is the midwife in a book’s birth. The book has been gestating for a while– being written, edited, designed, printed, sold in by reps etc. – but then the labor begins, in the form of a publicity tour which can be physically exhausting and maybe even painful at times. But publicists are there at the crucial moment of publication day (a book’s birthday!) and when it’s well-received and sells lots of copies, I personally feel happy and proud by association.
(I might be saying this because my daughter kept me up last night and Chuck and his wife just had a baby, but I think the analogy is apt!)
Read first post in this series here, and find out more about But What If We’re Wrong here:
You’ve worked with Chuck Klosterman for years – how has your approach to designing his cover changed over time?
It’s remained remarkably consistent. This comes from the systematic approach I have always taken with his covers. There are a number of rules that have evolved over the years, cover to cover: starting with the typeface, HELVETICA BOLD (all caps). There is usually some structure involving the typography that either interacts with or is set apart from a conceptual image. All of the images we have created for Chucks covers are oblique is a way that I think feels right for the author.
The new cover is a departure in that there is no imagery and we went upper and lower case with the type. But then again, this book is a bit of a departure for Chuck so the cover reflects that. He is dealing with some big ideas here so there is a monumental quality to the cover design that is inverted. Yet it still feels like a Chuck cover.
What were some of your other ideas for this cover? Why did you choose to pursue this particular one?
There was a cosmic thumbs up (or down) depending on how you held the book. There was a typographic design superimposed on a photograph of the cosmos. There was a pretzel in the shape of an infinity symbol and there was a fallen over question mark. I think the best cover won out.
Do you interact with the author when planning your design?
We have never had any direct contact during the design process. His reactions/concerns are communicated through the publisher (editor and the creative director). They sort of act as a buffer, which I’ve come to view as a good thing. When designer and author get together it often ends badly.
What is your favorite part of your job? What’s the hardest?
Covers are interesting because they need to do a number of things at the same time that are sort of at cross purposes.
On a purely functional level a jacket is there to protect the book, but I also like to think of a book cover as a door. It’s the beginning of the experience of reading.
A book cover should be appropriate, it should feel right (in an unexpected way) but it should also create an experience of its own.
Then there is the packaging (selling) of a book. Covers help sell books, but as the designer I can’t be concerned about that when I am designing the book. This is the publisher’s job. For me this concern translates more as trying to draw people to the cover in some way. So a good cover should engage.
Read first post in this series here, and find out more about But What If We’re Wrong here: