Spring Book Design Coverage

For your May Day, please take a closer look at twelve great book covers — and a bonus thirteenth! — spotted during the first four months of 2022.

In alphabetical order:

Book design: David Drummond

Brilliant: actual text, printed (on a great color paper, too), with actual string, photographed on said print. Not only is it exactly right for the subject matter, it’s simply and beautifully done.

Cover design: Brianna Harden

Another great background color choice, this time highlighting the awesome colors chosen for Fiona and Jane’s illustrations. The hand-painted text is perfectly done.

Cover design: Alex Merto

From It’s Nice That, we have a nice feature on Alex Merto — whose Ghost Wall cover is a great example of plant life adding so much more: “the force of a river to the head,” to paraphrase Emma Donoghue’s quote.

Cover design: Anna Morrison

The typography, awesome little plane — the purse(r)! — the clouds, all of it: sky-high levels of good.

Interestingly, Fight Night‘s cover has gotten notice before:

Cover design: Patti Ratchford, illustration: Christina Zimpel

I can’t begin to imagine what caused the redesign, or why it wound up being so radically — 180 degree! — different. The old design wound up on some “best covers” lists (here’s LitHub’s October 2021 post, for instance); the new one has wound up on mine.

Cover design: Christopher Sergio

LitHub says this one has a very high “hang on the wall” factor. I can’t think of a better description — great stuff.

Cover design: Na Kim

Na Kim just can’t help but design the best covers: a wonderful, antique background complimented by brilliance. (Great typography, too.)

Cover design: Emily Mahon

It’s nigh-on impossibly to look at this cover and not flip it around to read the text trisecting the leopard. Take something simple, add the elusive more, get this. Yeah.

Cover design: Jim Tierney

Another fantastic example of plants adding more than the sum of their parts. The mottled green background and watercolor-style falloff is perfectly complimentary. Great stuff. (Except: This is one of those times when an editor or publicist somewhere says, “Hey, we need to add this quote at the top. Let’s do it without consulting the cover designer.”)

Cover designer … unknown. Credit where credit is due — when I can.

From the Banned Books Department, we have the 20th Anniversary edition of this difficult title rendered in a photo-based collage that’s nothing short of brilliant. Highest praise. Kudos, too, to Open Culture: The New York Public Library Provides Free Online Access to Banned Books: Catcher in the RyeStamped & More.

Cover design: Jack Smyth

Never mind the great brushed color blocks or boat-rowing-the-ocean above the title. This is here for the overlap between color and island. Shortlisted for the prize for intersection-of-the-year.

Cover design: Leanne Shapton

This illustration being in grayscale is, at first, a little off. But, of course, that’s exactly the point. I overuse “brilliant,” but it’s the best description. (See a note from the designer at LitHub‘s cover reveal.)

So, the bonus. No, it’s not the extra Fight Night, above, it’s a fictitious cover. That’s right:

Cover design: Anna Hoyle

In another It’s Nice That post, we have Anna Hoyle: “Judge her fake books by their comical covers.” Okay!

More book design updates soon — ’cause, here in Georgia, USA, we’re done with spring. Summer starts . . . now.

Additional sources: Spine, “Book Covers We Love” for January, February, March, and April, and LitHub, “Best Book Covers of the Month.”

My 50 Favorite Book Covers of 2021

2021 Favorite Book Covers

This post is late, because I had trouble narrowing my long list down . . . and then, when even the short list was too long, said, “heck, 21 is too few for a year with such superlative design.” So, instead of 21 for ’21, y’all get 50. Grab a delicious beverage, settle in, and enjoy.

My selections stem from books I’ve seen; the “best of” lists from NPR, The New Yorker, Kottke, and the BBC; and the best book cover lists from Spine, the Casual Optimist, Kottke, AIGA Eye on Design, Creative Review, LitHub, and PRINT magazine. When you’re done here, see how my list compares with theirs — a great many more outstanding covers await.

