Hey y’all! I’m introducing a new feature I’ve been cooking up a long time ago but only had the time and resources to start and introduce now. It’s called Covered, inspired by Cat York’s post on how we love covers but don’t relate it to the talented cover designers and artists who designed them. I have always loved covers and I felt guilty that I never really looked up these cover designers. Now, I’m changing that with Covered!
So my first guest is Erin Fitzsimmons, the cover designer for Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series and just about the most awesome HarperTeen releases (Taken by Erin Bowman! September Girls by Bennett Madison! What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang!). She is also the Senior Designer at HarperTeen. Please welcome, Erin Fitzsimmons!
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am a huge type nerd. I just can’t get enough! I like to think of myself as a book designer by day, and aspiring type designer and hand-letterer by night. While I love designing books, my newest passion is learning everything I can about calligraphy and type design. I just completed the Type@Cooper where I created my own original font. It was such a wonderful experience, and it sealed my conviction that I want to focus on learning new things all the time. That’s not to say I’d ever stop designing books, but I hope to keep developing new skills to enhance everything I do. Who knows what will be next! I think it’s more fun that way.
How did you end up doing the cover for Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series?
I had actually just started at HarperCollins when Delirium came through to my desk. When I started at Harper, I had never worked in teen books before. I feel so lucky because my art and creative directors were willing to give me a chance and I’ve loved it ever since.
When Delirium was assigned to me, Before I Fall wasn’t even out yet, so we didn’t really know how well Lauren Oliver was going to be received. Her books are incredible, so we had hoped, but you never know in the teen market!
All of a sudden, Lauren Oliver was a bestseller and Delirium was going to be BIG. It was a ton of pressure for a new designer, but I had amazing people walking me through and holding my hand. I always joke about how everyday I came into work thinking someone was going to take Delirium away from me because I wasn’t experienced enough. Thankfully, they never did (and they never would either!) It was really a fantastic learning experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Can you describe the process of designing the covers of the Delirium series?
There was a lot going on in the YA world when we were designing Delirium. Lauren Kate’s Fallen had just come out and was a huge success, Before I Fall was a surprising instant bestseller, and we knew Delirium was special and different. I read the entire manuscript and absolutely loved it, but the genre of dystopian was so new to everyone that we didn’t really know which direction to go in.
After quite a few rounds and an incredible photo shoot with Gustavo Marx, we settled on one direction for the original ARE cover, which definitely fit more into the Fallen world. Right before the book went to BEA, we decided we wanted this book to really stand out, and therefore we needed a new cover.
It was really tough for me, as a new designer, to see that first cover killed. But at the same time, telling a designer that you want a cover that is unique and will stand out is probably the best direction you can ever give them, or, at least, the most inspiring. We hired outside artists and designers, as I worked on new concepts. In the end, we went with my blue typographic cover design. I couldn’t have been more proud of that original jacket design. I still have the book on my shelf at home, and I just love the way the light reflects off it. (Le sigh.)
But then, of course, the book didn’t perform that way it was expected to perform, so the decision was made to repackage the book. Again, it was tough, but by that point (only a year and change into my career at Harper!) I felt like I had been through it all and was ready to go another round. We came up with the concept for the new jackets and did another photo shoot with Michael Frost. My favorite part of the new jacket design is creating the full jacket wraps. They’re my own little secret gardens.
If you like, these articles/interviews go a bit more into depth about the design process for Delirium: 1 and 2. (Go check those out guys, they’re really informative!)
So do you personally know the author or does the author have no inputs in the cover design?
Most of the time I don’t personally have any interaction with the author. The editor will ask their thoughts the jacket before we start designing, and will share the initial concepts and final covers with them as we work. The authors definitely have input, whether they have specific ideas at the start of the process or if they want to see tweaks as we finalize the cover. For the most part, they do respect that know what we’re doing (or at least we hope that we do!) 😉
Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I do get to interact with the authors after we release the covers. I love finding out tidbits after the fact, like how Mindy McGinnis always loved the Taken cover and wanted that cover for her book. She had no idea that she was going to have the same designer working on her series. I love those little twists of fate!
