There are a few misconceptions about this publishing business (nope, sorry Mom- I will not be buying you a yacht anytime soon) and one of the bigger ones is that writers have infinite input into their cover designs (or, in the case of picture books, the illustrations). Most people are shocked- shocked, I tell you!- to learn that this is very rarely the case. More likely, the writer will be innocently checking email on an otherwise ordinary day and find a note from our editor that says something like, “I hope you like your cover! Here it is!”
And then (if you’re me) you exhale and do a Snoopy dance around your living room. Seriously, I could not love my cover more if I had drawn it myself (wow- do you really not want to see that!!) I love it so much that I googled my cover illustrator, Annabelle Metayer, and immediately sent a gushy email through her website contact form. Fortunately, she is uber-cool and was not scared off by said gushiness. In fact, she even agreed to let me interview her here about how this whole cover design thing works:
Hey Annabelle! Thanks for being here and letting us uncover a little more of the mystery behind this process. Can you start off by telling us who you work with at a publishing house? In other words, who hires you?
It varies from one publishing house to another, but in most cases, it’s the book designer who contacts my agent with a mandate. Before contacting the illustrator/agent, the book designer presents the portfolio to their editing team. If everyone is onboard, they can sign me!
Nice! And from there, what kind of information does the publisher usually provide you with? Are you typically given suggestions/direction from the publisher for the cover illustration or do you come up with your own?
It is mostly a collaborative task. Sometimes, all I get is the manuscript, with no specific briefing, or I’ll get a few starting ideas. After reading the book, I provide two or three sketches for any kind of scenarios that inspire me, adding the ones that the editor provided me with, if they did.
In some other cases, I have been hired to work on the cover for books that have been signed but for which the manuscript is not yet available. The book designer then just gives me the synopsis and a few ideas to get me started.
And in some other cases, I get a specific briefing, as in ‘Girl sitting in a coffee shop, with books on table, Eiffel tower in background.”
I enjoy all of these scenarios -it’s great to have carte blanche with a cover but a precise briefing allows me to focus solely on character/background development.
And to further demonstrate how this all might look, Annabelle is sharing her process for my cover (swoon!):
(click on images to enlarge)
I could look at that all day! Thanks for sharing! Okay, a few more questions. How did you get your start in illustrating?
For me, it was a long process. I always loved to draw but did not quite trust that my passion for drawing could be translated into a career. I opted instead for a happy compromise: graphic design. As a graphic designer, I discovered the joy of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop! After about 12 years, I finally decided to use my Illustrator skills to build an illustration portfolio. After finding my wonderful agent Sally (heflinreps.com) and with a few jobs under my belt, I made the full-time jump, knowing that it takes about 10 years on average for an illustrator to become established (but also secretely lured by the knowledge that this quest can be done in the comfort of my pajamas).
Pajamas influencing your career choice- congratulations, you’re officially one of the tribe! What is your favorite part about illustrating covers?
What’s not to love! First, there is the thrill of being ‘chosen’ by a publishing house to illustrate a cover. Then, the excitement of immersing myself into the universe of a new story and, once the basic layout has been approved, working on the character. Choosing her clothes and hairstyle and finding cute ways to represent the items surrounding her. Oh! and last but not least : receiving positive feedback from the book author. I really never expect it, but at the end of the day, the author being happy with their cover is the ultimate reward! So it’s a bonus, when it happens.
Oh, it happens! And what about some of the challenges?
When sending the very initial sketches to the client (especially new clients!), I can get a bit anxious while waiting for feedback. I compare this to ‘stage fright’, for an actor. No matter how experienced you are, I don’t think it will ever go away. I am very lucky that I can get all my sketches validated by my husband who is an art director, though! Anyways, once the ice is broken and I get a first response, I relax.
Annabelle, thanks so much for letting me interview you. I can only hope I spot your illustrations on a million book covers (including more of mine)!