Penguin's Paul Buckley Talks Book Covers

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Penguin VP/executive art director Paul Buckley
Penguin VP/executive art director Paul Buckley
To you, what are the most important rules of book cover design? What are the keys to getting a book noticed on the bookstore shelves?
The most important thing is to design with distinction – to make a book grab someone's eye because it's unlike anything we've ever seen; it conveys the author's tone and hints at the books content while being fresh and unique.

When it comes to selecting an artist to design/illustrate a cover, what qualities in the artist are most important to you?
I choose artists whose talents and style seem like they will lend themselves uniquely well to any given project; and who are pleasant to work with. If those two qualities are present, all will be OK, and we will hopefully have a cover all of us involved can be proud of.

What about working with a new talent, someone you hadn't worked with previously? What convinces you to take a chance with a new illustrator or designer—someone who hasn't designed a lot of book covers before? When you stop trying new people, you become stagnant. That said I'm busy and am overseeing a ton of covers, so I'm not working with anyone whose work and personality is not already showing me that they can get there. I'm never worried whether someone has designed or illustrated covers before, as talent is talent, and it's my job to help them flow that talent into my venue.

Of the artists you've worked with before, who has especially impressed you, and why?
I cannot answer this question—everyday I see 10 people whose talents I'm blown away by. There is certainly no lack of talent out there.

We don't want to bias our contestants, but for Sam Taylor's Book, what are your initial impressions about where the cover should go? What general direction can you give everyone?
I'm busy and smack in the middle of having 200 covers due right now. Hence, I've not yet read Sam's book... but I will say this about any book cover: we should not have to work too hard to read the copy and the cover should grab us and hold us so that when we are looking at the covers done by other contestants, our eye keeps getting drawn back to yours. By the time we are judging the covers, I'll have read the book!

Can you give us a quick rundown of a recent, successful cover project? What was the brief like, what was the process of revisions like and ultimately, what impressed you about the outcome?
Below is a book cover that I recently hired The Heads of State to design. They sent me five or six different concepts; all fantastic in different ways. After minor tweaking, we chose this one as it fit the book so perfectly.

One of Buckley's recent projects, designed by The Heads of State
One of Buckley's recent projects, designed by The Heads of State
In general, what do you love when it comes to book cover design?
I love that every project is different and that I am constantly learning from, and working with things I hold dear—books. Also, "book people" are generally nice, smart, and interesting, so it's a great lifestyle.

What are your turn-offs? What's played out?
Beige. Old paper texture. Cropped doll heads. Helvetica flush left. Precious type. Big nasty type. Covers that look like other popular books.

Read more about the Penguin contest and our Hearts and Minds event.
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