A Day in the Life of a Cover Designer - with Mark Ecob

So it's not just the publishers and editors that make a book work in publishing. The content is vital, yes - but what's also really important is the package. The whole 'don't judge a book by its cover'? Yeah right! If retailers don't like the cover they wouldn't support it, if the consumer didn't like the cover they wouldn't buy it. Ensuring that a book has a commercial, appealing and original cover - considering just how many books are published each year - is one hell of a job. Hats off to all the designers out there who do such a cracking job.

While the majority of covers are designed by in-house illustrators there are also a lot of jackets which are outsourced to freelance design companies. We talk to Mark Ecob - a freelance book cover designer with over thireteen years experience creating covers for everyone from the biggest conglomerates to self publishers, including authors such as Iain Banks and Alexander McCall Smith.

Before setting up Mecob in 2010, Mark worked for Hodder & Stoughton, Orion Publishing and as Art Director for Canongate Books. His work has been recognised by the D&AD and exhibited in the UK. We talk to him about what the day in the life of a freelance designer is like:

I’m a Dad before a Designer, and my day starts early with our two little alarm clocks, Joeand Ella. When morning madness is over, I get to work in our home studio with my partner Rosey, who runs the Operations side of the business.

Organisation is as important as the design, so work starts with a cuppa, to do list and speaking to clients on the phone. Then the creative work begins, I get my best work done in the morning before lunch.

At the start of a cover design for any of my clients, be it Amazon, Penguin or a Self Publisher, I present rough ideas digitally. Using Adobe Creative Suite, occasionally good old paper and pen or my camera, I create designs to their brief after reading the book. Some of my best work has come from questioning a brief, so I do my own thing alongside. In those few hours before lunch I design new covers, or develop those that have come back in with client feedback. When we're happy with the rough designs, costed everything and discussed the production, we push the button on final artwork and prepare a book for print. 

At 12pm I down tools for a good hour’s lunch, cook for myself and enjoy a quiet house. Getting away from the studio is good for me and we live in a three-storey house, so I keep active just by moving around the place. Half an hour of Radio 4 later, it’s back to the studio at the top of the house, generally picking up toys and clothes as I go.

Afternoons are for artworking, creating the rest of the book’s packaging needs just as much love and attention as the front. Reading (with a lot of tea) is next, there’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in a new novel few have seen, and sketching ideas out – it’s one of the best bits of the job for me.

The remains of the day are for paperwork and promotion – which I generally don’t do enough of! My son gets home at 3.30pm, so the house echoes with laughter (or tears) before dinner together as a family at 5pm.

Contrary to a lot of grown-ups, I like to keep work at work and rarely do evenings, I’ve got better at doing what I need to do in the working day. After the kids are down, football, badminton and a photography night class are keeping me busy at the moment. If not, it’s a glass of wine and some telly before we crash.

If its not a typical day, you can usually find me in London seeing clients, or at Bath Spa University boring students to tears about how I get paid to draw pictures for a living.

So each time you pick up a book - think about what goes into making a cover. I used to grind my teeth each time I saw a comment from a reader complaining that a cover had just been 'slapped' on a book. From the original brief, to all the versions in between, from the agreement of sales and marketing, the numerous tweaks, the approval from the author and retailer, there's a huge amount of work that goes into covers and, rarely, little visual credit to those who put the effort into creating them.