And so I discover my designer

Do you remember our little debate seven months ago (that long!), about the design on my book’s jacket cover?

As usual, you didn’t hold back. (And may that never change!) Thus dafna, for example:

… it has the right parts, but they are not in the right place nor in the right proportions for the reasons listed. a few tweaks and you might have had a more memorable cover…

And then, in a follow-up comment:

as a first time author, you were probably assigned to a designer, perhaps “junior designer” who was over-worked and under paid.

Well, as a connoisseur of irony, I can’t help but delight in the one I’ve just discovered. The first hardcover copies of Hannibal and Me are out now, and my agent and I were holding them in our hands for our first look at the real thing (a feeling you e-bookers will never know. 😦 )

And there, on the back flap, we saw it:

Jacket design by Devin Washburn/Rodrigo Corral design

Wow, said my agent, Rodrigo Corral is huge.

I wouldn’t know anything about this, but in the world of book design, that agency might be the Apple, or the Ferrari, or the Le Corbusier, or whatever might be the appropriate analogy. And I actually do see a certain visual DNA inheritance in my cover, compared to some of the others you see here, wouldn’t you say?

So Riverhead actually had shelled out for the best. I wonder how that might have influenced my own reaction, and yours, if we had known. Do weigh in.

The only puzzle remains: why did Riverhead not simply tell us?

25 thoughts on “And so I discover my designer

  1. Book covers draw the eye (which was what, I believe, Dafna was speaking to) and, the publisher (I suspect) hopes will lead the potential buyer to examine the book closer. From your examples, it appears your designer leans toward bright colors and simple/clean designs. It’s difficult for me to say whether I would be more tempted to pick up the book (to peruse before buying) based on the cover or jacket design. Especially in the case of your book. I am somewhat turned off by the design, personally, because it appears to be geared toward children at first glance.

    In the designer’s favor, I point to Amazon where “Bush on the Couch” with the simple design (big ? over the Bush profile) is sold out while the new cover version is not.

    • “… bright colors and simple/clean designs…”

      Exactly. That’s what I meant by “DNA inheritance”. Now, if I had designed my own cover, I would have chosen unbright (perhaps antique?) or classic colors, but still simple/clean designs (this won’t come as a surprise). But all in all, I see the inspiration in mine and these others.

  2. I like the irony, but I’m not surprised. I couldn’t say I *like* your cover; I wouldn’t want it framed on my wall, or hanging in a gallery, but that’s not the criteria for a book cover.

    It’s attention grabbing, and memorable – even oddly haunting. An author friend of mine says the hardest part of being an author is accepting that the cover and promo material is a function of the marketeers craft, not a furtherence of the author’s art.

    But then, I like your cover anyway. It’s grown on me in the time it’s taken me to type this.

    • “… the hardest part of being an author is accepting that the cover and promo material is a function of the marketeers craft, not a furtherance of the author’s art….”

      Well, Tom, your friend is a wise one. Take the marketing copy (the text on the flap and under the Amazon listing), for example: those words were not written by me. And they couldn’t have been, for I wouldn’t have written them that way.

      But I’ve told myself that this is where a division of labor is necessary: Those marketing folks know something, so I’ve got to let them do their thing. And that designer knows something, so I’ve got to let him do his thing.

  3. I generally think that book’s covers in USA are ugly, especially compared to book’s covers in France. So, maybe the best designers in USA are like the ordinary ones in Europe?! That said, yours is not bad at all… Much more beautiful than most of the american books!


    • Monique, I’ve had that same reaction with respect to German books: They are also more beautiful than American books, I find. (For instance, many have that old-fashioned little string-bookmark, which I love.)
      Perhaps Europe, or the continent, is a book culture that demands a different aesthetic.

    • Very cool link Jim M. – I’d love if everyone took the taste test!

      i read the first comparison and agreed… then i thought to cover the authors comments and see if we came to the same conclusion.

      half way down the list and so far, i’m in complete agreement.

      it’s the eternal question for creative types, is beauty really completely subjective?

