Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Peek into the World of Book Cover Design ~ Interview with Designer Yvonne Parks of Pear Creative

Yvonne Parks runs a design company called Pear Creative that specializes in book cover design as well as publishing and marketing materials. She has worked for multiple New York Times best-selling authors, with over 1340 books to her credit. She lives in Ottawa Canada with her husband Jason and their 2 young daughters.

1. Your company has an interesting name, Pear Creative ( How did you come up with that name and is there a significant meaning to it?

Thanks! Yes, it’s not a usual name, but that was intentional. I wasn’t always Pear Creative. I started out as “Yvonne Parks Design”, but over the years as my company grew, I wanted to expand beyond just myself, and so the company needed a new name.

First, in marketing and design, the word ‘creative’ is used in a similar way to the way we understand the word ‘design’. “Joe was in charge of the campaign’s creative” Meaning: all work done to produce a marketable look, style, or theme to any visual project.

The ‘pear’ part came a few years back as a group of business minded friends and I were discussing how really good marketing can take a word or object, and change the public’s association with that word or object. Remember when an “apple” was just a snack to keep the doctor away? Now, when you say “Apple”, we think of top of the line computers, and industry changing inventions like iPhones and iPads! That is tremendous marketing of a brand! One friend joked that perhaps I should use an orange as my logo…just to play with the ‘apple’ idea. I replied with a sigh. “That’s cute, but in all honesty, I want to take people beyond just apples and oranges! I want to give them something new and fresh!” And so Pear Creative was born! Perhaps someday when people see a lone pear, they won’t think of just a yummy fruit but of that cool book cover that they loved. :)

2. I have loved the covers you’ve been creating for OakTara ( over the past year. When did you first know you wanted to get into design, and cover design specifically? And how did that come about?

I’ve always been creative. Music, painting, jewelry making, knitting…if I could use it to create something…I was drawn to it. I just loved making things pretty! When I was 7 years old, I wanted to design clothes…and carried a briefcase with me wherever I went, dreaming of being a designer. (Not just a designer, but the owner of the design company I pretended to have!) Now I can see that my passion had already manifested itself when I was just a child!

My first love has always been music. I’m a singer/songwriter/musician first, having done some recording over the years. But as a career, I spent 12 years teaching music, piano and voice until literally ‘falling’ into a job as a designer. I had been given an old version of Photoshop around 8 years ago, and just for fun, would play around with it. I began creating custom blogs and websites for friends and family, and a publisher literally called me one day after he had browsed my sites and asked me if I had ever considered a career in book cover design. The thought was crazy! Sure, I knew what looked nice to me, but I didn’t know anything about books! I actually turned him down at first. But he was persistent…seeing something in my blog designs that he wasn’t seeing in any of the resumes and portfolios coming across his desk from graduated design students. It was Divine timing, as I had just decided to stop teaching music after more than a decade, and was thinking about what to possibly do next. I was hesitant, but I eventually said yes to a trial period of 3 months of contract work with that publisher. They said they would show me the ropes of what it took to prep a book for print, and that eased my fears just a little. Well, that was 6 years ago, and I’ve done over 1000 books for that publisher alone. Since then, I’ve branched out to work with a dozen publishers, as well as self-publishing authors….having completed over 1340 printed books in 6 years.

I now do all kinds of ‘creative’ work. Not just books, but company branding, marketing materials, websites, advertising campaign creative…you name it. However, my first love is book cover design. I never tire of it!

3. Are you educated in a digital art field? Or did you just naturally fall into it?

I wish I could say that I have a big fat degree from a prestigious design school. But I can’t say that. I’m self-taught. At first, I was rather embarrassed about that, and considered going to get an education in graphic design. That is, until I had an experience that changed the way I saw myself and my work. I was asked to design a recruitment campaign that would hopefully increase the number of nurses coming to Canada. I hadn’t done this kind of work before, but just dove in. I did billboards, bus benches, websites, and career ads in Canada’s largest national newspaper. I treated every ad like a book cover. Simple, clean, eye catching. I honestly didn’t know what a career ad was supposed look like! Long story short: This campaign met with unprecedented success, bringing in record results. Our client said this about me “Yvonne thinks so outside the box…!” I said a polite ‘thank you’ to the compliment, but then laughed to myself. “I’m outside the box, because I have NO idea where the darn box is!” Having never been taught the ‘rules’ of design…I went by my own eye and what felt right to me…and it has proven to be the secret of my success. I am now asked to teach my design philosophies to classes of book design students, and have recently been asked to contribute a chapter on cover design to a design curriculum. (How ironic and fun is that!) J

4. What is the first step you take when you are starting a brand new project? And from there, how do you go about creating the covers?

