Behind the Scenes: How a Book Gets Its Cover

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I was really excited when I first started working on the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions -- it was a chance to design covers that were a little more “out of the box.” The Deluxe Editions are paperbacks with French flaps (the ones that fold out) and deckle edges (pages that are rough around the edges). Typically, they don’t have any text on the back, as most books do, so you can really design an entire package rather than just the front cover. We also use different paper and the overall production quality is higher compared to that of most standard trade paperbacks.

With Jane Austen: The Complete Novels, I really had to think. We knew it would be a big book, but it had to look beautiful at the same time. Austen is an author who has so wonderfully transcended the ages; I didn’t want the book to be dated. The funny thing was, my sister was reading all of Jane Austen’s works at the time. I told her what we were doing and she got really excited -- that really put the pressure on!

I hired a designer named Kelly Blair with whom I have a great working relationship. I give her a suggestion, and I feel like she can read my mind. I told her to take a contemporary approach with Austen, to stay away from the traditional or classic. Kelly came back with some sample covers with stripes of colors and differently textured panels. We thought the stripes looked like wallpaper. So Kelly hit up a London wallpaper shop to do a little research and found some historically accurate wallpaper.

But something was missing from the cover. Women love the dresses from Austen novels, the houses, the atmosphere. So I asked Kelly to insert a period image into one of the wallpaper stripes. The one we chose, a woman’s face and décolletage, was perfect -- just a sneak peek. The timelessness of the cover makes it one of my favorite Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions.

The Complete Jane Austen Collection from Penguin Deluxe Classics

Since then, we’ve published many more Deluxe Editions. I had the pleasure of working with the wonderful fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo on six Couture Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions.

Working with Ruben was a dream come true. When I hired him, I presented the Couture Classics endeavor and offered him his choice of one of three covers, never imagining he would say that to be interested and challenged he would want to take on all three titles. I (of course) said “sure!” His wife, fashion designer Isabella Toledo, read to him as he created. They are a wonderful team. He understood the process of how we create books. He came up with the idea of doing each cover in a different medium: oil, acrylic, ink. He gave me free rein in the end as to how I would handle the placement and usage of his type. He was such a pleasure to work with -- and the books were so beautiful -- that we ended up doing three more Couture Penguin Classics with him.

One of the Couture Classics Ruben designed was Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was so different from the other covers in that this one was entirely black and white. My mother said this was her favorite -- she loved the silhouettes of the figures on the cover.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen from Penguin Deluxe Classics

The creative director, Paul Buckley, hired bestselling author and designer Audrey Niffenegger to (re)design the cover of Persuasion as a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. I remember seeing the sketches come in and just being blown away. I loved the way Audrey took the “P” and turned it into a root that wrapped around the novel’s heroine, Anne Elliot.

Persuasion by Jane Austen from Penguin Deluxe Classics

We really look forward to designing every one of the Deluxe Editions. Here we can tell the story with just the cover.

ROSEANNE SERRA is a vice president at Penguin Group (USA) and is the art director for three iconic publishing imprints: Viking, Penguin Books (which includes Penguin Classics), and Pamela Dorman Books. In this piece, Roseanne describes the advent of Penguin Classics’ Deluxe book covers and the creative process she applies as the covers develop from the initial concept to the final product readers see in their favorite bookstore.

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