How to Design A Book Cover for Ooligan Press

Rhythm in the Rain Final Front Cover Erika Schnatz

The idiom goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” As someone who has created a handful of cover designs, I say, judge away. If the cover design is effective, it will help sell the book.

Many publishers have a designer or teams of designers on staff to tackle book cover design, but since Ooligan Press is a teaching press, it relies on its students to take cover concepts from brainstorm to final files. Under the helpful guidance of the Design & Production Manager (my role during the 2014-2015 academic year) and a weekly peer critique, students design each book published at the press.

The cover design process at Ooligan is democratic; students who attend the design meetings vote for the top three cover concepts, then the whole press votes on which design will make it to print. After designing a number of concepts that didn’t quite make the cut, one of my concepts was chosen as the final cover for Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest (woo!). Here is how the process went:

  1. Read the design brief: the project team working on the book puts together a design brief with the assistance of the design manager and then it’s sent out to the entire press via email. Since there was no manuscript available to peruse (normally step 2), the design brief was doubly important.
  2. Brainstorm! If you’re like me, this means some pencil-on-paper action to play with shapes, concepts, and overall composition before/after/during a search for design inspiration. And writing teeny tiny notes to yourself.

Rhythm in the Rain cover comps Erika Schnatz

3. Make some mock-ups: Time to hop on the computer and create some comps. These are the initial three designs I brought to our peer critique:

4. Revision, revision, revision: My peers responded most positively to design #2, so I took their feedback and ran with it, to produce the following variations:

5. Cover vote! After a few weeks of revision time, the design team voted on three cover concepts to go in front of the entire press. My design was one of the three, and I believe the first cover above was the one I chose to show (I hadn’t had time to make too many adjustments in the prior weeks). We received some feedback from the author on the final three cover concepts, and members of the press chimed in with their own thoughts. Some of it was useful and some of it was not. It was pointed out to me that the bark texture in the background was a bit arbitrary (I agreed). The final vote was tallied, my concept was chosen, and it was time to get back to work:

From this point on design decisions were made by the publisher, the project manager, and myself. When I sent out these variations, the third version was the clear standout. From there it was a series of very small nitpicky design changes, like moving trees around and playing with the background color of the cover.

Rhythm in the Rain Final Front Cover Erika Schnatz

6. Finish it: Once a front cover was agreed upon, it was time to design the spine and back cover. The back cover will inevitably change a bit before the book is printed based on the blurbs and book summary, so I had some fun with the placeholder quotes in the meantime. Voilà!

Rhythm in the Rain Final Full Cover Erika Schnatz

(Since Esperanza Spalding is one of the most well-known jazz figures in the Pacific Northwest, she turned into something of an inside joke. Sorry, Esperanza!) If you need a design for your next book, I’m available!