Five Questions With Cover Designer Rita Frangie
She's worked on “Bringing Down the Duke,” Jasmine Guillory’s books and more
Let’s be honest: We’ve all judged a book by its cover.
Cover designs give readers hints about what to expect from the book, invite us to pick them up to learn more and are often just lovely to look at.
Rita Frangie is the senior art director at Penguin Random House, where she designs book covers. She’s worked on a number of my favorite covers from recent years, including Nalini Singh’s Quiet in Her Bones, Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin and Kwana Jackson’s Real Men Knit.
Rita was kind enough to explain her creative process, career path and more in a recent interview. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What made you interested in cover design?
Ever since I was a little kid, I loved art. I loved to color, and adults would tell me, ‘you’re so talented.’ I was also enamored by books. I was big reader. I would spend my vacations with a giant pile of books.
The covers were always captivating, and I questioned, ‘Why did they package it this way? Why doesn’t this match the description?’
This role lets me combine my love of art and design with my love of reading.
What are some covers you’ve worked on?
I just did something different — it’s called Ice Planet Barbarians. I read it, and it was so much fun. I worked with an amazing illustrator who did a great job, but there was a lot of pressure. I was under the gun, like I had maybe a week to two weeks to get it done. The timeframe was crazy, it was definitely a rush, but we got it done. It’s on sale in November.
I’ve been working on a lot of romcoms. I art direct Jasmine Guillory’s books. She is just such a fun person. We get her input early on and do our best to fulfill her vision of what the characters look like and what they are wearing.
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Can you walk me through the design process?
It all starts with the manuscript. I’ll either start coming up with sketches and have a vision that I feel so strongly about that I design it myself or I bring on additional talent, whether it’s an illustrator, a photographer or another designer with a different aesthetic.
We’re open to ideas and a more specific direction from editors and authors, but sometimes they have no idea what they want. Those are the more fun ones because we can explore many different solutions.
Everyone on our staff creates awesome covers. Once we do our thing, we present anywhere from one to 30 designs to editors and authors. Sometimes it’s a short thing where we’re all in agreement, but that rarely happens. So, we work through it until everyone is happy.
With Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke, we started with a photo shoot, which we never ended up using. We then moved on, wanting something fresh that would stand out. * At one point, I finally just took a step back and said, ‘Let’s do something fun.’ We ended up with an illustrated cover for a historical romance. From what I know, it was the first historical done in illustrated fashion. We started that trend.
As a reader, it seems like there are genre conventions or norms for book covers. Is that really the case?
I don’t think that comes from designers or art directors. It stems from the business side. If something is doing well, they’ll want to jump on the trend because there’s a large demand for it.
With genres, it all goes back to what the audience wants. Every now and then, you’ll see a book step out of it and it’s welcomed by the audience. Then, you’ll hear, ‘Oh, I’m so glad they changed this. It’s so cool.’ And then there are sticklers for tradition. So, there’s a spectrum of people, and you’re not going to please everyone.
Any books you want to recommend?
Like I said, I loved Ice Planet Barbarians.
I loved The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test and The Heart Principal by Helen Hoang. They had such substance to them, and they also had that romance. I’m a romantic at heart. It’s just such a beautiful part of life, when people meet and fall in love, it is such a lovely positive thing.
And my son is obsessed with The Giving Tree, to the point where he reads it, I read it to him, and then he rereads it.
* Correction: An earlier version of this article said “Photoshop” not photo shoot. I regret the error.
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