Q&A with Anna Valdinger from HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Today Anna Valdinger, Fiction Publisher from HarperCollins Publishers Australia answers 7 questions about publishing we readers have always wanted to know.

Does the designer have to read a book first before designing the cover?
No, and many designers don’t have time to read all the books they’re working on, although certainly sometimes they’ll read some of a manuscript to get a sense of the book’s tone – usually for fiction. The publisher will have given the designer a comprehensive brief which includes where the publisher sees the book sitting in the market and the type of book it is, comparative titles, and often visual motifs from the book that could work on the cover. I always ask my authors for their thoughts as well so that their vision for the book is included from the start. Some authors are very visual and will send over mood boards and others prefer to wait to see concepts that we’ll discuss. It’s a fascinating process to get to something that is artistically in line with the author’s (and designer’s) vision and that will also work commercially.

Anna Valdinger, Fiction Publisher HarperCollins Publishers Australia

What’s the most expensive kind of finishing for a book cover?
Probably a cut out. Those can be easily damaged and I don’t often use it. Flaps are expensive as well, though they look lovely. Foil is probably the more expensive option of the ones I tend to use. Emboss and spot UV on a matt finish are my favourites. I wish I could do more colour printing on inside covers but that can get pricey. Soft touch is amusingly divisive – some people find it quite creepy. (I’m definitely in the ‘soft touch is creepy’ crowd; it also shows your fingerprints quite easily).

Why do so many books have the text ‘A Novel’ after the title?
This is a convention that tends to happen mainly in the US. But sometimes if we are concerned that people will mistake a novel for non-fiction, either because of title or subject matter or the author’s profile, we might add it on. I prefer to make it clear through the cover treatment, title and shout line.

What are the blank pages at the end of a book for?
Books are printed in batches of 16 pages called an extent. So if a book has, for example, 8 pages of preliminary matter (title page, copyright page, dedication, list of other books by that author, and so on) and 383 pages of main text, you’ll have 391 pages plus 9 blanks to take it to a total extent of 400 pages. If you only go over an extent by a page you’ll have 15 blanks which is a lot, so usually you would see if you could save a page somewhere. Typesetters can do a lot to help here! We tend to use any blanks we have for things like ads for other books by that author or reading group questions.

Do readers still send fan mail to authors?
Certainly. Less so by snail mail these days although we do get post coming in for authors which we will forward on. Most people tend to connect with authors now via social media or the author’s website. Authors love to hear from their readers – it can be a lonely process to create a book from nothing, and to hear from someone that they enjoyed or were touched by the work is really special.

How does a bidding war between publishers start? Don’t authors have to submit their work to one publisher at a time? How do they engage in a bidding war?
You definitely don’t have to submit to one publisher at a time but it is courtesy to let people know your work is on multiple submission. If you have an agent they’ll usually submit to the major publishers all at once. Authors can do this too but not every publisher accepts unsolicited manuscripts, and agents know which person is the best one to approach for a particular title. If one or more publisher is interested the agent will let the others know – at which point everyone can get competitive!
If more than one publisher makes an offer, then the author and agent will assess them and decide if they want to accept one or take it to an auction. These can take various forms but often include the publishers putting together marketing and publicity pitches to accompany the financial offer and – depending on convenience and geography – going in to meet with various publishers to get a sense of the team and which might be the best fit for them and their work. Publishers then put in their best offer and the author decides which to accept. It’s not always down to the money; sometimes you feel a certain publisher ‘gets’ you better than the others, and the author/publisher relationship is really important, both editorially and because the publisher is your and your book’s champion.

Which book has surprised you the most this year?
The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape. It’s rare to see a financial advice book take off in such a way but this one has sold 300,000 copies and almost all of that through chains and independent bookstores rather than through the big department stores. It’s a really impressive bit of publishing.
In fiction I am hugely excited about a book I acquired that will be coming out in March 2018. It’s a crime fiction novel, the first in a series by Perth writer Dervla McTiernan. It’s incredibly pacy and compelling and heartbreaking and tense – I couldn’t put it down and am still shocked that it’s a first novel and yet is so good. It’s called The Rúin – look out for it!