Please remember that these are my favorites — others might say “best,” but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that there’s always another great title you haven’t seen or read about, and I don’t want to disrespect any of the great book designers not on this list. I’ve tried to include design credit where I could (thank you to the folks who answered emails with that information), and I wish to stress that any mistakes (incorrect attribution, link not working, etc.) in the list below are mine.

My cover of the year is one of those combinations of photography and printed word that works on multiple levels. Okay, sure, it’s called Liar’s Dictionary, so I may totally be pulling your leg here, but:

2021 Cover of the Year: Liar's Dictionary

“We all peacock with our words,” one reviewer said: exactly right. I’m wondering about the direction of the shadow — some Monday morning quarterbacking, for certain — but otherwise, I’d be incredibly pleased to have this cover in my portfolio. It speaks to what I aspire to, which is the best photography and best graphics working in beautiful concert. Design by Emily Mahon. (Bonus: See a Spine write-up on Emily from 2017.)

With Teeth book cover

My runner-up for favorite cover of the year, this novel of a queer mother is immeasurably strengthened by this extraordinary cover. Great color, great type . . . just great. Design by Lauren Peters-Collaer.

The rest, in alphabetical order:

Abundance

The ability of this cover to catch your eye on a crowded bookshelf is undeniable, but it’s the amount communicated with seeming simplicity that makes it a winner. Design by Kapo Ng.

An Honest Living book cover

The progression of graphics here win on several levels, but the icing on this “exquisite ransom note” (thanks, Lithub) is the shadow from the silhouette in the middle. The use of so few colors is a huge bonus. Design by David Pearson. (He doesn’t seem to have a website, but here’s a It’s Nice That article.)

Awake book design

The combination of background image — the eyebrows are perfect — with the elements making up the overlays is wonderful. The wraparound text adds to the whimsy. Brilliant results. Design by Joan Wong.

Beautiful Country book design

This is just great: “struggle to survive” so prominently displayed, the fence and wall, what looks like a cop in the upper left, the guy staring straight at camera in the lower left, the “hurry up” notion of the mother and child, the colors of the collage, everything. Wow. Design by Linda Huang.

Brothers and Keepers book cover

This is another from the “simple is better” category. Great colors, yes, but little details, like the type and the subtle overlay of the graphs over some of that type take it over the finish line with style.

Concepcion book cover

Collage and type, yellow and green, all done beautifully well. Bonus points for the hints — just hints — at faces. Design by Lauren Peters-Collaer.

Curb book cover

Another with simple colors, but the strengths here are not only in the eye-catching type, but the repeating line drawings with their own curb . . . and that single lit window for the win.

Dear Senthuran book cover

Leopard! Wonderful pencil sketch! From the simple-at-first-glance category we have anything but.

Edge Case book cover

At the risk of repeating myself, this one seems simple. Until you realize that the tomatoes age . . . and spoil. (The vine’s awesome, too.) Edgy design by Na Kim. (Bonus AIGA Eye on Design article on her.)

Foucault in Warsaw book cover

“Memorable” doesn’t begin to describe this one; the upside-down painting is only the beginning. Design by Daniel Benneworth-Gray.

God of Mercy book cover

I’m going to go with chalk rather than brush to describe the type and especially flames, but either way, when combined with this extreme close-up, its perfectly-chosen duotone, and fantastic skin texture of this beautiful model, we get something close to amazing. Design by Sara Wood.

Gold Diggers book cover

In contrast to some, this one is not simple at all: deeply detailed and strikingly colored, this cover says “all-American” in a way only an immigrant can. Design by Stephanie Ross.

Great Circle book cover

Mentioned earlier this year, this title circles back because the artwork demands it. Cool white-type title, too. Design by Kelly Blair.

Hard Like Water book cover

The smile — and the shoes! — speak more loudly than the revolutionary themes so typical of Maoist-era settings. The perfect parody cover. Brilliant. Cover design by Matthew Broughton, based on art by Biao Zhong.

Harlem Shuffle book cover

Color, type, objects, the arrow, “a novel,” circled, the people and places . . . all add up to so much more than just the sum of the parts. Awesome.

