Tuesday, December 15, 2009

happy holidays

A final wrap up here on Shelved Books for 2009. And a big thank you. It's been a interesting experiment showing my design process. Thanks to all who have commented over the past year. Your feedback has been insightful and very kind. I hope to have more regular posting on my own shelved books as well as highlighting featured designers in the new Noted section beginning in 2010.

Shelved Books was a long time coming. It wasn't until I saw killed work popping up on designers websites and places like design:related, that I began to think it would be appropriate to share this process. My aim here hasn't been to only show the work I think is more beautiful, because as you've seen on this site, sometimes what's been left behind was done so for a very good reason....the final was just better. You might think that on a site dedicated to rejected covers I might be against the revision process, but contrary to all evidence, I actually think that the process works well on many books. Case in point, a recent cover I consider one of my favorites to date, was the product of a revision. Not just a tweak, but a complete rethink. I had to delve deeper into the subject matter and the final design was the better for it. I would add to that, there is no substitution for a good relationship with an art director. Good feedback and help during the process is what makes the best covers as well.

Below are pics of my recent holiday mailing. In an age where computers are a designers best friend, online community networks allow me to chat with design colleagues all over the map, and the end-of-print looms above us all...my ideas still begin in a sketchbook, and I hope it always remains that way.

happy holidays!

My nod to books: the side view of an open book in the zeros...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Controversies in Globalization

As book designers, we're in the unique position of working on a wide array of topics in fiction and non fiction. I've also always kept a pretty diverse client list from very, very small to large trade publishers. After all, it's the small publishers that gave me my start.

About a year ago I worked on a title for CQ Press, a politics publisher in Washington, DC that publishes academic and reference books. The title I did for them, Controversies in Globalization, is a textbook (not my normal fare). It features 15 pairs of scholars and practitioners that directly address current questions in International Relations through brief "yes" and "no" pieces.

I knew that a contrast needed to be shown on the cover as this is a debate style book. The market is very different for textbooks. Mostly professors choose the books for their courses and are very familiar with competitive titles....a reason to produce a cover that is unique.

My first thought, of course, was a globe. As cliche as it seems, it did appear to be a necessary part of the book's content. So how to show it in a way that isn't completely obvious? These are my solutions...I showed 3 comps and the last one was chosen:

A red dividing line between the pieced globe suggests the contrast:

The final, which evokes a globe by the lines inside the circle, but also uses the speaking bubble. Black and white is the ultimate contrast:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Atlantic Century

After designing a long run of fiction, it's great to pick up a non-fiction title. Here is a jacket I did recently for Georgia Feldman at Da Capo Press. I've worked with Georgia many years now, first at W. W. Norton and now at Da Capo. A small aside: Georgia gave me my first fiction cover years ago after coming from Da Capo where I designed only non fiction titles. So, life really is full circle.

Book description: Weisbrode's central argument is that “Atlanticism” came to be as much from personalities as it did from the pressure of external events. Over the past one hundred years, our awkward and tentative European network was carefully constructed by a network of allies, friends, and supporters who imagined, built, and sustained a new international system in which America and Europe were part of a single transatlantic community of nations rather than rivals or one another’s periodic savior.

The art direction stated to have something epic, drawing attention to the key moments in history & the idea of building a bridge between the US and Europe.

Here is my first round.

The seal is from the actual NATO signing documents:

A cover with no historical image, the pen symbolic of diplomacy:

And a contrast between modern day and historical imagery:

All of these were deemed too academic and minor looking (ouch), so I was asked to revise. It became apparent that the book needed more of a "big book" look. I have to say, in the case of this cover, the revision really did end up being the best solution in my mind. It's also a situation where the jacket actually printed exactly as I had imagined it. As someone who doesn't work in-house and has little control over the production of jackets anymore, it's amazing how rare it is to be able to say this!

Gray printed as silver metallic

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ecco Wine Guide

A couple years ago I worked on a cover for Ecco called The Ecco Guide to the Best Wines of Italy. The original direction was to make a label for a wine bottle that held all the type (an idea generated in-house that was a pretty firm concept), and then print the label and place it on a bottle. Here is a mock up of the original comp in that vain.

To the credit of my art director, Allison Saltzman, I was told to try other solutions as well if I was so inclined. So below are a few other comps I submitted. These show more of an illustrative approach with the bottles & labels:

There are many wine guides in the market using wine stains and wine labels, but I could not find many that had a hand made element. For another approach, I painted small bottles not really knowing how I would use them at first. Watercolor paint seemed like a good fit since since it could evoke the wine-stained look without the cliche. I painted the bottles in different shades to cover all the wine varieties included in the book. In the end, with a revised title, stacking the painted bottles to contain the type turned out to be an effective solution.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


My first entry on notable women book cover designers. All of these designers are certainly not new, but worth mentioning again. I'm pleased to see that when choosing these covers, none of them are what could be labeled as overtly "feminine." Ironically, a few of these standout designs (sourced from design:related) are unused comps. A nice addition to this site...

