Maria and Victoria are the sisters who run BEAUTeBOOK, a professional cover-design and book formatting business.
Maria Novillo Saravia is a Graphic Designer from FAECC, with more than 15 years of experience in branding and corporate identity. Working as freelancer with clients from all around the world, she has a valuable multi-cultural background. In January 2013, she partnered with her sister Victoria and founded BEAUTeBOOK, where she is in charge of the artistic direction. Most of the time she works from home, with her baby Francisca on her lap.
Victoria Novillo Saravia is an Ind. Engineer from ITBA, with more than 15 years of experience in business development. She is in charge of Marketing and IT at BEAUTeBOOK. Fluent in French and Spanish, she is an avid reader, amateur writer and author of the award winning children’s book The Terrible Neck Pain Of Sunny The Sunflower.
Does your design work have a signature style that sets it apart?
Actually, we work very hard not to have a signature style… We don’t want readers to say “Oh, this is a BEAUTeBOOK cover”, instead we want them to connect with the author himself. The cover is designed with the aim of building the author’s brand, not ours.
What can get you excited about taking on a cover design project?
Getting to know new authors and learning about their work is such an enriching experience… And then there is the creative challenge of coming up with something original and striking. In the case of returning clients, it is very fulfilling to see that they are trusting us again with their latest book, and as they know us already, everything is so dynamic and productive. Most of them have a warm character and a great sense of humor; they make this business unlike any other.
What could happen that would make you want to walk away from a project?
We foresaw that possibility when we settled the policy of charging by the cover instead of by design hour. We agreed that none of us liked to start any kind of project without knowing beforehand how much it was going to cost. So we decided not to put our own clients in that position, and we assumed that we might get to deal at some point with a difficult situation. That’s why in addition of a 100% money back guarantee, which leaves the door open to the client, we have also left open the possibility that we could walk away from a project if we felt we were not understanding each other well enough.
We’re glad to say that has not happened yet…
What do you feel are the most important elements of a good cover? What best attracts a browsing eye?
The key is to identify first “which browsing eye” are you trying to attract… It depends mainly on the genre, the target audience and whether the author is new or an established one (70% of Stephen King’s covers are his name; his brand is the cover’s main element).
As an example of how the cover elements are weighted differently depending on genre, audience and author’s brand name, let’s consider Gregg Olsen’s If Loving You is Wrong.
The genre of the book is True Crime. One fellow designer pointed out that the title should have had another treatment because it wasn’t visible enough. But the point is that in this cover, the title is not the main element. When Olsen told us that the book was about the case of Mary Kay Letourneau, it didn’t ring a bell. It was only when I saw her picture that I realized who she was. The case spread beyond the US, all over the world, and it was this particular portrait of her that was frantically published by the media.
So here, her face is the title of the book; anyone who sees this cover knows what the book is about, and if they are interested in her story, they will buy it. That’s why we deliberately lowered the title’s visibility as a secondary element.
Thinking of a book’s cover as the packaging for a product, how much about the story and characters do you feel you need to know to design an effective cover?
All of it… We don’t have the time to read every book, but we do spend time doing some research before starting design. We visit the author’s website, we check out his/her other books, and in addition to the summary that they always provide, we question them thoroughly about the book’s subject or its plot. We do this for three reasons: first, to make sure the cover is 100% relevant. Second, to make sure that of all the options, we feature the best one for marketing, visualization and design purposes. And third, to save time. If we don’t know the story in depth, we might waste time working on a blond woman’s photo when the character was a brunette, or use the image of a guy in jeans and shoes when in the story he was portrayed as barefooted and in shorts all the time.
An example of how important is to question the author properly: a few weeks ago, after skimming through the first chapters of the book, we learnt that the main character (a girl) had a dog. So we emailed the author asking whether the dog was relevant to the story. Very! she replied. The girl was able to talk to the dog, and he happened to be a prominent figure in the book. Without inquiring we would have missed the chance to display a dog in the cover, and it is known that covers featuring pets have a higher conversion rate.