Harsh Times book cover

Nobel prize, blah, blah. It’s the cover, darn it! Design by Alex Merto.

Hex book cover

The first of two skulls on this year’s list, this one made up of perhaps the least-hexed thing imaginable.

House of Sticks book cover

This one’s on this list for its subtle brilliance: the watercolor lines, the great typography choice, and integration of the photograph. Nicely done.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House book cover

One the one hand, a simple photograph-and-title book cover. On the other, it’s beautifully cropped, the reader/viewer catches the “look,” and it’s complimented with great color choices. Long title served oh-so-well.

In book cover

You don’t see almost-blank covers every day, and this one, especially, makes you want in. (Sorry.) Brilliant.

Intimations book cover

I. Want. To. Have. Taken. This. Photograph. (And then done this cover.)

Kennedy's Avenger book cover

This type of cover is actually very difficult to accomplish well, and here, it’s . . . well, accomplished.

Look For Me and I'll Be Gone book cover

Brilliant on so many levels. Design by David Litman.

Morningside Heights book cover

Color and type compliment the awesome choice of suit and hat here. One of those covers that demands the reader/viewer pick it up off the shelf and explore. Design by Kelly Blair.

My Monticello book cover

The painterly elements here lead the reader/viewer to the correct question: “what is this about?” and, guaranteed: it’s not what you think.

Nectarine book cover

This made a bunch of best-of lists this year, and I gotta say: it’s one accomplished scribble. Brilliant. Design by Dave Drummond. (Bonus: Dave Drummond has a write-up from PRINT.)

Nobody Somebody Anybody book cover

The best riff on “upstairs, downstairs” seen in a long, long time.

O Beautiful book cover

Watercolor, in every sense of the word. (Cloudy drips, too.) O-so-beautiful. Design by Young Jin Lim.

O book cover

Oh — wait a minute. Stick-on that isn’t, quite, combined with peeling and what seems like staring add up to a favorite. Design by Gray318.

Pessoa book cover

From the simple-but-not dept., we have another brilliant entry, with great color choices, type placement, and the best — some might say, “Iconic” — “a biography” stamp ever. Love that the smallest photo is peeling, too. I’m actually envious of the talent displayed here! Design by Yang Kim.

Reparations Now book cover

I hope it comes out in the relatively small photograph, but this is actually paper cut. Great choices, great colors.

Silent Winds Dry Seas book cover

Like a dreamily lace curtain, the overlay on this painted shore brings what could be nice to the level of sublime. Having a cool title helps, too. Winner.

Skinship book cover

Wow. This cover violates so many supposed rules, yet succeeds on so many levels — absolutely brilliant. Design by Janet Hansen.

Stranger to the Moon book cover

The simple-yet-not cup floweth over with this one; its scant 96 pages encompass dystopian political fiction that wins national awards and deserves something this strong. Design by Janet Hansen.

Summer Water book cover

Illustration rules, in a foreboding style that suggests anything other than a Scottish summer. Lovely slim type is complimented perfectly by the script at the bottom. The title is actually Summerwater, by the way — I missed the hyphen at first — but ultimately I’m not sure it matters. Design by June Park.

Tastes Like War book cover

The ingredients on this cover, together with splattered red, suggest more than food, racism, and a parent’s problems, yet this is a title I’d definitely pick and and spend time examining — all thanks to great design.

That Old Country Music book cover

An absolutely perfect photograph highlights a stack of great choices.

The Copenhagen Trilogy book cover

The old-time portrait it taken to the next three levels. Fantastic. Bonus points for an unusual type choice (type name, according to site name). Great, great design by Na Kim. (See also the PRINT write-up on this title.)

The Divines book cover

The photograph cropping alone brings this title to the table, but when combined with the aged background, the white dots perhaps suggesting a past shot through with problems, and the desiccated flower suggest something so much more. Design by Mumtaz Mustafa.

Open and Nev book cover

Sure, impressing Ta-Nehisi Coates and Barak Obama means impressive fiction — but it deserves a cover with star power, and this design by — absolutely delivers. Great stuff.