First up, Alison Forner, who works with the mighty talented Allison Saltzman at Ecco. I've been really impressed with Alison's work. This one stood out to me for the combo of hand drawn elements and beautiful typography. The scale of the type is really effective and the "celebrating" copy is deftly handled (no burst here...). An unused comp...too bad for all of us.

Jen Wang has received a lot of attention for her illustrative Penguin covers which can be found at her design:related portfolio. What I like best about this cover is what it doesn't have...a photo. Besides, who doesn't love a type only cover? The type is the image and that's enough.

Having worked on quite a few university press titles, I can tell you it's tough going sometimes. So often you're faced with an obscure subject matter. This cover by Natalie Smith is a beauty. A smart, unexpected solution and elegantly handled. Plus, the use of color is wonderful and truly evocative of place.

I love black and white covers and essentially this is one. Designed by Jaya Miceli, this unused comp pairs an organic line drawing with stark typography--a beautiful contrast. To reinforce the variety of Jaya's work, check out the final printed cover she designed.

The simple line drawing of an envelope brings this unused comp by Jennifer Heuer to a whole new level. I love how the overlaying lines contrast & ultimately balance the retro type styling. A very smart solution to a book of letters, sidestepping the all too familiar use of an actual envelope.

These are just a few of many talented designers. I'll continue to post a monthly feature and will have other posts on Noted work. Oh, and go hire all of them quick.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Demolition Writers

A first for Shelved Books, I'm showing my hardcover and paperback designs for the same title...one makes it...and one doesn't.

A few years back I worked on a cover for Random House called The Secret Society of Demolition Writers. Here is the summary from Amazon:

"In the spirit of the demolition derby, where drivers take heedless risks with reckless abandon, welcome to the first convocation of the Secret Society of Demolition Writers. Here is a one-of-a-kind collection by famous authors writing anonymously–and dangerously. With the usual concerns about reputations and renown cast aside, these twelve daredevils have each contributed an extreme, no-holds-barred unsigned story, each shining as brightly and urgently as hazard lights."

The hardcover jacket I designed is above. The process went relatively smoothly. When the paperback came up, my art director asked me to revisit the original comps and work with them since there might be something there. Originally, I had gone the route of demolition cars. I loved the idea of featuring one on a cover and so along those lines came up with these comps (some trim changes are shown). The subtitle needed to be very prominent:

Playing off the bursts I used, the designs were streamlined so that the type became the focus, (and losing the car reference):

These bold colored variations went through several rounds (really...a lot) before we added in the hand drawn bursts:

This is where it was approved, but alas, the paperback never went to press, so this cover was officially shelved.

HOW Top Ten Sites

This month How magazine has named Shelved Books as one of their Top Ten Sites. Check out the other listings:


ALSO: To see the complete listing of Top Ten's (including Zach from below) go here:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Radiant Days

A book for Shoemaker & Hoard from several years ago.

A good quote:

"Radiant Days is the darkly funny and deeply unsettling story of a young man who falls down a Central European rabbit hole. It made me squirm, and I loved it." -- Vestal McIntyre, author of You Are Not The One

And a (tiny) summary:
Moving from the tattered romanticism of Budapest, through the sparkling Dalmatian coast, and into the brutalized landscape of inland Croatia during the last days of the Balkan War, the novel takes a shocking turn of irreversible consequence.

Interesting how uncomfortable the writing was...well written, but uncomfortable human behavior. "Young" and "disturbing" are other words I would use to describe the tone of the book.

For the first round I used imagery of a European car (the one the main character travels in) on the cover. It seems liked a good metaphor for the journey taken. Also, rays, of course:

I guess I keep trying for that wine bottle to work:

My favorite:

After this round the publisher found an image he wanted me to try. It's almost difficult when you have such a great image to get out of the way and give it it's due:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Alex Camlin at Casual Optimist

nice interview with Alex up at Casual Optimist:


Alex gave me my start in cover design at Da Capo & Perseus Books (despite having no experience with books and a bad faux pas on my job application...thanks Alex). While at Da Capo, I would walk into his office and be pretty blown over by his use of type and general design skills. Glad to see he is getting the recognition he deserves...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Some covers that were shelved...in a good way

Some of my covers do get approved and I thought I would share a recent update of work. New covers are found on my designrelated portfolio page, but here are a couple favorites that just wrapped up:



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So I'm overdue to post...

Sorry, I've been knee deep in cover work and well, let's just say some of it will be appearing here in the next few months.