    • A comparison of US and UK bookcovers:

      Jim, thanks for that link. I went through the list and while I was reading the author’s commentary, I began to wonder…

      Do the cover illustrations truly reflect what is in the book? Or are they simply marketing strategies aimed at gathering attention? Idealistically speaking, I would hope both though I would probably be disappointed.

  4. As a bit of a philistine, I’ve never paid much attention to book covers–although I’m told that they are crucial to success these days. To answer your question, my opinion hasn’t changed now that I know that a name designer did the work. Should it?

    • No, it shouldn’t. Mine hasn’t necessarily changed either.

      It’s just odd that the publisher didn’t bring this up in my conversation with him back then. It might have helped me then to know whom they had hired.

  5. hi andreas,

    your enthusiastic posts about the release have been fun reading! so i hope my comment doesn’t suck some wind out.

    my ears must have been burning…

    i never said they didn’t spend a lot of money on the cover 🙂

    but who is Devin Washburn

    he is not Rodrigo Corral, the art director. mr. washburn works for the studio in some capacity. designer, junior designer? who knows…

    i stand by my original opinion. it’s very good, but not great. maybe if Mr. Corral does your next cover?

    perhaps, i’m mistaken and the art director assigned to mr. washburn was very experienced and hands on?

    i love your links. people may want to click on the book covers to see more.

    here’s a nice example of Rodrigo Corral’s work:

    • Decoded is beautiful indeed.

      I take your points above, dafna. In fact, I’m not exactly sure how it works, what with “art directors” and “designers” and so forth. My assumption is that Devin Washburn designs to the standards of Rodrigo Corral, and that those standards are high because it’s … Rodrigo Corral.

      Anyway, “very good, but not great” is probably a fair judgment.

  6. my previous comment has two links, so you have to approve it.

    if you go to the rodrigo corral website, you can also see that “wide awake” and “survivor” have different art directors, they don’t list the graphic designer.

    • Well, since you brought it up, can you explain for the rest of us how all that works?

      How many people are involved in a design like this, and what are their titles and roles?

    • Hi andreas,

      for your design, i would guess, the primary people involved were:

      1. client = Riverhead, yourself (as the clients must be pleased for the design company to flourish)
      2. graphic designer = Devin Washburn (unsure of his exact title or status)
      3. illustrator = you definitely had one
      4. art director = may or may not have over seen mr. washburn’s work

      Rodrigo Corral is both owner and creative director of his studio. he has recently been hired as “Creative Director” for a big publishing house.

      here’s a link if you are really that curious about the multitude of different design related positions:

      positions often overlap, depending on the size of a company. sometimes the difference is in title and salary only. unless “The Economist” outsources, they have in-house many, many different designer positions from the link.

      i suspect that in his new position, mr. corral will be doing less hands on designing and more co-ordinating of the entire process.

      there is sometimes a general disdain for the marketing and advertising process, but design done well can most certainly be raised to an art form. the jay-z book would conventionally have a “glam shot” of a person (faces sell), mr. corral’s concept and execution attracts and communicates the subject matter in a split second and is timeless. that’s great design.

  7. I still have reservations about your elephant–they are such beautiful animals, but yours looks curled-up and fetal somehow. But I love the international orange and hearing the designer is at the top of his profession has made me appreciate the layout more–just like when a friend serves a wine and then pronounces it to be expensive.

    You could have greater cause for perturbation. I am a designer and a writer but my upcoming book was both designed and written by other people ( I only made the vehicles out of garbage!

    • I know: the elephant has its trunk between its legs, which is the weirdest possible body language for an elephant.

      Your book sounds fun: we might like it around the house, because I’m always building thingibobbies out of whatchamacallits with the kids.

      What do you mean, it was “both designed AND written by other people”.

      (Are you therefore Wayne Ferrebee? Don’t answer, if you don’t want to out yourself.)

    • That’s me: “Hieronymo” is more of a web sobriquet than a given name. I did indeed write instructions on how to make the toys, but a ghost writer rewrote most of my descriptions to be more child-friendly. I guess the publisher did not like technical terms like “thingibobbies.”

      Safety orange and international orange look pretty close to me, but I am not going to argue with somebody capable of splitting oranges with his naked eye!

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