Mastering the art of selling a book by its cover
By Alexandra Alter
Peter Mendelsund often says that “dead authors get the best book jackets.”
Mendelsund, who has designed striking covers for (many) departed giants, dreads working with writers who demand a particular font, color, image or theme. “It ends up looking like hell,” he said.
Most designers look for a central image to sum up a book, but Mendelsund isn’t looking for an image, he’s looking for an idea.
To come up with a cover Mendelsund begins by scribbling notes on a manuscript and underlining key thematic sentences. He hangs the marked-up pages above his computer. Then he begins cataloging his ideas on a piece of paper covered with 16 rectangles, filling each one with a word, phrase or tiny sketch. He picks the most promising concept and creates a draft on the computer.
Once he has a rough design in place, he will print out a mock cover, wrap it around a hardcover and leave it on his bookshelf for a few days. If his eye is spontaneously drawn to it a day or two later, he considers his direction on the right track. If the cover disappears into the background, he knows something is missing.
He often repeats this process dozens of times.