For my next shelved book, Torah Queeries for NYU Press. My very kind Art Director tried his best to get these through, but in the end sometimes a conceptual cover is not what is wanted or I supposed needed. I'd like to think otherwise, but having an editor for a husband, I understand the rationale.

From Amazon: "This incredibly rich collection unites the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight-allied writers, including some of the most central figures in contemporary American Judaism. All bring to the table unique methods of reading and interpreting that allow the Torah to speak to modern concerns of sexuality, identity, gender, and LGBT life."

I have to admit, I struggled with this one for a while until the idea of the pink triangle forming a Jewish Star came to me. Once it did, I wondered what took me so long.

However, in the end the feedback was that the pink triangle was too much of a reminder of the Holocaust (the patches worn by Jews on clothing). I never thought of this interpretation myself, instead only thinking of the gay pride icon and also thinking that paired with the "queeries" in the title the connection made sense. It's a good reminder to consider all meanings in your designs. The final cover (which I did not design) is on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Nightingales of Troy

I give all the credit to my art director, Eleen Cheung at W.W. Norton for guiding this jacket along and getting it printed. Even at the end we were making adjustments and Eleen had an endless amount of patience with me and the author (and everyone else) to make this happen.

The book is comprised of ten linked short stories which track the lives of four generations of women from Troy, N.Y., "where love comes to die." The first story begins in 1908, and subsequent stories are spaced approximately a decade apart. Because there are so many stories it seemed important to NOT show everything and give more of a feel of the lush & complex stories.

There is quite a bit of rich detail in the writing to draw upon. For imagery, I chose to focus on women representing the 20s time period where the name of the novel is taken from the corresponding story. I hinted at some of these concepts in the early comps, such as the Madonna/saint since there are many spiritual overtones throughout.

A nun grows poppies (opium) in one story:

After this round, the author suggested she would like to see Troy featured. This photo (I thought) had a nice balance between mysterious & beautiful...

Then it was suggested to try synchronized swimmers since they appear in the book in one of the stories: I was skeptical...but I did like the symmetry of the photograph.

In one of the above rounds I sent this comp. It didn't go over at the time, but elements of the design appear in the final (modern-day Troy at the bottom):

This comp was submitted later in the process...

After this concept was chosen, I then took vintage images (or made images vintage looking) relating to the individual stories and made them into small icons. The only catch was that the author wanted icons for every story. Originally I was told to try and fit all the icons on the front cover, but after some discussion we were finally able to get some pushed to the back cover (7 on front, 3 on back). The final design:

The final jacket was a selection in the Philadelphia AIGA design awards this year (the PDAs).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

try harder

This has made the rounds quite a bit, but since people keep weighing in I thought I would post the link:


The AIGA 50 books / 50 covers competition. The most prestigious competition for book covers in my opinion has been taking some heat over the last month with the announcement of only 41 covers that made the cut. A lot of back and forth between designers and even AIGA weighing in, but in my opinion AIGA is really just trying to tell all of us:

try harder.

A little upsetting considering all of us try beyond 100%--not that that should make every design an award winner. I think my site is testament to the fact that much work & thought goes into a cover and sometimes once the designs are put through the ringer, you're lucky to get something you're proud of at the end. I would like to think AIGA is clued into what is happening in book publishing these days with the economy and the threat of e-books. Let's be honest, publishers, editors and sales are nervous and thus not taking as many chances on design...which makes it an even bigger feat when a great cover is published. Apparently they aren't aware that an organization dedicated to design, with the power to enhance the importance of book design, has just rendered themselves clueless. I think we all know, based on the work we see on other blogs, websites, and in stores, that there had to have been another 9 covers to make it a true "50." Most people weighing in have won the award in the past, so I don't think it's a matter of sore losers. Our field is relatively small and I like to think very supportive, so I see the comments over on design:related as positive for our field.

**I just want to note that unfortunately what's been lost in the discussion is the fact that 41 great covers were recognized by AIGA this year. I'm guilty of forgetting to mention it myself. Congratulations to all the designers who did win...it's a great selection and worth a visit to the AIGA site to check them out:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sentimental Heartbroken Rednecks

A cover from a few years ago for S&H, a book that combines autobiography, short fiction, and essay with tales of class, poverty, and violence set in the South.

The first one I used some hand drawn bits. My aim with the drawing was to (referencing the drinking and hallucinating, etc.) give the cover an organic feel, similar to the writing.

When this was deemed to "light" feeling, I sourced an image of a man that fit the author better (and coincidentally was told the photo looked just like him). I then paired the portrait with an unassuming image of the suburbs. I liked this juxtaposition and felt it hit the tone well.

Alas, in the end we went with a simple texture to evoke some sense of place. Feels like a dead end place...which ultimately fits the book as well.