Interview: Jo Hunt, book designer, by Shelley Timms

An interview with book designer Jo Hunt, by Shelley Timms

We’re all guilty of purchasing books based on the pure beauty of their covers. I have a whole shelf dedicated to the “oh, but it was so beautiful!” justification, and do not regret it one bit. It’s so easy to take a book at face value or admire the intricacies of cover art, but what actually goes into creating the perfect book cover? As a consumer, it’s not something we often think about when we buy books. The meticulous planning, the marketing plans, the drafts … all of these aspects can make or break the sale of a book. Publishing houses have dedicated departments to creating cover art, and we spoke to Jo Hunt, cover designer for Magabala Books, about her experiences when it comes to designing covers.

Do you only work with publishing houses or are you available to hire by self-published writers?

The majority of my work comes from major publishing houses but I also design for self-publishers, individuals in business, and theatre production companies.

What things do people need to consider when they give you a brief?

Most publishers provide a synopsis of the book. This can include the main characters, the setting, specific page references and the target market. I will always read the manuscript though, and apart from loving to read, I will often find something visual in the text that I can use in the cover design. Other important things to consider are the cover copy, format, genre, printing finishes, and dates for completion.

Are there any designs that you consider cliché or overdone?

Most book cover designs from the same genre are similar, so they could be considered cliché. Book covers need to grab your attention but they also need to let you know instantly the genre. An effective book cover will be similar to other best-selling books in the same genre. 

In what ways do designs differ in terms of genre?

There are so many different designs in terms of genre, below are a few of the main ones.

Thrillers: Big, bold fonts, silhouette of someone running, city backdrop.

Chick Lit: Curly feminine fonts, usually cutely illustrated in pinks, blues and yellows.

Detective novel: Bold, sans serif fonts, photograph of a gun, pool of blood, and palm trees. Sometimes a road leading to nowhere.

Historical fiction: Usually part of a woman’s face or body with a serif font to match the era of the novel.

What’s your favourite part of designing book covers?

I love the whole process of designing a book cover, from getting the design brief right through to completion of the final front and back cover artwork. I enjoy reading the manuscript and thinking of ideas; it might be one word or a sentence that gets me started on a design. Sometimes an idea can come in the middle of the night or when you least expect it. One of my favourite parts is when you know you have hit on a design that is perfect for the book, and you just hope the publisher agrees with you! It is also a special moment when an advance copy arrives in the post, an actual tangible book is so different to the last time you saw it on a computer screen.

What’s your favourite book that you’ve designed a cover for?

I have had so many favourites in my thirty years of designing books. Three of them from last year are How to Bee by Bren Macdibble (Allen &Unwin), Alfred’s War by Rachel Bin Salleh, illustrated by Samantha Fry (Magabala Books), and The Elephant by Peter Carnavas. All three are my favourite books and favourite design too.

Is it the same as the favourite design you’ve actually made? 

I do think if you have a well written, engaging book you will come up with a design to match it. I have many favourite designs for different reasons. Sometimes you may be up against deadlines, time constraints, or budget limits that will influence the final design.

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