Evolution Of A Cover

Originally Published: July 2011

by Bridget Casey

On May 10th, attendees of the SCBWI Metro New York Tuesday Professional Series were fortunate to hear Chad Beckerman, Creative Director of Abrams Books for Young Readers, offer his presentation, “The Evolution of a Book Cover.” Using images of book covers at different stages and vivid accounts of how these cover designs developed, Beckerman helped illuminate a process that is often mysterious to authors and illustrators alike.

Beckerman studied Illustration at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). “What I really learned was how to solve problems, and present narratives visually.” Before working at Abrams, he worked at Scholastic and Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

To highlight some of the challenges encountered while designing covers, Beckerman shared a few Abrams covers with the audience. Each book varied in style and content and required a unique creative solution.

For example, the original cover and title of Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, written by Julie Sternberg, and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, was too quiet. After noticing a small illustration of a pickle jar in the interior of the book, Beckerman suggested enlarging the image to the size of the book. The final cover and title is more eye-catching and reflective of the main character’s vibrant spirit.

The cover of My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald features a photograph of a girl’s face covered in a green face masque and cucumbers over her eyes. This was a risky choice for a middle-grade book. Faces can be problematic on book covers. “You want the reader to identify closely—perhaps even feel they have become—the main character,” Beckerman explained. Additionally, while photographs are common on covers for YA books, middle-grade book-covers are more often illustrated. However, Beckerman’s risk was worth it. The cover was so successful he was asked to design a similar look for the author’s next book.

Finding the perfect cover for Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus, was not easy. The illustrations submitted were all striking and beautiful, yet there were many design issues. One sketch was not simple or iconic enough. One featured a face too prominently. Another lacked action. Finally, after reviewing multiple sketches and drawings, cleaning up the layout, tweaking color choices, and integrating the typeface into the illustration, they arrived at a cover that worked. Beckerman smiled as he pointed to the final cover. “We must have done something right. Heart of a Samurai won a Newbery Honor Award for 2011.”
Beckerman strongly recommends newer illustrators create their own Websites or use ready-made blog sites to showcase their work. Sharing links with other illustrators is a great way to promote one another’s work. “There’s strength in numbers,” Beckerman encouraged.
For more about Beckerman’s upcoming projects, see his blog and Website: http://cwdesigner.blogspot.com/cwdesign and http://www.boydesigner.com/

Bridget Casey is a YA writer and native New Yorker (to the bone). She is currently not sleeping while she revises her novel. Her shorter piece, “Quitting Time”, was published in collection of love stories for teens.

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