I’m given the title, subtitle and author’s name for a book, and then a very concise summary of what the book is about. I like to put myself in the place of the potential buyer for a while. Obviously the potential buyer doesn’t know the full content or storyline. So how can I, as a designer, communicate through simple imagery, and even font style…a few things about this book? First, what kind of book is this? (Genre etc) Who is the target audience? What is the setting/location? In what era does it occur? What emotion do I want to evoke in the reader at first glance?

My philosophy is simple. A book cover isn’t meant to tell the whole story. It’s simply meant to pique the interest of a potential buyer….and then hint to the contents of the book. If you can make a buyer simply curious….you are halfway to selling a book…simply because you’ve caused them to pick it up. They then flip it over and take 20 seconds to read the first couple lines of the back cover copy. It’s the marriage of the curiosity-piquing cover, and the intriguing back copy that ‘seals the deal’ and sells a book.

5. What elements make for a great cover design? And in this day and age of lots of covers being shown in digital format, are there things you take into consideration that you might not have several years ago?

I find that simplicity is the key. My favorite covers are those that aren’t busied up with lots of images, collages, fonts or textures. Less is definitely more.

I’m a fanatic about fonts. Maybe ‘font nerd’ is the better word. I know all of them, and I see every font on every sign and billboard I pass. Something people don’t know about fonts is that they can go out of style! I compare them to clothing fads. You see it everywhere for a while…there is a market saturation…and then ‘bam’, they are passé. I can look at a cover and know what year it was designed, simply by a designer’s poor choice to use an overly trendy font. If it’s easily identifiable and popular, the better chance that it will also end up looking ‘old’ in a couple years. This isn’t good for sales if you want your book to sell for years to come. So I’m a fan of using simple, classic, straight fonts that are timeless.

E-books have changed design somewhat. We used to consider how a book looks ‘across the bookstore’, and how it will grab you on a shelf. Now we need to consider how it will grab you when it’s the size of a quarter on your screen on sites like Amazon. If I make it tiny, can you still read the title? Can you still make out the image? These are factors that definitely need to be considered in this new digital age.

6. What are your favorite photo editing/layout programs?

I use the industry standard, Adobe Creative Suite family of products: Photoshop for editing and manipulating images, InDesign for the rest of the text layout on the spine and back cover, and Illustrator for work with vectors.

7. I know OakTara uses stock images. Some publishing houses send out a questionnaire to authors asking for details about characters for the art department. With stock images, how do you go about finding a model who seems to fit the character(s) in the book?

The majority of publishers use stock images. The huge publishing houses have massive budgets, and will use custom photography. However, the cost of professional photo-shoots with models or staging of scenes can range from $5000 – 20,000 and more! So, with dozens of stock sites, some having 16 million images (with 70,000 new images added each week), there are more than enough images to choose from. Then with Photoshop we can tweak and alter images to be even more unique to the book.

Finding the perfect character can be a challenge. I start with looking for a certain aged person, with specific emotion. I’ll search using words like: “Wistful teenage girl”. Things like skin tone, hair style/color can be edited in Photoshop, so we start with the basic emotion, age and gender. It can take a while to sort through literally thousands of images before you see your heroine ‘pop’ off the page at you.

8. I know OakTara is very good about giving their author’s input into cover design. Do you ever get frustrated with a cover you think is just perfect, only to have the author ask for changes?

Ah yes. It does happen! Different publishers have different philosophies about the author’s involvement. OakTara is simply outstanding with how they involve the author, yet let the designer determine how to best communicate the contents of the book. Many times the author will search through stock photos and send a few samples of images that they feel represent their character, and this is just so incredibly helpful! No one knows the characters like the author, so this is such a great resource to have access to. In the end, it’s every publisher’s goal to sell books! My hope is that each author can come to trust me with their ‘baby’, and in turn, l will do my utmost to give them the most marketable product I can.

As with all business, the end goal is to make the client happy. There definitely are times when what the self-publishing author wants is not in the best interest of their book. Meaning that what the author would like to see is not what will sell their book…and sometimes it can be a detriment to sales. I try to do my absolute best to help clients make the best marketing choice….because sometimes what they like, isn’t what will sell books. So yes…I have been frustrated with a ‘perfect’ book being altered. But that is just part of the job. In the end, a happy client is what makes me smile.

9. Ah, so you work with individuals, too. Where should authors contact you, if they are interested in your services?

I work with publishers, companies, churches, non-profits, or individuals….you name it! Sometimes an author will have their book done by me through their publisher, and will then come to me on their own for additional marketing materials. I can create bookmarks, postcards, business cards, posters, blogs, websites…whatever they need to help promote their book or brand. I also create one-sheets for authors who are in the process of introducing their book to agents or publishers. Some authors have me do a front cover while shopping their manuscript, just to give it that ‘wow’ factor and catch the eye of a publisher.

