The World of Book Cover Design

The World of Book Cover Design

By Ceara Elliot, Class of 2009 My name is Ceara Elliot and I recently visited Thailand whilst on my honeymoon, […]

By Ceara Elliot, Class of 2009

My name is Ceara Elliot and I recently visited Thailand whilst on my honeymoon, almost 20 years after having left. Amongst the excitement of Bangkok, the beaches of Phuket and copious amounts of egg fried rice and coconut water, I also wanted to visit Bangkok Patana and show my husband, Rob, a place I have spoken very fondly about. My parents, Melanie and Douglas Elliot, were teachers at Patana and my brother, Stuart, also went to the school. It was a small but meaningful portion of all of our lives.

In 2004, we left Bangkok and headed back to the UK. Landing back in Hertfordshire, I finished my secondary education at the John Henry Newman (JHN) school in Stevenage. It was nice to reconnect with friends I had left five years prior. Whilst at JHN, I developed a further interest in art and design, and for my GCSEs and A Levels, I took this learning further. I applied and got into Leeds College of Art (now Leeds Arts University). graduating with a BA in Graphic Design. One of the projects I worked on whilst there was designing book covers and it turned out to be one of my favourites. I was also encouraged to gain some work experience and this proved to be very good advice. I spent a few weeks interning at a film marketing company based in London, called Empire Design, where I was designing film posters. My time there and the work I got out of it really did help me and my portfolio stand out.

After interviewing for a smaller design company in Hertfordshire, my interest in book cover design seemed to go down well and my details were then shared with an art director in London. The company was called Little, Brown Book Group. They were a book publisher and part of the Hachette publishing group. I started working there in 2012 as a junior book cover designer.

I was at Little, Brown for five years, where I was able to work on some fantastic covers, including Margaret Atwood, Mary Oliver, E. Nesbit and Candace Busnell. I enjoy working on a variety of different cover genres, from crime, to women’s fiction, to self-help and poetry. It keeps the job interesting, fresh and challenging. Book cover design is also incredibly diverse. I can work with illustrators, photographers, typographers and picture researchers. Unlike film posters, you can tackle a book cover using a whole range of medias. Some may be better off with photographic imagery and others might lend themselves to illustration or just typography. There are often formulas which help narrate and guide the process, but it’s good to keep each project unique to itself. Like with most things in life, there are ups and downs. Art and design, is subjective, and it can be difficult and frustrating to receive feedback or criticism on something you think is right. I’m constantly reminding myself that it’s constructive and beneficial.

There is a whole team of people with Penguin UK who our covers are put towards, then on to book sellers and finally, the authors themselves. It’s a bonus if a book cover is approved quickly and smoothly. Something I am often told is how good I am at just getting on with the challenge at hand, it really pays off to be resilient whilst trusting and enjoying the process. After five years at Little, Brown, and a chunky portfolio, I was approached by Penguin Random House and offered a senior designer role, which after much deliberation, I gratefully accepted. Now, six years since then, it has very much been more of the brilliant same. I have got to work with some great authors including, Lisa Jewell, Malorie Blackman, John Cleese, Amor Towles, Pandora Sykes and most recently… Tom Hanks! A big career moment for me and truly will always feel thrilled to have done it.

Now, looking back at 10+ years working in book cover design, it has flown by. My confidence within the industry has grown and my work has reflected that. I like to keep the covers I design as varied as possible, there is always a time and a place where a certain cover feels appropriate to delve into. I don’t like to be too picky. Throughout this time I have become part of a nice community of fellow designers, which I think is very important. It helps to share stories, complain and laugh about the same stuff and also get to know other people in the field. Some of these relationships are purely just through social media and others I see at in person social events or just simply ‘going to the pub’. For example, we have an Annual Book Design Award (ABCDs), which I have been lucky enough to have been nominated on occasion. Also, myself and two fellow designers (Jack Smyth and Nico Taylor) curate an annual book design talk, that is held at St Brides in London.

My advice to anyone interested in pursuing book design or graphic design in general, is to do the work (even if self-initiated) and get your work seen. Show interest in a whole range of institutes/companies/groups, so much of getting to your version of success is speaking or knowing the right people. As I mentioned previously, I interviewed at a small design company in a small town in Hertfordshire, but their connection to Little, Brown was therefore my connection too. Don’t be afraid to ask. Find the right balance of aspiring but not over-reaching. Success might come crashing down all in one or it might be slow and steady, either will be right for you as long as you are enjoying it (for the most part!).

My time spent at Bangkok Patana wasn’t necessarily part of the building blocks into book cover design. In fact, whilst I was there I think I was wanting to get into acting or perhaps something more associated with English. However, it has always been somewhere that has been special to me and made me unique. I have enjoyed talking about my time living in Thailand and going to an international school and people have certainly been fascinated when I have told them. Patana life helped me explore a variety of cultures, experience a dedicated and hard-working environment and meet a lovely range of people. These exposures have certainly benefitted me and where I am now and I will be forever grateful I was able to grow and learn at Bangkok Patana School, from 1999 – 2004.

Please see my website for a selection of cover designs and below are some articles I have written or been featured in, if you wish to carry on reading.

Thanks for reading,


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