Sarah Brody is the designer for the Prince of Mirrors paperback cover. Currently based in New York, Sarah works for Catapult and Counterpoint publishing. She previously worked for HarperCollins.
How did you get into the arts and what led you to book design?
I came to book design in a roundabout way. I was an English major in college and books were my first love. After I graduated, I attended a summer publishing program in New York City, where I discovered that book cover design is a real job! From that moment on, I was focused on making it my career. I created a portfolio of what I thought Art Directors might want to see and eventually got an internship, which led to my first design job.
Do you only design book jackets?
99% of my work is book jackets. I did illustrate two colouring books a few years ago though!
What is your process in producing a book cover?
First, I either read the book or familiarize myself as much as I can on the subject matter. I then spend a lot of time brainstorming. I like to get out a sketchbook and pencil and just sketch ideas or make word association lists. Putting the ideas down on paper first helps me figure out what might work or what might definitely not work. Even if I stray away from those preliminary sketches, I am always glad I spent the time physically drawing it out. From there, I do a lot of photo research, which is probably the most time-consuming part of the process. From that point on though, I just experiment with different designs. It’s a lot like trying to put together a puzzle and there’s a lot of trial and error involved, at least for me.
Are you a reader yourself? How much (if any) of the book do you need to read before designing a cover for it?
I am a hardcore reader! I try to read the whole book when I am able to, or at least as much as I can.
How hard is it to follow someone else’s guidelines to design covers?
I actually think that I take direction pretty well. I understand that the publisher is going to market this book a certain way and that certain genres have certain looks. I find it very helpful when publishers know what they want for the book and provide me with a detailed brief that I can follow.
When working, do you prefer to be given artistic space to ‘do your thing’ or do you like to be supervised?
I love to be given the brief and then left alone to run with it. I’ve been lucky so far to work with publishers and art directors who let me do that and then give me helpful feedback that guides me.
Could you walk us through your working process creating a jacket for The Prince of Mirrors paperback? Did the hardback cover affected your choices at all?
I started by reading the book. From that point on, this process was pretty straightforward. I was given some really clear instructions for the type of feel and style the cover sho
uld have. I knew that it needed to be photographic, so I spent a lot of time doing photo research. The hardback didn’t really affect my process for the paperback because it’s illustrated. I basically treated the paperback as a separate entity. Luckily the final cover was approved with fairly minimal tweaks!
Do you sketch your ideas by hand or using software?
I sketch out all of my ideas and thumbnails by hand before I even go to the computer.
What’s the longest/shortest time it took you to finalise a cover design?
Shortest time: 3 hours (from presenting the comps to final approval), Longest time: several months! Every book is different.
What makes a great book cover for you?
Great book covers for me incorporate elements that I wouldn’t normally expect. My favourite designers are ones who experiment with type and illustration in an unconventional way. I’ve picked up many books that I wouldn’t normally read because the cover has something eye-catching and different on it.
What has been your favourite cover to make? Which one are you proudest of?
One cover than I am really proud of is What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine and published by HarperCollins. I really enjoyed the whole experience of reading the book and trying different things with the cover and I am really happy with how it turned out. The book is a dark, moody feminist fairy tale that was a lot of fun to work on!
After receiving a brief to design a cover, do you tend to research books in the same genre to get inspiration or do you try and stay away from external influences?
During my initial research, when I first begin my design process, I will research books in the same genre. Especially if the brief gives a list of similar books as comparisons. When I start actually designing the cover though, I try not to look at other book covers because I don’t want other designs to affect my own.
Do you have a favourite book genre to design for?
I love designing everything, but I think that fiction is my favourite. I can’t really narrow it down from there though! Fiction is the most complex but the most rewarding category for me to design.
Your designs are usually very vivid and full of colour. What or who, you find, inspires them?
I am really inspired by books, movies, and television shows that have a slight surrealist bent. I like the idea of a world that seems normal on the surface but maybe the colours are too bright or vivid to be real. When I make designs that are very vivid, it reminds me of that feeling of entering a world that is fascinating and a little bit different. I get very intrigued when I see a book cover that has very saturated colours or a very vivid photograph, so I make my designs that way.
Can you see any book-cover trends around the world at the moment that you particularly enjoy/dislike?
My favourite book-cover trend at the moment is the use of handmade elements in a book jacket, as opposed to a fully digitally designed one.
Do you have a dream book you’d love to design a jacket for one day?
I don’t know if I do! I’ll know it when I see it, I think.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I spend my days working as an in-house designer at Catapult and my nights working on freelance work. I always want to be working on something!
To find out more about Sarah visit her website.