8 Books With Bees on the Cover

I follow a number of book reviewers on YouTube and one of them recently mentioned their affection for books with bees on the cover. This captured my attention immediately, because I have the same bias for books with keys on the front, so I decided to keep my eyes open for bee-themed book covers and group them together.

Here’s a list of 8 books with bees on the cover.

1. The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon
This book seems to be everywhere at the moment, and I guess it’s no surprise given it was published on 1 April 2016. It’s a mystery novel about families and secrets.

2. The Bees by Laline Paull  Bees by Laline Paull
The Bees is being pitched as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Watership Down and given that the main character Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, and this is the story of her life, I can totally see why. I loved Watership Down this year, so I might give this one a go.

3. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Most Arthur Conan Doyle fans know about Sherlock’s love of bees and fans of TV shows Sherlock and Elementary might enjoy reading The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Published in 1994, it’s the first in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes series, which now has 14 books in the series.

4. The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau World Without Us Mireille Juchau
I think this is my favourite cover on the list. The World Without Us is a story of secrets and survival, family and community, loss and renewal.

5. Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar
This is a coming-of-age story featuring Carol and her mentally ill Grandfather.

6. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I’m a huge fan of the Penguin clothbound classic series, and they offer a beautiful edition of Far From the Madding Crowd in their collection. Having said that, here’s another stunning edition with bees on the cover.

7. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Probably the most well known book on the list, The Secret Life of Bees is a bestselling novel that was made into a film starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys.

8. The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy The Bees Carol Ann Duffy #2
This is a poetry collection and here’s an excerpt from the blurb: Woven and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem, or hovers at its edge. In the end, Duffy’s point is clear: the bee symbolizes what we have left of grace in the world, and what is most precious and necessary for us to protect. Check out the stunning blue hardcover edition.

Hope you enjoyed this collection of books. If you can’t go past a good book list, check out my list of 14 Books With Keys on the Cover.


14 Books With Keys on the Cover

I’m always influenced by a well-designed book cover or dust jacket, and a book with a key on the cover almost always grabs my attention. Once I started taking notice of the symbolism of keys in book cover design, it didn’t take me long before I started making a list (because I love a good list).

First for the ones I’ve read:The Observations by Jane Harris

1. The Observations by Jane Harris
2. 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz
3. The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
4. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
5. The Collector by John Fowles

It should be said that for these 5 books, the covers were much better than the novels. I gave The Collector a 4 star rating, 3 star ratings to two of the books in the list and one 2 star and one 1 star rating to the rest. Now that I consider these ratings alongside their appealing cover designs, perhaps there’s some truth to not judging a book by it’s cover. Just because a book speaks to you, doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it.

There’s a plethora of keys decorating all kinds of book covers out there, some old and some new, some enticing, and some less so. One of my favourite classics cover of all time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, number 13 in the list and the cover of The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon calls out to me whenever I see it. I can almost hear those keys jangling in the snow.

Jane EyreThe Scottish Prisoner Diana Gabaldon


6. The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon
7. Secret Obsession by Kimberla Lawson Roby
8. Altar of Bones by Philip Carter
9. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
10. Veil of Lies by Jeri WestersonDays of Abandonement Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante is popular this year, and the keys on the front cover (pictured right) speak to me about unlocking the mystery of the author’s identity almost as much as her novel The Days of Abandonment.

11. Magician by Raymond E. Feist
12. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
13. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
14. The Inquisitor’s Key by Jefferson Bass

Can you recommend any of these? Have I missed any of your favourite covers in this list?
Are you influenced by cover art? Let me know in the comments.

Best YA Covers of 2015

I get sucked in by amazing covers all the time. And I’m not even sad about it! I think an extraordinary cover is a must for a book considering you spend more time with it on your shelf than you do reading the insides. (Although, one mustn’t judge a book solely by the cover…but it is hard, right?!)

And is it just me or are Young Adult covers just getting more gorgeous every year?! 2015 showed some absolutely GORGEOUS designs. I’ll be listing my favourites below and be sure to tell me of your favourites in the comments and what you think of my picks!

Note: All book covers link to purchase pages on this website! Click away!



20560137 9780451472397 9781780622279

I quite adore the variety of these fantasies covers…from city illustrations, to old book vibe to crow feathers! And just look at that typography. A book that makes letters look delicious enough to eat definitely wins favour with me.