Why the change in covers? From the blue one to the one with flowers and the female model? And why did Harper stick with that concept?
We knew the blue cover was a big risk. It didn’t look like any of the other covers out there, and we didn’t know how the market was going to react. Unfortunately, Delirium had a very slow first few weeks, so the decision was made very early on that we were going to change the cover in hopes that more people would pick the book up. The repackage was definitely more successful in the long run, so we decided to stick with it!
What’s the significance/symbolism behind the covers? What’s with the flowers? What’s the meaning of the progression of the cover model’s look and expression?
We had a tricky task of conveying the concepts of love and danger. For me, the flowers are so beautiful and romantic, but at the same time they are slowly surrounding and enveloping Lena in a way that feels claustrophobic and dangerous. The progression in the model’s look is much more subtle, but we did want Lena’s expression to become stronger and fiercer across the series. She undergoes such a transformation throughout the trilogy, and we wanted her look to reflect that.
Aside from the Delirium series, are there any books you made covers for?
My latest designs that I’m super excited about are Not a Drop to Drink, Blackout, September Girls, and What’s Left of Me. As for what’s coming up, we’ll release the next round of covers in June, including House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple, the second book in the Taken series, and a new sci-fi debut called Elusion. I love them all!
Aside from designing book covers, what do you do or design?
My latest obsession is typography and calligraphy. Besides designing a typeface, I’ve also been doing more calligraphy work, anything from wedding invites to book covers or personal projects. I am still very much an amateur, so I try to play and experiment any chance I get. If I could play with pens and ink all day long, it would be bliss.
Did you receive formal education in art or design?
I went to the Gallatin School for Individualized Study at NYU. I call it the greatest school ever, for many reasons, but mainly because they encouraged interdisciplinary study in all fields. We had “concentrations”, which were really just a slightly formal way of organizing our studies. I studied photography, journalism, literature, art theory and criticism — or what I liked to call “The Art of Visual Storytelling.” Gallatin forced us to constantly think from different perspectives and to be interested in everything, which is really how I ended up in design. If I hadn’t been encouraged to try everything, I probably would have struggled (unhappily) as a photographer for much longer.
If yes, do you think formal education in art/design is important?
Since my answer is really neither a ‘yes’ nor a ‘no’, I will say that there are lots of ways to educate yourself without going to formal art or design classes. Luckily, I did have a background in photography, so I knew Photoshop, and was able to teach myself InDesign and Illustrator without much difficulty. When my boss first asked if I wanted to try designing a book cover, I said yes because I thought it would be fun. I quickly realized that it was way more fun and rewarding than anything else I had done. I wanted to design everything I could, so I entered contests, dreamed up personal projects, took on freelance work. I fully believe if you want to do something, just do it. I just read this on Twitter the other day: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” It applies to everything in life, really.
Any thoughts on copyright and the whole issue of stealing via posting without crediting over the Internet?
Ah, the Internet. It’s such a wonderful place for promoting and finding new artists, but it’s so easy to repost without credit. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about it too much because I don’t primarily create original artwork, but I work with so many artists who do. One of my favorite things about my job is finding new young talent from around the world, and they have to constantly be aware. All we can do is to make sure to seek out these talents and use our resources to make sure they are credited and paid as professionals.
Some advice for fledgling artists?
Post your work! We can’t find it if you don’t post it. There are tons of great free portfolio sites now: Behance, Krop, dribble, etc. Get your work out there and then keep making more work. We will find you. 😉
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Erin! And I am a fan for life. The books you designed are all in my best-covers-ever list. I am so looking forward for more of your designs!
About Erin Fitzsimmons
Erin Fitzsimmons is a book designer, aspiring type designer, and hand-letterer in her spare time; or, in other words, a girl who likes type too much. She prefers to letter in pencil, and cross words in pen.
Website (Go check her portfolio!) | Twitter