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Not child’s play: The craft of designing a book cover

Writing a full-length book, simply put, is not everybody’s cup of tea. It demands one creative person to sit down for hours and allow his/her thoughts to play with words.


Writing a full-length book, simply put, is not everybody’s cup of tea. It demands one creative person to sit down for hours, day after day, and allow his/her thoughts to play with words. But what about designing a book cover? That seems easy; after all, it is only a matter of putting the title of the book on some pictures. Or so we think.

They say that the best of writers are those who are born with a knack for writing, but even the best of book designers, no matter how creative they are, have to train themselves in the art to thrive in the industry. Once inside the boiling pot of publishing, they are faced with unheard questions like what’s an A format or how do you calculate a spine?

The entire process of book designing is a matter of patience. Or at least this is what Bhavi Mehta thought when she bagged a “six-month internship” at Penguin India. A fresh graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), these six months shaped her career.

Initially, she was only making back covers and spines for backlist titles, but after almost two weeks, she was assigned a title to design by herself. It was a hardback by Anita Nair titled “Goodnight and Godbless”. Here was her big opportunity; she had to be at her creative best.

“The brief was straight; it had to look gifty. Not quite knowing how to make it look ‘gifty’, I started by reading the manuscript, a practice which I stick to till date. For me, reading the manuscript is the most crucial block in designing a jacket. As I read, I often make notes and doodles, trying to unlock motifs and images from the text. After a bunch of drafts, water colour and illustration attempts, it was decided to take the photographic route for the jacket,” Mehta told this correspondent about her first assignment.

She said she is not “very proud” of her earlier works, but it was indeed a great learning process. Mehta was offered a full-time job at the end of her internship and she happily accepted it. Five years later, in 2013, she decided to pursue book designing independently and has since worked with Hachette Books, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury India and Amazon.

Popular calligrapher and graphic designer Nikheel Aphale’s tryst with book covers also began on a somewhat similar note. After quitting his full-time job, Aphale wanted to pursue calligraphy and sent his calligraphy blog link to design studios, agencies, publication houses and others who could be interested in collaboration.

“Penguin offered me a cover and they really liked what I did. I enjoyed the process and its outcome too. Since then it’s been an absolute delightful journey. Now I am designing covers for almost all leading publications in India,” said the calligrapher. But even so, “I am a graphic designer and calligrapher by profession and designing book covers was never a conscious decision”.

Most designers agree that one does not need to take any specific training or course to become a successful book designer; it is more about one’s creativity and how well one manages to sharpen it. However, many designers that IANS spoke to feel that sometimes “degree and certificate” are given preference over “creativity and niche”.

They suggested that having done a course in designing is always an added advantage and, besides, it adds some amount of exposure to one’s works.

Aphale graduated in applied arts and then pursued a Masters in graphic design from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. “Designing book covers is like designing a poster or a packaging, basically communicating the essence or message of the book. Content and target audience always decide the look of the cover,” he said.

Kunal Kundu, who has designed the covers for Krishna Udayashankar’s “The Aryavarta Chronicles” published by Hachette India, says that a combined course on Illustration and Graphic Design would certainly help. But inborn creativity is that one thing, according to Kundu, which will do the magic.

“Schools are good for honing your skills, but being visually creative is a prerequisite of a great book cover designer or for any art for that matter,” Kundu said.

As from the publishers’ perspective, an ideal book designer doesn’t really need to have a particular degree as such, but he/she should have an ideal body of work to impress the editors. What matters is how he deals with the subject when it is presented to him.

Publishers said that the designers have the daunting task of listening to the author and the assigned editor — two people who are not always on the same page — and then use his or her creativity to maintain a balance between what attracts the reader and what works best in accordance with the content of the book.