W I L D    W E S T

download 156788f0-8006-0133-0c50-0e76e5725d9d 9780399168031

Apparently stories of the Wild West were quite popular in 2015. HUZZAH. (Yes, I am Australian, but I grew up with a slight fascination of the Oregon trail.) I adore Walk on Earth a Stranger for using the magic of gold dust on the cover. And Vengeance Road makes use of those famous wild west skulls. While Under a Painted Sky looks…painted?! The colours! The silhouettes! Help. I fell in love with a book cover.



4b3883f0-7ffd-0133-9f07-0af7184f89fb 9781633752382 9780738743387

It might be just my picks of the year but…the dystopian covers seem dark this year! And they totally make use of stunning pinpoints of colour. I adore how 5 to 1 has made use of Indian henna patterns to reflect the country the book is set in. Forget Tomorrow just zings with that perfect shade of blue-green. It’s like the ocean. It’s delectable. Zeroboxer just looks like it’s going to thump you in the face at any moment — and that’s what a good dystopian cover should probably do.


M E N T A L    I L L N E S S

9781471404566 673d5ab0-7ffd-0133-0c58-0e76e5725d9d 9780141357034

Apparently BLUE IS IN for books that deal with mental illness and disorders! Which makes sense since blue is often a colour that signifies pain and sadness. I also really like how simplistic the covers are.

P R E T T Y    D R E S S E S

18081228 22918050 9781408858691

I will forever be addicted to covers that are just astounding gorgeous in the dress department. Plus it proves that you can be awesome and rule the world (as each of these girls are doing!) and were fabulous gowns. Blues and purples are obviously fashionable too in the fantasy rulership world. I shall keep that in mind in case I want to take over a fantastical country some time…


S C I E N C E    F I C T I O N

9780312642983 9781423171041 9780062220172

Basically: STARS. If a book has a sci-fi label, it is largely missing out if it doesn’t make use of stars and galaxies. I haven’t met a sci-fi cover I didn’t love!


H I S T O R I C A L    F I C T I O N

9781407159546 24187925 9780062321275

Historical Fiction seems very varied this year. Of course these are only 3 of the many YA books published, but I do like how hands are prominently featured in the first covers. Velvet Undercover falls prey to putting faces on covers….which usually is a no-no for me. But I love the colours so much. And the typography! So it still wins!

The Internet Is For Porn

The Art of ImmersionThe internet is for porn—there’s even a song about it. Sung, no less, than by child-like puppets disconcertingly addressing extremely adult themes.

There is, of course, Bookshelf Porn, which I’ve blogged about previously and obsess over daily. But I’ve now stumbled on a site that will enable me to get a double dose: Book Cover Archive.

The site is, as it states, and archive of book cover designs and designers dedicated to the appreciation and categorisation of excellence in book cover design. That’s a bunch of words that really means it’s a site dedicated to book cover porn. And porn it is, with the homepage a breathtaking layout of book cover panels guaranteed to set any booklover’s heart racing.

I’ve had the Book Cover Archive open on my laptop for days and my appreciation for book cover design genius as a whole has reached new levels.

Ugly ManHow greatly simple and powerfully effective, for example, is the Ugly Man cucumber cover?! Who isn’t mesmerised by The Art of Immersion, the cover art that, like those cryptic 3-D puzzles you used to stare at as a kid, reveal more the longer you look at it?!

And whose mind on seeing The War on Words doesn’t whirr off in a million thoughts about the clever intersection of newspaper print, puns, and typography?! I also really love the haunting, show-don’t-tell simplicity of The Ethics of Interrogation.

The beauty of this site’s design is immediately apparent—the crisp, simple header gets out of the away of the site’s real stars: the book covers. But its thoughtful, subtle design is something you appreciate more as you spend time on there.

Each book cover image links to a page containing all the information (and links) you could ever hope for: the author, the publisher, publication date, designer, genre. Each of those enables you to drill down and sort by the one you prefer.

There’s also a small, non-intrusive link to purchasing the book via Amazon if you so desire (which I so don’t), and about which the site’s owners are completely transparent: ‘Amazon sends us a small commission for purchases made by way of The Book Cover Archive. We hope you don’t mind and appreciate your support.’

