Creating a cover style – Kate Forrester

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By Kate Forrester

We all judge a book by its cover, right? I know I do.♥

Having designed and illustrated books for a decade now, I still relish the satisfaction that comes with spotting my work on a shelf in Waterstones, lifting down a book and holding the finished object and feeling the special finishes and quality of the paper. I imagine the reader running their eyes across the shelf, in search for the perfect novel to read in bed or on a beach or in a busy train on the way to work. I often think about what will catch their eye and what really makes a book stand out from the crowd.

I have been lucky enough to design extensive series of books for best-selling women’s fiction authors including Kathy Lette, Lucy Diamond, Jenny Colgan, and Marian Keyes. These women are funny, intelligent and write A LOT of books. So the pressure is on to do justice to their craft and entice the reader into choosing them from so many others in this popular genre. It is my job to develop a unique brand for each author with a style that sets them apart.

Surprisingly I don’t often get to read the books before tackling the cover design. Sometimes the book hasn’t even been finished yet, but usually there just isn’t the time. So I am given a rough synopsis of the story and then have a good chat with the art director at the publishing house who usually knows which ideas they want to explore, based on their meetings in-house. We agree on a couple of options and I draw out a few simple pencil sketches to show the team. This stage is super rough, just looking at layout, the size and balance of title and author name and position of the illustration. I might throw in a few colour swatches at this stage to show my ideas, but decisions on colour are generally left until the very end. Then, if the publishers like what they see, I work up one design to something more beautiful and presentable to show the author and sales teams. Then there are usually just a couple of minor design tweaks and sometimes a frustrating amount of colour changes! Once approved by the publishers, author, agents sales and marketing (I know!), I often have help to design the spine and back cover and hand-letter quotes and subheadings for the front cover.

I don’t usually get commissioned a whole series of books at one time but if the sales are good for the first book, this can lead to many covers or even the redesign of an entire back catalogue. Lucy Diamond has written a huge amount of successful novels for which I have designed the covers and she is doing so well that I have just recently been commissioned to redesign the whole series again; to move her ‘look’ along and modernise the original books while keeping with her recognisable – and best-selling – style.

Jenny Colgan is another author for whom I have designed a whole series. The first book we did went through many changes and modifications before the cover was approved. But after that, it is just a case of replicating the lettering style for each book and balancing out the series with a variety of colours, while keeping them relevant to each story. After doing the first couple of books, I tend to feel so familiar with the author’s visual style, it is a relatively simple process for me to keep all the books on brand.

I think the reason I am often called on to do these sort of covers is the trend for hand-lettering combined with drawing. My specialty is bridging the gap between the graphic design and illustration elements of cover design. So rather than making an image and then finding a font or letterer who can complement the work, I can offer the whole package and develop both at the same time. My work is all hand-drawn but then scanned and coloured digitally which makes it very easy to make alterations and last-minute amendments.

With the rise of ebooks and digital publishing, I panicked a little that cover design would become obsolete. But I honestly feel like it has just meant that the publishing houses have had to up their game and the printed versions of books seem to have got more beautiful in recent years. They tend to use  more illustration, lovely foil finishes and hand-lettering on spectacular hardbacks and special editions so books are more tactile and luxurious in their traditional forms. So that’s good news for me, as well as for the talented authors for whom I work…and anyone else who chooses to judge a book by its cover.

Kate Forrester is a freelance illustrator, designer and hand-lettering artist based in Brighton, UK.

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