Left: A lensless photo by artist Adam Fuss on the cover of a novel. Center: A portrait of baseball pitcher R.A. Dickey taken by Mark Tucker. Right: A collage of stock images.
© penguin/photo by mark tucker photography
© penguin/photos by getty images and csa images
staff do. I’m more likely to look at photo-eye, PDN, Contact Sheet, Blind Spot, etc. I
get invited to jury photography and I find so much talent there as well—many of my
bookmarks come from jurying.
PDN: Who participates in the selection of covers? Authors, salespeople,
PB: All of the above, including [the authors’] neighbors, their children, their spouses.
I have one author I’ve packaged successfully for 15 years. A few years back, he handed
in a cover for his new book that his 19-year-old daughter’s boyfriend had done. He
was 18 and in charge of the author’s personal website. He took a crap photo of the
author’s daughter, threw some crap type on there and said famous author sent it in
to us with a high-pressure, “I love this, you better as well” note. We got past that, but
everyday, in multiple variants, we are wading our way through the subjective visual
opinions of folks that want to destroy our creative drive. You have to have a thick skin
and know how to let go and try something else—even when you damn well know
you nailed it in spades—and how to fight for what might be fightable, and learn to
know the difference.
approval. We don’t alter things often, but when we do, we are very tasteful about
it. A hack designer or art director can make your work look bad and you should not
collaborate with those folks. We’re about a marriage, where image, type and design
combine to create a harmonious whole. If that has not been achieved, keep exploring until it becomes one beautiful thing.
PDN: What changes or trends have you seen in recent years in the way photos
are used in book design?
PB: There was a long time there where only elegant black-and-white photos were
being used on book covers. It just became boring, precious and trite. Now I note
more variety and stylistic differences.
PDN: How often do book covers for long-selling and classic books get redesigned and reissued, and why?
PB: I personally choose to work on a lot of Penguin Classics.
This line of books is our heritage and foundation and has great
content, dead authors (dead means no opinions), and a team
that knows how to have fun and embrace new ideas. Backlist
titles need to be refreshed every once in a while to reach new
audiences and to look relevant.
PDN: Has the rise of online booksellers and e-books changed the way you and
your colleagues think about book design?
PB: It has to a small degree. Now, when a cover is finally approved by all involved, we
look at the cover thumbnail as it will appear online. I can’t say it has changed the way
we design, but we do make sure at that point that its individuality comes through. I
really can’t fault the powers that be for caring about “Will this cover look OK small?”
as this is part of the world we now live in.
PDN: How often do you have to alter or Photoshop an ex-
PB: We run everything we alter by the artist, and obtain their
Executive Creative Director
Penguin Group USA
Academic Marketing Department
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
PDN: Is there anything you wish that photographers un-
derstood better about your work?
PB: As Pollyanna-ish as this sounds, when you meet me at a
review, I really am there just to give you advice on how to get
work in publishing. It’s mind-boggling how many people put
their portfolios in front of me and say, “I do hope you can find
a book cover in there.” As if I flew a thousand miles to find an
image in a random portfolio. I can just stay in my office, pe-
ruse the Internet, and save a ton of time and money if that
was my goal.