Who’d possibly begrudge them early a few cents (and it will be only a few cents—we are talking Amazon) after a kindly note like that? Well, me actually. I appreciate their sentiment and it’s nothing personal, but I’ll still be buying the books from this Australian-owned, carbon-neutral bookstore.

The War on WordsThere are other fantastic finds in what’s effectively the site map at the bottom. In addition to the standard social media and newsletter sign-up options, you find out who’s behind the blog and the book covers featured and can leap off onto their sites—fantasising, of course, about one day commissioning them to do work for you.

There are also links to fantastic books and websites about cover design, of which one can never have or ogle too many (in fact, be warned: this entire site is a veritable rabbit hole of book and website and design porn).

My two favourite aspects of the site, though, are the fact that they include a list of planned ‘future enhancements’ for the site and details of the font indentification.

The former outlines how the site is a work in progress, but a considered and (to borrow the word I used to describe their Amazon links) transparent one. As someone who works on websites and (painfully) understands how much goes into even the simplest of designs, I appreciate knowing where the website developers have been, where they’re heading, and especially how far they’ve come.

The Ethics of InterrogationThe latter-mentioned font identification is something that helps all of us solve that eternal question—not ‘What is the meaning of life?’ but ‘What font have they used on that book?’ I’ve committed many hours of my life that I’ll never get back on the hunt for the ever-elusive answer to that.

Which indeed reminds me that the internet is for porn. If you haven’t discovered the mindblowing-ness that is Typographica (which, now that I look closely, has an extremely similar design), I suggest you grab a coffee and buckle yourself and your internet connection in—that’s another, extremely worthy, highly addictive rabbit hole all of its own …

It’s Better In Black And White

Alice in WonderlandI’ve never understood but have always been impressed at how everything seems to look so simple but good in black and white. How for all the technological advances in the world that have brought us vibrant, CMYK-perfect colour, old-school black-and-white photos are still more striking and more flattering.

That’s also the case with these iconic Picador 40th-anniversary-edition redesigns of bestsellers, including All The Pretty Horses, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Sea, and, everybody’s favourite, American Psycho.

Ah, bliss. Ah, envy. So simple yet so stellar. The combination of typography (something with which I’m obsessed) and bold, repeated illustrations in just the two tones is pure, unadulterated, I-must-have-it-even-though-I-already-own-most-of-these-books magic. In fact, it kind of makes me want to buy the ones I don’t even like.

The last time I oohed and ahhed so fully over book covers was when Penguin issued the exquisite textured special editions. The pink flamingo-ed Alice in Wonderland sold out nationwide and I still haven’t secured myself a copy. Harrumpf. It’s especially galling as despite watching the movie, I’ve never actually read Alice in Wonderland and figured this was my most-inspiring, most-likely-to-follow-through chance.

I’m even more impressed by Picador’s designs, if that’s possible, because it didn’t call upon textures and hardcover aesthetics to enhance the designs. Their covers are more Penguin-Modern-Classic simple than to-hell-with-the-budget bold.

I imagine too that this successful redesign was harder to achieve than the results suggest—after all, chick lit Bridget Jones’s Diary and slasher fiction American Psycho aren’t quite in the same reading genre.

So I guess we all know how my next Boomerang Blogs voucher will be spent. The question is: Which cover is my favourite?

Not The Book You’re Looking For…

Penguin 75I’ve got to admit I didn’t expect to be laughing at myself while reading Penguin 75, but then again, but I guess that’s what you get for doing something by halves (I almost wrote ‘half-assed’, but then told myself this was a family-friendly blog).

I’d vaguely heard there was a book about the history of Penguin’s covers and, as I’m fascinated by the company’s origins and iconic penguin and orange covers, figured it was a must-have. Of course, I didn’t know the title so crowdsourced its title via Facebook.

Fellow writer, part-time bookseller, and full-time friend and Christopher Currie (I’ve blogged about his first novel, The Ottoman Hotel) suggested I might be thinking of Penguin 75; one he knew to be a bestseller. I immediately ordered it from Boomerang Books and rubbed my hands together in anticipation of its arrival.

Those of us in the industry obsess about what goes into a good cover, and what works and doesn’t from both the author’s and booksellers’ points of view. We each have our pet hates.

