When Mark got in touch with us back in January 2012, we were over the moon. In 2010 he set up his own design studio after having been Art Director for Canongate. Mark’s designed covers for authors like Alexander McCall Smith, Marina Lewycka, Yann Martel, Sara Sheridan and David Nicholls to name but a few, but he was excited by Unbound’s philosophy and wondered if we might like to work together (of course we did!), so we began with the rather unorthodox cover of Jennifer Pickup’s teen novel Unbelievable (pictured above) and haven’t looked back. Our own Caitlin Harvey interviewed Mark this week to find out more about the arcane practice of book cover design…
What’s your favourite part of the design process?
Ideas - the thrill of coming up with the perfect concept to fit a brief still floats my boat. A close second is the feeling you get when you open a box of books you’ve designed.
What’s your least favourite part?
When momentum is lost. Sometimes ego, money or just bad luck can take the wind out of a cover’s sails and then it just becomes work, rather than work you really enjoy. I try to be open and flexible and balanced with a strong vision for a design, which seems to work well. I’ve had to learn to be very patient…
How long does the process usually take?
How long is a piece of string? Sometimes it can be done in hours or days and sometimes months or longer. It depends on a lot of factors, but generally a cover is done in about a month, from briefing to finished artwork.
What’s the usual number of proofs (drafts) for one book?
Three rounds of visuals is a good rule of thumb, but some go into the tens or the hundreds!
What’s the maximum number of proofs that you’ve had to do for one book?
I once worked on a cover that took over three years to get done, and even then the finished cover was dodgy. It will haunt me forever…
Have you ever designed a ‘hole in one’ book cover?
Yep, the most recent was The Man in the Rubber Mask for you guys.
What do you usually look for in a cover?
The right face for the story; it needs to hint at the themes and atmosphere just enough to get you to pick it up. If the design’s interesting or different as well as commercially savvy, then so much the better…
Do you have a preferred type of cover to design?
I’m a jack of all trades (hopefully master of some) so I enjoy lots of things. Most recently I’ve been creating unusual photographic scenes for Iain Banks, alongside illustrative children’s work - I’m getting paid to draw robots at the moment which is cool.
What do you need to start the design process?
Ideally something to read, but most importantly the freedom to do my job from a supportive client and author.
How is working with Unbound different to working with other publishers?
It’s very different. I feel more connected with the author and the book, and we’re developing a cover process that’s the most focused I’ve ever worked in, and that involves the authors like nowhere else.
Tell us about your perfect working environment.
My dream studio would have plenty of natural light, space to store my masses of books and a place to read (hopefully involving a classic Eames lounge chair), not to mention the photographic studio annex, personal cinema…
Seriously, you’d be surprised where and how you can produce successful work, so the answer is an appropriate environment for the project. If I need to read, sometimes a busy cafe is perfect, but generally it’s somewhere you can focus on what you’re doing without too much distraction.
Do you have a dream commission?
Recently I got the chance to work on Roald Dahl - he is my all-time favourite author, and I would LOVE to fully illustrate a children’s book someday.
Do you prefer to design fiction/non-fiction titles? Does this make a difference?
I genuinely don’t mind, I get so many interesting projects that there’s always a good mix.
What’s your favourite font?
Too much choice to say really, but at the moment I love a bit of
What’s your least favourite font?
I’m not that fussy, if an ugly font is right for a brief then I’ll use it!
Do you have a favourite colour scheme to work with?
Again, anything that works to meet a brief but my favourite colour is blue.
Which of the covers you’ve designed for Unbound has been your favourite?
Unbelievable was pretty cool, it did something quite new in the genre, closely followed by the Robert Llewellyn. But I’m working with one of my favourite illustrators on Constable Colgan’s Connectoscope right now which might beat them both.
What’s your favourite cover ever?
Anything by Roald Dahl when I was a kid. Quentin Blake still rocks.
What’s the hardest part of the process?
Remaining positive when you know a client’s choice is wrong.
What advice would you give to an aspiring book cover designer?
Start experimenting; design whenever you can, get any experience you can by working with designers you admire. Get yourself out there on and offline and don’t be shy, it’s not about knowing everything as soon as you start out - just showing you’ve got potential in and out of the design.
To see more of Mark’s amazing cover work, visit his website.