The Farrar, Straus and Giroux art director behind the jackets of Freedom and 2666 explains what goes into designing a book
The wall of Chris Silas Neal's studio. Neal worked with Charlotte Strick on illustrations for Poser, by Claire Dederer. Courtesy of Chris Silas Neal
Every three months or so, we gather together. In our hands, launch meeting packets still hot off the copy machine. Our editor-in-chief sits at the head of the double-long conference table, and introduces us, the weary and largely bespectacled, to the newest crop of books. Over the years I've found that most editors describe their hopes and dreams for their future covers in the same ways. Please make them look "hip," "sexy," and—oh yes!—"fresh, too"! Our job as jacket designers is to keep reinterpreting these well-worn requests.
Book jacket designers are such rare birds that people outside the publishing industry are generally shocked to learn of our existence. My father was a publisher, and my earliest memories include frustrations that the covers of my favorite books in my parents' library didn't match their interiors. I've been privileged to sit through 33 or so launch meetings during my 11 years at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, located on the 7th and 8th floors of 18 West 18th Street in New York City. Our cadre of authors includes, to name only a few, Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Ian Frazier, and Marilyn Robinson. I'm in very good company.