Almost 30 years ago, after graduating from Parsons School of Design, I landed my first design job at Penguin Books as a junior cover designer. I loved books then and I love them now – as a reader, a collector, and of course as a designer. I spent about two years at that job, but various circumstances and a desire to work on other types of design projects took me to many other job opportunities, both working for other companies and for myself. I learned a lot over the years and as I hoped, expanded my design horizons into a number of industries – food, optical, magazines, museums, non-profits and I even got into teaching graphic design. But amazingly enough, I always kept those early covers as part of my portfolio. They still looked good to me. That young designer from 1990 still felt relevant. Little did I know that when I recently decided to go back to running my own business, book design would enter my life once again.
One of the best parts about jumping from job to job and industry to industry was meeting coworkers who would become friends. It’s the only way I know how to work and I always joke that I “collect” people as I move through my personal and work life. (Social media makes keeping up with my “collection” so much easier.) I always “hold on” to my work friends and those relationships are precious to me. As I started thinking about getting back to the self-employed life, a website called Reedsy came my way. Not by chance but through a wonderful designer and artist, Robin Locke Monda, whom I met at that very first Penguin job. I reached out to her through Facebook about some advice on navigating the freelance life and she was a great help – both motivationally and logistically.
On Robin’s recommendation, I reached out to the folks at Reedsy, was approved, and quickly set up my profile using many of my Penguin covers in my portfolio. And what do you know? I received a request from an author to put in an offer for a cover design. Helen J. Darling’s book I’ll Know Me When I Find Me turned into a true collaborative experience between author, illustrator, and designer. The process seemed so natural, like I never stopped designing covers. Working directly with another creator and helping them turn their vision into an actual product reminded me why I love this aspect of design.
Soon, more books followed, each one with its own unique story and its own fascinating author. For some I also got to design the interior pages as well as the covers. I learned more and more about the amazing new world of self-publishing through such avenues as IngramSpark and Amazon KDP and how to create eBook files for digital devices. The “old-fashioned” book publishing world has become new and tech-savvy. I also discovered that my penchant for connecting with people through work was the perfect fit for working one on one with these authors. Not only was I learning about the books they were writing but I was also learning about them as people.
Krystal Ford wrote a timely novel about a young DC couple from both sides of the political aisle. In her novel, Love, Across the Divide, they find themselves in an unlikely romance. In addition to writing novels, Krystal is an environmental activist, fighting the good fight to make people of all ages aware of climate change. I love following her activism on Facebook and Instagram. Check her out!
When I received a request from Arkady Grinberg about working on the book about his wife’s dramatic and turbulent family history in pre- and post-revolutionary Russia, little did he know that we both hailed from the former Soviet Union, coming to the U.S. at about the same time. He had no idea that I was Russian when he chose me as one of the designers to submit an offer for his memoir. I must admit that I felt an extra sense of obligation when he asked me to design the cover for Punishment without Crime. And once the book was available to purchase, I read the enthralling story from cover to cover in a matter of days.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a baseball fan. But leave it to Ron Seybold to pique even my interest in the game. Stealing Home combines tales of fatherhood, a once-in-a-lifetime road trip, and the perfect baseball game into an inspiring and heartfelt story. And, Ron’s upbeat and enthusiastic personality made this so much fun to work on. He was my personal cheerleader (if baseball had cheerleaders) throughout the entire project.
As more incredible memoirists came my way, each entrusting me to visually interpret their unique stories, I felt more and more responsibility when working on their books. In Looking Down into the Madness, Andrew Hudgins tells his story of climbing Cerro Chirripó, the highest mountain in Costa Rica, following “two major heartbreaks.” I was so excited to find stock photos of the actual location that the rest of the type design naturally fell into place.
Niyati Tamaskar is truly Unafraid in the memoir about her battle with cancer. This young mother, wife, and engineer was my inspiration for creating a cover that would make her proud. After a few initial designs I was able to find an illustration that could be adjusted and incorporated into a design that Niyati felt was a true representation of her spirit.
And, in the midst of all the memoirs, Lisette Niemand reached out to me with her extremely creative illustrated book about a cat and dog duo who investigate a mystery. SASSI and The Squirrel’s Feather is the first in what will be a series of upcoming SASSI books for young readers ages 8 to 11. Working on the cover and interior pages turned into a welcome challenge as I arranged Lisette’s illustrations into both a print and EBook publication.
There are some new books in progress that aren’t quite ready to make their debut yet, but this not so new design journey has brought me full circle to where it all began. What a welcome turn of events as I stretch my design muscles and connect with so many creative writers who give me the opportunity to do work that I enjoy so much.
Be sure to support these authors if you can by buying their books and let them know what you think of the tales they tell. I promise, there is at least one book out of the bunch that you’ll fall in love with.