Technology & The Book Jacket


With something like 300,000 books published each year in the U.S. alone, It’s no wonder that everyone judges a book by its cover; particularly the people who count the most, such as the book buyers for chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as on-line stores like and . The ultimate book buyer —and reader of the book— also examines book jackets quite carefully before he or she decides to spend $27.95 plus tax for that book. That means that publishers feel increasing pressure to produce crisp jackets that capture the imagination of both book buyers and book readers alike.

Certainly I possess no skills of a jacket designer, but I know enough to know that technology has reinvented the way jackets are designed and produced. The many software programs designers use—-from Quark to Photoshop, have reinvented the entire process. From the perspective of a book editor who is chiefly responsible for guiding the designer and reviewing his or her efforts, the world has changed dramatically.

Even a little more than a decade ago, when I was at another large publishing house, I worked from a satellite office near Chicago, 700+ miles from the home office in New York. When a jacket was designed and approved by the senior people in the home office, the designer would have to mount the designs on black boards, and overnight them to us in the Chicago office. Then we would have a conference with all of the team members in both NY and Chicago to discuss the design(s). If they were approved by all, we would then overnight them to the author for his or her approval.  Those back-and-forths took most of a week. And what if the author (God forbid), hated her jacket? Then it was literally back to the drawing board for another week of design and meetings and approvals. I can remember several instances of this process delaying a book’s publication date. That’s something publishers hate to see happen, because everyone from the bookstores to the media is counting on that book to hit bookstores on that precise date. A delay ends up throwing a monkey wrench into the entire process, and winning the ire of everyone up and down the channel of distribution.   

Those days of jackets being overnighted all over the country are gone forever. Now the book designer comes up with a design, creates a PDF (in Adobe) of the design, and emails it to all of the key members of the team. And not just one version, but we often get four to six different sample designs for one book in a single PDF. Then we have a jacket meeting, and if changes are requested, they are usually made in a few hours.  Once we have a design or two (or more) that we like, we email those to the author in a PDF for his or her opinion. No Fed Ex at all (which is why I have always wondered how a company like Fed Ex continues to do so well).

Down the road, when we are preparing the final mechanical to be printed, we can see the jacket laid out on our screen That includes all of the flap copy, the spine, and the endorsements or “blurbs” that are printed on the back of the book. Not only has this made our processes faster, but it has also drastically reduced the number of errors as well.  Before the age of the PDF, it seems as if there were an inordinate number of errors on book jackets. Today, I cannot recall a single mistake on the jacket that we have made at my publishing house…I sure hope I haven’t jinxed them!! 



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