The Ghost Sequences book cover

The second skull on the list, this “house built by memory in-between your skin and bones” requires a second look, then a third. Deal me in. Design by Vince Haigh.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding book cover

Great type complimenting great illustration choices, sure, but those feet . . . .

This Thing Between Us book cover

Surreal smart speaker — no kidding. How does one design a cover for that, exactly? This way. Design by Sara Wood.

This Wound is a World book cover

“[C]ut a hole in the sky / to world inside,” this volume of Native American poetry suggests. The cover does just that.

Three Novels book cover

“Another few cuts of paper,” he said with such casualness. Ha! Design by Tom Etherington.

Warmth book cover

“Beautifully rendered and bracingly honest,” one of the reviews says. The cover, as well. (Plus, lines.)

We Run the Tides book cover

The color choices here, combined with the illustration, suggest something soothing, yet catch the eye in a way that demands attention. The mystery within does, too, from practically the first sentence. Here because I know I wouldn’t have done it so well.

Zorrie book cover

Climbing that ladder’s going to take a minute. But then, that’s what it’s all about . . . .

On to 2022, everyone! Thanks for surviving 2020, 2021, and continuing to read — here, and behind your favorite book cover.

University Press Design Show 2021

AUPresses 2021 Show header

From AUPresses:

“Since 1965, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) Book, Jacket, and Journal Show has fulfilled its mission to “honor and instruct”: honoring the design and production teams whose work furthers a long tradition of excellence in book design […]. The Book, Jacket, and Journal Show recognizes meritorious achievement in design, production, and manufacture of books, jackets, covers, and journals by members of the university press community. It also provides an evaluation of their work and serves as a focus of discussion and a source of ideas for intelligent, creative, and resourceful bookmaking.”

Credit where credit is due: Spine, in their excellent way, has already covered this. Head on over there, knowing that I largely agree with their post in its entirety. However, there are a number of covers I like that they didn’t talk about — and they didn’t talk about interior design at all.

So, without further ado, let’s start with the covers and jackets. Interiors follow, then items that are in both categories.

Columbia University Press with a series (in order, top to bottom): Woe from Wit, The Little Devil and Other Stories, and Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Each is great on their own, but put ’em together and the series stands tall. Excellent design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich.

Performing Jane

Louisiana State University brings us Performing Jane, with design by Barbara Neely Bourgoyne. Simplicity wins.

Inside the Critic's Circle

On the subject of simplicity, Inside the Critic’s Circle brings a seemingly-casual-yet-carefully-designed newspaper clipping onto a yellow background. Together, they’re attention-getting and just right. Nice. Design by Chris Ferrante for Princeton University Press.

Vénus Noire is about as far from a bust as can be — except not really:

Venus Noire

Another example of simpler-is-better, yet something so much more. Design by Kaelin Chappell Broaddus.

Stars and Silhouettes

Wayne State University Press brings us Stars and Silhouettes, in all its hand-drawn glory. Love the design by Brad Norr.

My favorite of the stand-alone cover designs, however, contains a wrinkle or two:

The Duchess of Angus

Lovely. The illustration and paper photograph combine into something really special. Design by Derek Thornton — whose website, by the way, has a bunch of other great stuff. Nice!

On to some interior design, with Pinceton’s Dante:

Dante's Interior

Puts “boring academic title [page]” to rest. Design by Chris Ferrante.

Next, a title on “knowing what not to know in contemporary China”, called Negative Spaces:

Negative Spaces 1
Negative Spaces 2

Design by Courtney Leigh Richardson for Duke University Press.

Next, stories from “the people of the land”:

Gwitchin 1
Gwitchin 2

Our Whole Gwich’in Way of Life Has Changed / Gwich’in K’yuu Gwiidandài’ Tthak Ejuk Gòonlih, with design by Alan Brownoff for the University of Alberta Press.

Next, a couple where both the cover and interior excel, starting with Horace Kephart from the University of Tennessee Press:

Horace 1

UTenn Press has a cool logo, too.