What are the most common mistakes you see in author-designed covers?
Even if there were enough room here to enumerate them, when you think you had seen it all, someone comes and manages to shock you again… Anyway, some of the most common ones would be:
– Typography, they “stretch” it until it fills the room they want the title to fit in, distorting the font.
– Photo treatment, they include a homemade picture of a relative.
– Illegibility, they pile up texture, picture and text so you can’t figure out or read anything
– Space management, they keep a peanut in a cathedral and a piano in a match-box.
– Color, we have serious grounds to believe that spending too much time writing results in colorblindness.
– Déjà vu, they believe that everything they come across on the Internet is unique and/or free for commercial use. This is what happens:
Are there elements in cover design that you think are over-utilized or cliché?
Although we love the overwhelming designing resources brought up by software innovation like Photoshop or Gimps, the abuse of these tools are resulting in exaggerated and superfluous special effects. Such effects, like shadowing, bevel, etc., become a cliché when they stand up by themselves instead of being a secondary element working to enhance the design concept as a whole; it looks like they have been used just because they were available.
Another over-utilized resource is commercial image banks. Those databases are OK to get elements to compose a cover, but using iconic images/illustrations as a cover itself, like the one I’ve just showed, inevitably increases repetitive landscapes, faces, and artwork featured in cover designs, when we should be striving to achieve originality and uniqueness. It is true that it is very expensive to get an exclusive image, but there are many other ways of getting a great original cover through design.
They always ask us why our premade covers are “so expensive”; but if they noticed that most of the photos we use are ours, they wouldn’t consider them pricey. We could produce 100 covers in minutes if we used stock photos, but they would be more of the same, and if you actually read the database user agreements, you will see that it is quite expensive as well if you are planning to use them for both eBook and print purposes.
One of the ways we avoid commercial image databases is by encouraging our website visitors to send us their own pictures in the “Be on the Cover” page. We were surprised of how popular this initiative was, and we have had a lot of fun with it… This is an example of a premade cover made with a photo submitted by Jennelle Gee:
Given that technological changes have largely made the indie publishing wave possible, what technological changes do you foresee that will have or already are having an impact for better or worse on cover design?
Now that books are not only print but digital, there is no reason to believe that covers have to be static. We foresee the rise of dynamic covers (not really animated covers, but covers featuring some kind of cyclical moving scene/element). It looks like with eReader technology evolving so fast, they will soon start featuring native GIF reading ability, or a new file format for dynamic images will appear. Then, one of the design challenges would be to come up with a concept that solves the dichotomy of having to comply with both digital and print, i.e., that both static and dynamic versions of the cover look good and alike.
We have already seen the advance of “book trailers” as a novelty to market books, but we are against it (except for educational or non-fiction works). As we say to our authors, the essence of a book lies in the written word; if you show a video to your readers you spoil and taint the reading experience.
Of the covers you have designed, which is your favorite and why?
It is very difficult to answer that, it is like if someone asked you which of your children is your favorite… Moreover, all of them are different. Every project has been a creative challenge, and that has kept us motivated and sane, because we are not accountants or physicists… we are designers; our minds work in a different way. If we could tell which one is our favorite cover we would be able to identify which is our favorite font, or which particular color combination we prefer, but because we are creatives, we need everything to be always different, and then how can you compare things when you feel they are totally different?
How would you describe the essence of a good relationship with a client? What do you need to do and what do they need to do to make that happen?
I always say that the beauty of working with authors is that they have great communication skills… Unlike other businesses, we have never had a misunderstanding with any of our author clients.
Our business model is oriented towards building long term partnerships with them. That’s also why we don’t charge by the hour. If a project takes longer and the author asks too many changes, we assume the loss, because we know that sometimes it takes only one draft to nail it. They always get what they want while in average, it is profitable for us too, so we get a win-win situation.
Also, we always schedule our timesheets very carefully, because it is important that the project be completed in less than a week. We know that the client loses interest and enthusiasm if communication is slow, and as that is important for a better result, we make sure we book for each project the time needed to keep an efficient workflow.
