Monday, 9 July 2012

E-Book Cover Design Part Two: The Designer's Perspective [A Guest Post]

[A follow-up to Thursday's post, by Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo, in which they discuss the commissioning and creation of a cover for a book published in electronic form only]

Kindle has not killed the book cover and couldn’t do so if it tried, at least according to Ian Shimkoviak of

The designer, who did the cover for our e-book Tastes Like Human, says that despite the Chicken-Little hype surrounding the rise of e-book technology and its threat to print, the industry’s pros see it as just as another facet added to what they already do. It’s the addition of a side dish, not the elimination of the main course.

A glimpse of the many designs at Ian's site, where he also posts alternative version and unused sketches

We had a chat via email with Ian about the effect e-books are having on his business, both now and in the future. Here are edited excerpts of that conversation:

How much of an impact has the rise of e-books had on your industry?

Not much. We service both traditional houses and self-publishers as well as work closely with Amazon and their publishing programs. Everything needs a face, a package. E-books affected us in as much as we had to familiarize ourselves and start to offer it as a legitimate service to our clients. We have done a handful of e-books for traditional publishers, but we do them all the time for self published authors.

So you don’t view e-books as a threat to your industry?

I think e-books will work alongside printed books and that there is no real competition at this time. There will no doubt be a generation of youngsters who only know e-books, but not in my lifetime. Print is not going anywhere. It may annoy us, affect some day to day here and there, but mainly it will just get assimilated into the larger process of what it means to create a marketable book cover.

Would you approach the design of an e-book cover differently than you would for print only?

The idea that something will be available only as an e-book will change things in as much as there is no back cover or flaps and the file need not be press ready and simply look good on screen.

Aside from that, many people doing e-books will ask that the title type be very big and legible at a small thumbnail size. This is not a critical request in my opinion as most reader devices clearly list the name of the product next to it in a legible font. Most people will probably click on something because the image is strong and enticing rather than the type being massive. So this request I often find naive and irritating as it really sets the tone for a cover that is ugly and obnoxious looking.

I'm not saying that big type is ugly, I'm just saying that if you want something to be readable at a thumbnail size it needs to be bold, blocky and usually a sans serif or a face with very open counters etc. basically you need to start to worry about the last thing you should be worried about as a designer: How your cover will look as a small half-inch image.

What makes a good e-book cover? 

In many ways, I feel that a good e-book cover, in terms of size consideration, just has a powerful image to grab you and that the text becomes a secondary issue. But that’s just me after designing many, many e-books and reading many as well and hearing that phrase [call for large title fonts] repeated like a mantra. They just read on some random website without actually thinking about it.

Sorry for the bitterness but it's a major peeve. Otherwise, the actual design process is the same. You need to read the text, or get familiar with it, research competitive titles, and then start to dive into possible solutions.

What about costs? Do they differ significantly between the two types of covers?

There is an expectation that an e-book cover should cost less to design than a traditional printed cover, but the fact is that the same general amount of energy goes into it – sometimes more. The idea is that since there is no flap and back cover it will take less time, but really a flap and back cover takes little time and not so much energy compared to the creation of a cover.

Does not seeing your work in paper/hardback form lessen work satisfaction? Do you think book designers will be able to wholly embrace e-books in this regard?

No. Never. At least not in our lifetimes. The satisfaction of holding a physical book in your hands after months of work is never going to be matched by seeing a shitty one inch thumbnail of your cover on Amazon.

I think that you will still put the energy into creating an attractive design, but you know that it will never be as pleasing as seeing it come off the press. The joy of applying print treatments and seeing how they come together on a final piece is wonderful. You don't have that and a million other sensory experiences with an e-book cover. Unless you consider looking at miniatures and swiping your finger a great joy in life.

How would you compare the experience of working with self-published e-book authors versus established publishing houses?

Both can be equally annoying and equally smooth and easy to work with. The process is different up front. With self pubs, the author is fully available to you for questions. With traditional pubs you get a lot of up front material like a design brief, a tip sheet about competitive titles, notes form the editors etc. With self pubs the actual book may be poorly edited or lack a real market etc. With traditional publishing that is not so much an issue.

In general there is less pressure with a self publisher for me. I don't second guess myself and often get away with design things I know most publishers would never let me do.

Self pubs can be hard to work with in that they lack the ability to express what they want. A seasoned art director will guide you to a successful cover. A self pub will usually not have a budget for rights managed art or unique photography or other art. A traditional publisher will have a decent budget for this.

Stupid shit happens on both ends of the spectrum.

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Our thanks to Ian Shimkoviak at Book Designers. Ian and fellow book designer Andrew Brozyna talk about book design on their podcasts--give them a listen!

You can check out his handiwork--and ours--by checking out Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys’ Book of Bitingly Funny Lists on Amazon or Smashwords, and at our website:


Ian Koviak said...

Thanks for the opportunity to express myself about book design and ebooks etc. I know I may sound bitter, but overall I have the funnest job in the world. It is going through major changes and it can get tiresome at times dealing with so many different angles: Self pubs vs. traditional pubs, ebooks vs. printed books, good vs. bad literature etc etc. It's hard to keep up and stay afloat when things are shifting. And it's not always clear if it's for the better. Often things seem good or "cool", but then you start to see the "other side". Years back I was totally against ebooks. Now I read many things on the iPad/iPhone. But my house is still FULL of books. Many of which I own because I appreciate them as art. Someday, on a lonely beach somewhere, when my work is done, I will crack a few of them open and give them a read.

If your readers are interested, a friend of mine, fellow book designer Andrew Brozyna and myself conduct a silly little podcast dedicated to book design/publishing. Give a listen here:

JRSM said...

Thanks for that, Ian. I'll add the podcast link to the post: I can't believe I didn't think to do that before!

Anonymous said...

Loved this interview with Ian, extremely insightful and love learning more from his perspective! Going to check out his podcast, too.