Book Cover Magic: An Interview With Scholastic's David Saylor

Recently I posted a few observations about YA book covers. I’m don’t think most readers know what goes into creating the final product they see on the shelf at their library or local bookstore, namely its cover art.

A friend at Scholastic suggested Ypulse Books interview someone in the biz about this issue. (Thanks Tracy!) David Saylor, VP, Associate Publisher & Creative Director, Scholastic Hardcover Books agreed to answer some of our questions and enlighten us on this subject of “wrapping” books. We all “judge books by their covers” and it’s helpful to know what goes into the cover-making process.

YPulse Books: What are the primary objectives in designing book covers for young adult books?

David Saylor: The primary objective of any cover, for any age reader, is to attract attention. We strive to create covers that make someone want to pick it up. Our other objectives are to give a reader a feeling for the book and what it might be about. We’re trying to invite readers into the book and the jacket is the invitation.

YPB: Describe the process of designing a book cover for a given title. Are there certain steps that you always take or is it a different process each time?

DS: Most books follow this pattern: Once the editor acquires a book, the art director/designer gets a synopsis and a copy of the manuscript. Sometimes the manuscript is in great shape, but more often it’s a draft, before the author has completed revisions. The art director/designer reads the manuscript, then they meet with the editor to talk about some ideas on how the cover might look. Sometimes the discussions are very general, such as deciding on a photographic approach or a commissioned piece of artwork. That’s followed by more detailed thoughts on what the image might be, what the characters look like, what the tone is. Basically the editor and designer must come to an understanding of how best to sum up the book visually.

YPB: Do designers read the book?

DS: I encourage all our designers and art directors to read the books. It’s possible to come up with an effective cover based on a summary or a premise, but I’ve found that it really helps to know the book. Without reading the manuscript, an art director/designer can miss the essential nuances that make a wonderful cover.

YPB: How much dialogue takes place between the author and the designer/artist in developing covers for young adult titles?

DS: There’s usually a lot of discussion between the editor and art director/designer. Sometimes the author is very heavily involved in approving or directing the cover, sometimes less so. We always want the author to love the cover and to feel good about it; after all, it’s their book and they are out promoting it in the world, so they should feel good about it. But beyond pleasing the author, there are often many other people to please: Our in-house sales, marketing, and publicity groups, and beyond that, sometimes booksellers/buyers, weigh-in on important books. They need to feel they can effectively sell a book to their customers, and sometimes they have invaluable feedback about what works (or not) in their stores. Considering how many groups and people we sometimes need to listen to, creating an effective and dynamic cover can be a daunting task.

YPB: Is there anything you stay away from….the proverbial “kiss of death” in designing book covers, especially for teens?

DS: I think the worst thing that we can do for a cover for teens is to make it look too young for the age group we’re trying to reach. Teens could just as easily read adult books, so we’re competing with sophisticated cover designs that are targeted for adults. We can’t create covers that look typical of what’s expected for kids’ books. There was a time when YA titles looked absurdly dated, but those days are long gone. They have to look as fresh, engaging, and hip as any adult book.

YPB: How important is a book’s cover? Do you have any anecdotes or research regarding their impact?

DS: Book covers are essential. For quite a while now, the best (and often the only) marketing tool for a book was its cover. I don’t think there’s any research to back that claim up, but in my years of working in children’s books, the emphasis on creating exactly the right cover has gone from 0 to 60. Not that editors and designers didn’t care about creating great covers in previous decades, but the expectation for YA books was pretty low 10 years ago, both in terms of sales and in terms of attention in the marketplace. Now that YA titles are selling in the millions sometimes, there’s no ignoring the fact that there is a market for teen books and that without a great cover, a book can definitely be hurt in the marketplace if it doesn’t look contemporary, engaging, or exciting.

Thank you so much David. Your responses were great and I think give us a better understanding of what goes into the “look and feel” of a book.


  1. Chrissy

    I’ve just read a new Young Adult book by Victoria Rosendahl called Bitter Tastes.
    I read up on this author and she used to write stories from around the 5th grade.
    Bitter Tastes, reminds me a bit of Nancy Drew

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