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The Marrowbone Marble Company
Author: Glenn Taylor
Designer: Allison Saltzman
Typefaces: Asphaltum and Chalkbluff
Treatments: Textured uncoated stock, sculpt-emboss
This is a beautiful jacket and it feels great in your hands. The textured paper and sculpted emboss really add to the experience. Thank you to Allison for taking the time to share.
How did you become a book cover designer?
Circuitously. I studied architecture in college, but midway through I realized that I was hopeless at the technical stuff and that I had more promise as a graphic designer. I stuck with the architecture program—my school didn’t offer a graphic arts major, or even any classes—but got an internship at a good local design firm, and then that turned into a job after graduation. I learned how to use a computer (don’t laugh, this was 1992), I discovered the wide world of fonts beyond press-on Helvetica and Futura, and I cobbled together a tiny portfolio. I set my sights on book design because I was a bookworm and covers just looked irresistible. Then I had to convince art directors that I could create graphics, not buildings . . . and then that I could design normal books, not just architecture books (my first book design job was, appropriately, at Princeton Architectural Press). I did eventually get into trade publishing—I’ve worked at Penguin, Random House, and HarperCollins, where I’m now quite happily the art director at Ecco—but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Pretty much everything. I love that I get to read well-written books and dream up what goes on their covers, and that I get to discuss those books with intelligent people who value good cover design. And I love that I’m constantly looking at art, photography, and illustration—a never-ending education. There are less dreamy components of the job, but on the whole I really do love it. Ecco in particular—it’s a gem of a place.
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Can you tell us about your process on Marrowbone Marble Company?
The jacket shown here is for The Marrowbone Marble Company, a novel by Glenn Taylor. It’s an Ecco book and the publisher is very excited about the author and about this book in particular—so much so that he wanted a cover to show our sales force before Glenn had even handed in his manuscript. At that point, all we knew was that it was a historical novel set in West Virginia, and that the title referred to a factory that made toy marbles. So my first round of covers all had old photos of scruffy kids playing with marbles; those covers seemed too young and, unsurprisingly, too generic. I begged for more specifics about the book, and Glenn sent a plot synopsis describing a multi-generational novel of family strife and social unrest in small-town West Virginia, spanning much of the twentieth century. It sounded like Wuthering Heights and East of Eden with civil rights thrown in, but with the tantalizing detail that at each major juncture, a red bird would appear as an omen of change. With that, I was off and running, looking for my red bird of doom.
I found him in the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection—he was actually black, an old woodcut of a “red-headed woodpecker” from an 1849 pictorial history of the world—and miraculously, he was holding a marble in his beak. Uncannily perfect. I built the cover around him, and I kept the toughness of the prose and the historical narrative in mind: the roughed-up typography is Asphaltum and Chalkbluff, and it’s all set on a stained and tattered old book page. My one and only cover design was immediately and enthusiastically approved by all involved—an extremely rare feat—and it survived intact for the finished jacket. (The finished jacket is printed on a textured, uncoated stock, and we sculpt-embossed the bird and his marble.)
I’m proud of this cover because it’s simple, powerful, and memorable. My architectural education may have inclined me toward minimalism, but I do feel that the most effective book covers are ones that convey meaning, tone, setting, etc., in one fell swoop (no bird pun intended).
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