For me, they’re generally dust covers and specifically dust covers in light colour. If they don’t arrive in store torn, battered, and generally looking shabby, within about five seconds flat of being on the shelf and handled by potential buyers, they will be.

That said, I have no idea what my idea of a perfect cover is and would go into a complete tailspin were I to have to articulate what I would do for my own book should it ever be published. Hence my keen-ness to learn from the best…

It turns out that it wasn’t quite the book I thought I was ordering, although I’m not sure the book I thought I was ordering actually exists. Instead of tracing the company’s history and the arrival at those distinctive orange Popular Penguin covers, Penguin 75 looks at other covers the company has put together and contains a commentary from the authors whose books those covers graced and the designers who came up with them.

It took me a while to work out what was going on and I chuckled at myself and my confusion when I finally worked it out. And although I don’t (ironically) like its cover, I was amused at and impressed by the cleverness of the book and the wit with which it’s executed.

Paul Buckley is the Executive Vice President Creative Director at Penguin, which is a fancy way of saying Art Director, AKA the guy who is in charge of the designers who design the covers. The book is him documenting the behind-the-scenes tales of just how some covers came into being. And by goodness it’s a cack.

Take, for example, his introduction:

Publishers and editors are used to hearing art directors and designers moan endlessly about their best work being passed over by the philistines that surround them on all sides. They’re also used to hearing from the authors about how there is no way the designer read the material and this lousy cover will surely bury the author’s career.

Then these poor editors and publisher have to gently navigate us through, hopefully to a good conclusion for all. Beautiful designs flourish. And massive book sales soon follow. Probably. Not really. Okay, sometimes. But never as often as we’d all like.

Eat, Pray, LoveHe goes on to explain the book’s premise:

This being the case, design blogs are constantly asking, ‘Why does this cover look this way?’ Often the designer appears online and diplomatically attempts to answer. But in all my years, I’ve only seen an author chime in once. So with this book, I thought it would be fun to get both sides on one page talking about one cover.

And what I’ve learned is that when faced with putting their thoughts on the printed page, authors are far more polite than designers. But I’ve seen the emails. I’ve heard the responses. An author who dislikes his or her cover is often very not polite, and sometimes understandably so.

They spend years crafting something that is immensely important to them, then we come along and in a matter of weeks, an editor sends an email that is usually along the lines of ‘We are so excited to be showing you this cover! We hope you love it as much as we do!!! XOXO’ (really, I see the XOXO thing A LOT)…and then major author panic ensues.

There are some brilliant admissions and one-liners in this book, including some that are cleverly previewed on the inside of the cover and that then point to the particular page in the book on which they occur. Some of my favourites include:

  • He read the book brief and immediately came up with a bear shagging a doll. Bingo. Cover approved.
  • This one is going to be very very very difficult to nail.’ Translation: I’ll need to see a hundred cover comps, and I’m not picking on till UPS is banging on the door.
  • What if I said it was awful? Would [my editor] still take me out to lunch?
  • Sketches were submitted and came back with mixed results. The horse would have to be castrated, but the nipple stays.

The Ottoman MotelI actually laughed out loud (at myself) when I read about how the designer, who didn’t realise just how big the book was going to be (although in truth, no one did, really) put together the Eat, Pray, Love cover. See, the ‘eat’ is crafted from real, three-dimensional pasta, the ‘pray’ from prayer beads, and the ‘love’ from flowers. It was painstakingly completed and photographed twice because the first images didn’t turn out quite so well. Me? I never realised what they were! Er, like, duh!

The tale of how a 16-year-old intern broke the rules and came up with the perfect cover acts as a reminder that the best ideas can come from the unlikeliest (and less experienced) of places. Its inception will go down in Penguin history.

I also loved how one author created his own cover by photographing prostitutes and then obtaining a handwritten release form, which is pictured in the book). His rather, er, detailed invoice (also pictured), is brilliant too.

But I don’t wish to ruin the surprise so won’t say anything further. Instead I’ll say it wasn’t the book I expected and that I didn’t have the reaction to it that I’d anticipated, but that I’d highly recommend. Kind of like it’s not the book you’re looking for, but it’s one that you should find.