Scenario 1: You have a client who has no idea what they want, but who doesn’t like anything you’ve pitched. How do you work through that to produce a winning cover?
It is a very unlikely scenario… Not because it is unthinkable that somebody might not like our work, but because how would a person unable to convey what he or she wants become an author? Also, imagination is one of the things we have in common with authors, so they always have an idea of what they want. They might or might not be open to listen to our ideas, and to embrace them or not, but they always know what they want.
It did actually happen that, after presenting the first drafts, the author replied he didn’t like any of them. But at this first exchange, he explained crystal clear why that was, and by asking the right questions on our side, we ended up getting it right. It is very difficult to miss it twice working with authors.
Scenario 2: You have a client who knows exactly what they want, but it stinks on ice. Do you just do their evil bidding, or try to coax them toward a better design? If you try to convince them to go in another direction, how do you do that?
This reminds me the laconic answer designer Paul Rand gave to Steve Jobs when asked whether he would deliver several options for the NEXT logo. He said ‘No, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people”.
Designing a logo for such a venture as NEXT involves several considerations which are key for building the corporate identity. A good share of the company’s future success depends on that. As the designer in charge of the project, Rand had to think not only as an artist, but as a marketer and as a business strategist. What was at stake was much more than his own reputation: to amend a mistake in a logo design may cost millions of dollars; sometimes the damage can’t be repaired.
That’s why his inflexibility towards the very Steve Jobs shows his professionalism; his stand was like a doctor with a diabetic patient. No sugar, period.
Our case is different for two main reasons.
First, a bad cover is not a mistake that can’t be undone. We have actually had an author that asked us to design a new cover for her book. She was getting great reviews but not good sales, and the feedback she had was that she should change the title and the cover, which had been designed by a well-known artist. (The cover wasn’t bad, I just wanted to point out that changing the cover is not such a big deal).
And second, Paul Rand knew much more about corporate identity and branding than Steve Jobs, while in our case, sometimes our authors know their readers better than us. Usually they share the same likings, that’s why they read what the others write in the first place. Also, as a result of self-publishing and social networks expansion, literary genres have multiplied and now we should talk about niche genres, where authors have built their own audience and they interact very closely with their readers on a daily basis through Facebook or Twitter, for example. So we are always listening to and learning from them.
So coming back to your question, What if what they want stinks on ice? Yes, it happens. What we do is to provide our professional advice in every aspect, not only about aesthetics but style, design resources, marketing and communication, and we do everything in our power to convince them that a cover shouldn’t be “beautiful” but “effective”, because while the first one is the one you like, the second is the one that sells.
In any case, the final word is not ours; if after having considered our feedback the client sticks to his own idea, we work very hard to comply with that. It is difficult to work in something you would do differently if it were up to you, but we do it. We get to a point where we have to choose between our clients’ satisfaction and our fellow designers approval (or even respect!), but we have never hesitated to choose the first.
Our role is not like a doctor’s towards a diabetic patient; we are more like a mom trying to persuade her child to get an apple instead of a lollipop. She will try everything, but she will yield eventually if the kid wouldn’t change his mind.
The funny thing is that after you deliver what they asked, they are so blissfully happy, so grateful. Then they solemnly announce that you have been given credits in the copyright paragraph, when all you are thinking is “Oh mercy, don’t tell anybody…”
It is like when your child, overwhelmed with joy, impulsively hugs you sticking the lollipop in your clothes. Would you love him the less for that?
Where can people see some examples of your cover designs?
You are very welcome to visit our website www.beautebook.com
4 thoughts on “Meet the Sisters Behind BEAUTeBOOK”
Excellent explanation of how you work. That’s what I look for when I need to collaborate with someone.
Really wonderful information – thank you!
Great post. Very helpful info on covers.
I first used BEAUTeBOOK in 2013 for my 3rd book Final Justice. The sisters nailed it the first time and were so knowledgeable and helpful I consider them part of my writing Team.
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