There are so many ways to market and promote your book. Just because you are a newer or first-time author doesn’t mean your book and materials can’t rival any bestseller out there! Everyone should be able to have an exceptional book cover at a reasonable price.

Authors are welcome to visit my site and browse my portfolio and either use the contact form on my site, or email me at

10. Can you give us some images of two or three of your favorite covers and tell us what makes them significant to you?

Sure! There are books I’m proud of for different reasons. Sometimes I just love the cover, but other times I’m proud of the success of the book and its author, and that I had the pleasure of having a part to play. I designed a new book for best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) called Unfair Advantage that is currently on the New York Times bestseller list. Those kinds of successes are fun.
Here are a couple more that I enjoyed being a part of.

One Step Away is a new book in an exciting new series by Eric Wilson, the New York Times best-selling author of Fireproof. I like the simplicity of this cover. Each book in the series will be following the same title placement, with the number 2, then 3 and so on used in the various titles. It’s a fun way to connect a series visually.

Kondi’s Quest by Sylvia Stewart (OakTara Publishers) is a cover I love. There are 4 different layers of images to this cover that blend seamlessly to create a quiet mood and texture. The little girl, the grass hut, the sky, and then distressed paper all work together for a seamless effect. Add a pop of color in the title, and we have a beautiful end product.

Watched! Is an upcoming release by OakTara Publishers. In fact, you are getting a sneak peek! No one has seen this yet…but the publisher gave me the go-ahead to share this cover with you. I love the intensity of this cover. It captures you. You’d see it from across a bookstore and instantly be curious. It gives you a little glimpse of the auburn haired, young woman in the story too. See how we can ‘hint’ to the story rather than ‘tell’ the whole story? This is also great example of using a clean, simple, classic font that will always look fresh and current.

So there you have it folks, I hope you enjoyed the information in this interview, as much as I did. I could stand in a bookstore aisle and look at covers all day. As a reader, what are some attributes that attract you to a book cover enough to make you pick it up and flip it over to read the blurb, like Yvonne talked about earlier?

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  1. Great interview!! Yvonne does amazing work. I'm still getting raves about the cover for Yesterday's Tomorrow, and the trailer too! I can't wait to see what she'll come up with for my next book!!

  2. Truus Brussee-DecockAugust 31, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    Excellent, great interview. Yvonne you show good artistry. It seems you were born to do this!

  3. Wonderful interview, and truly wonderful book covers. Each one does its job of intriguing the reader.

    Thanks for joining us, Yvonne.

  4. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing, Yvonee. From one font nerd to another, I love your choices on the three covers you shared.

  5. Loved chatting with you about this, Yvonne. Thanks for taking the time to share with us! My hubby says, "A person's talents will make room for them." And I can certainly see how your talents made room for you, here. Love all the covers you chose to share.

  6. Oh, and as to my favorite covers... One of my favorite historical covers is for Enduring Love by Bonnie Leon. You can see it here:

    Click on the cover to see the larger image of it. I just love all the layers the designer used in it, maps, sheep in a pasture, a house in the background, and the border all combine to give it that lovely historical ambiance. The other 2 books in the series are a similar style and beautiful too, but this one in particular captures me.

    Feel free to link to some of your favorite covers, y'all!

  7. Linda Yezak: Thank you! It was my pleasure...

  8. K.M. Weiland: Lets do a nerdy "high five"!! hee hee

  9. Thank you for a look behind the scenes. I love digital imagery and it was a privilege to hear from on of the masters of the art.

  10. Thanks for this post. The sample covers and commentary on what makes them effective was especially helpful.

    One very simple cover that caught my eye was "The Family Tree" by Carole Cadwalladr:

    It's a bright red-orange cover with a crooked title sign and silhouettes of a bare tree and a bird flying away. Very evocative of the contents inside.


  12. CC, thanks for dropping by!

    Greg, it is a simple, yet thought provoking cover. I like the bird flying off the upper right corner. :)

    Jon, LOL. She IS famous! She's designed NYTimes best sellers! :)

  13. Jon are sweet and silly. *hug*

  14. Love this chance to see a behind the scenes look from the perspective of a cover designer. Maybe you'll end up working on my design Yvonne. That would be awesome.

    From one font freak to another, thank you for stopping by and sharing, Yvonne.

  15. Thanks Suzanne!! Maybe I will work on yours...who knows! :)

  16. BTW...if any of you authors are with a publisher, and would like me to work on your cover, please refer your publisher to my website. I'd happily talk with them! :)