How a book cover (or three) gets made

So we are just a week away from the release of A Witch Alone – the final book in The Winter Trilogy – which seems incredible! It’s only just over a year since the first book came out, but now I can’t imagine life without them – without their covers looking out from my book case, without keeping an eye out for them in bookshops and rearranging the shelves so they are face out. (Not really. Honest. Cough.) One of the things which has surprised and delighted me most about the process has been the brilliant jackets. They are nothing like I imagined when I wrote the book but I love them.


As next week marks the release of the final book in the trilogy, A Witch Alone, I thought I would take the chance to introduce you to the designer of all three Winter book covers, Michelle Brackenborough, and ask her a few questions about her job and the process of designing jackets. My questions are in italics, and her answers are in normal text. Being a designer she has included loads of cool images to explain the process – you can click on any of the images to make them a bit larger.


Hi Michelle, and thank you for agreeing to answer these questions! So first up – simple question, but what does a cover designer do exactly – can you tell us a bit about a typical day?

A simple explanation is that a cover designer takes a written story and turns it into a jacket that hopefully catches the reader’s attention and makes them want to pick it up.

But really there is so much involved in the process. We start with a brief from the editor, who will have been working with the author for a while and will know the book already. The brief may give us an idea of what could go on the cover, or it may just tell us what else the reader is reading at the moment. A designer reads and researches the book and its characters, comes up with ideas for the cover, commissions illustrators to create the cover image, does research to find the right photograph, or creates the whole cover themselves. And all of this has to work with the title, which becomes an integral part of the design.

We usually come up with a mood board of ideas that we think have the right feel for the cover and the title style. Next we mock-up a few cover visuals based on our ideas, and discuss these with our art director, editor, and the author sometimes gets involved at this stage. This is the stage that we might commission artwork, or find photographs to create our cover from. We’ll probably mock up two or three ideas to take to a cover meeting. From here, usually one cover is preferred and we work this up to final artwork. Etc etc etc…….


[This page of ideas was worked up by a different designer who started the project - Michelle took over in the middle. It gives you an idea of how many different looks are considered!]



When a book or series comes in, how do you go about creating a look? What kind of factors are involved in the decision-making process?

The first thing I do is to read the manuscript. Not all designers do this, but I find it difficult to design a cover without having a feel for the book and the characters. Next I’ll do lots of research into the content of the book, in this case I looked into witchcraft and magic and had great fun doing so.

From a sales and marketing point of view, when creating the look I also need to be aware of what the reader wants, what the current trends are, what books are selling well, what will this book be sitting next to… I need to create a cover that will fit in but – at the same time – stand out. All of these factors are taken into consideration in the final decision.


I know you experimented with several different looks for A Witch in Winter. Is this normal, or do you sometimes have a clear idea from day one?

It’s normal to try out lots of different looks for a jacket, even if you think that one idea is strongest from the start. Looking at a page of different ideas helps you to pick out the strongest cover/s to develop further.

We ended up with two worked up ideas, we were asked to design an alternative for comparison but really we always favoured the jacket we ended up with.









What made you choose the final look for A Witch in Winter and was it your decision or a collaborative one?

We were really sure we had the right cover, but a few people weren’t as confident as us. I think at the time the trend for girls on the covers of teen jackets was seen as a bit old fashioned, but we thought Anna was perfect! We had to convince a lot of people that this was the right cover for the book, and we won everyone round in the end.

For the back we nearly went with a spell [shown left] but in the end we used an editorial blurb. I still think the spell looks pretty cool though!



For book two I nearly chose an image of Anna’s house burning in the woods, but decided to go with the ocean in the end to avoid repeating the house.

[Below left is the mock up of how the burning house cover could have looked - below right is the finished final cover for comparison.]








One of the aspects I love most about the Winter jackets is the font! (I know this sounds geeky – but the font is just so beautiful). How did you find it? Do you have a big book of fonts you can scroll through?

I was looking for a font which had the right feel for a modern day witch, but nothing too spiky! I knew I wanted to add the swirly flourishes onto the font so I needed something that worked with these. I just scrolled through hundreds of fonts (and yes, we do have a digital font book) until I found the right one. I tried out at least ten others on the cover before deciding on this one.

[The image on the right shows the Witch titles with and without the swirls.]


I love the Winter jackets (phew) but have you ever had an author hate a jacket? What happens in that scenario?

I’ve had plenty of ideas that authors haven’t liked, but I try to avoid turning these ideas into hated covers by doing lots of research and chatting through my ideas with the author and editor early on.

If there is a cover or an idea that an author hates, we will change it, we can’t have an unhappy author!


Do you have any covers you are particularly proud of?

Here are a few of the covers I’ve designed in the last year or so that I’ve really enjoyed designing. I love layering lots of photographs and drawings, and playing around with typography, so this sort of cover is great fun to create.
















So there you go – thank you so much Michelle, firstly for making The Winter Trilogy look so magical, and second for coming on to explain how it all happened.

I’d love to know what you guys think – which cover do you prefer?

UPDATE: If you’re interested in a different take on cover design, check out this post by author Zoe Marriott about the process behind the jacket for her new book The Night Itself

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