Horace 2
Horace 3

Lovely detailing in this design by Mindy Basinger Hill. Only one question here: Why doesn’t the script on the cover match that used inside? Both are nice — I prefer the one used on the interior, but either way, pick one!

Last but certainly not least, perhaps the best designed of all the projects in the AUPresses 2021 Show, Duke’s Sentient Flesh:

Sentient 1

Fantastic. And check the interior:

Sentient 2
Sentient 3

Kudos to designer Matthew Tauch for a “best in show,” at least as far as I’m concerned!

The Joy of Monochrome, from Spine

“A technicoloured cover can draw me to it like the proverbial moth to a flame. But as covers get more vivid, the buyers’ senses can become overwhelmed. They can’t see the books for the rainbow.”

Spine’s Vyki Hendy argues that monochrome — by which she means black-and-white-or-shades-thereof — is powerful. I’d argue that single-color items should belong in this category, too, but her piece stands on its own. Take a look.

My 20 Favorite Book Covers of 2020

This list is simple and straightforward: these aren’t necessarily all of the best book covers of 2020, only my favorites — gathered from the combined lists of LitHub, Creative Review, NPR’s 2020 Book Concierge, and the Casual Optimist, along with sightings in the New York Times Book Review, BookRiot, and Spine Magazine. Interestingly, despite the year many of us would rather forget, the best book covers are, as usual, memorable.

My favorite, by quite a lot:

There’s no other way to put this: it’s brilliant. The Party Upstairs by Lee Conell; design by Stephanie Ross. Read about how it was put together, along with initial ideas and drafts, at Spine Magazine. Great, great stuff!

The rest, in alphabetical order:

On the one hand, exactly what you’d expect — except a) it’s a novel, and b) it’s not really what you’d expect. Nice. Design by David High.

The left and right halves here are a perfect union, and I’m a sucker for hand lettering. Design by Anna Morrison.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a two-color cover I liked so much — major kudos here. Design by Emile Mahon.

Blue tigers. Red eyes. Crooked title block. Yet somehow rich beyond easy description. (The author calls it “haunted by place.”) Design by Grace Han.

Can’t. Unsee. The. Rat. Home run of horror. Design by Wil Staehle.

Simple type that’s well executed meets brilliant original painting. Proof that less can be more, if you’ll pardon the cliché. Design by Stephen Brayda.

One of this year’s best uses of color, along with another great illustration. Design by Adalis Martinez.

This design has gotten a good deal of attention — and deservedly so. Eye-catching by fives. Design by Jamie Keenan.

Explosive. (Sorry.) Actually, I’m personally jealous of this one: it feels like one I would have done, given the sudden (and unlikely) moment of creative greatness. Design by Christine Foltzer.

The hand work on this one — both illustration and lettering — just make it. A universe of goodness. Design by Sara Wood.

Scary good. Well, just scary, really, especially for a resident of the South. Excellent design by Henry Sene Yee.

Retro style and simple typography combine to make something excellent. Suppose a cover, with design by Katy Homans.

When has one color print been more compelling? This book would stand out on any bookshelf. Imagination by Jack Smyth.

The original artwork (by Kai McCall) really grabs your attention … and then hangs on, staring straight at you. Wonderful. Design by Stephen Brayda.

Here, the simple background illustration is enormously enhanced by the choice of colors, the “heart” cutout, and typography choices. A case of 10 + 10 + 10 = 1000. Design by Lauren Peters-Collaer.

Deceptive at first glance, the colors here keep adding up (to build on a theme). Another excellent example of hand-lettering adding so much, too. Another great design by Lauren Peters-Collaer.

Unexpected choices lead to great new places here, especially with the yellow band overlaying the wolf. So, so good. Design by Rachel Willey.

No speculation here: this one takes me by storm. (Sorry.) “We are not ready nor worthy” applies to the cover, as well! Design by John Gall.

Like Weather, Zo uses illustrations to huge effect — but this time with a huge typography effect to go along with it, and lo, it works. Great design choices by Janet Hansen.

Now, let’s all survive 2021 so we can do this again!