8 steps to designing the cover for A Gentleman in Moscow

Penguin designer Melissa Four talks us through how she created the 1920s Russia-inspired cover of Amor Towles new novel, A Gentleman in Moscow.

1. Read the book

For a standalone literary novel like this, it's really important to read the manuscript - to experience it for yourself before trying to represent it visually. it's such a privilege to be one of the first people to enjoy an as-yet unpublished book! That was particularly true for a gentleman in Moscow - it's so atmospheric and absorbing, I loved it.

2. Mull over the brief

The design brief for this book was fantastic. It gave lots of helpful detail, but was also quite open. Here’s a paragraph from it:

"The cover should feel stylish and rich. I don’t think it needs to say 'Russia' in any overt way, given that Moscow is in the title, and it may be nice to have a suggestion of a woman, possibly a cocktail glass… illustrative rather than photographic. In terms of images, there is a twice-tolling clock, a piano, a beautiful actress in a long silk dress, cocktails and cocktail glasses, bees; a key, revolving doors, a chair and a palm (in the reception of the Metropol), the white jacket of the waiter, gold coins…"

3. Create an inspiration board  

I used Pinterest to research and collect inspiring pictures that related to the themes, style and setting of the book. This is the board I created:

A gentleman in Moscow
Gentleman in Moscow Pinterest board


4. Sketch some ideas and speak to the editor about them.

Here's the thumbnail sketch that we agreed should set the direction for the cover of A Gentleman in Moscow.

a gentleman in Moscow
Rough thumbnail of the cover

Rough thumbnail sketch of cover

5. Develop the idea

The next step was to create something that I could show to a bigger group of people in the book's 'jacket meeting', where we get together with our sales and marketing teams to go over draft designs and decide which will be most appealing to book shoppers.  

A gentleman in Moscow
Drawing of the final cover idea


6. Create the final artwork

At this point I could have commissioned an illustrator, but I was so excited about this cover that I was keen to work on it myself.

I started by scanning the pencil sketch, then used that to draw a digital version of the final artwork in Adobe Illustrator.

This design is built up with lots of different layers containing details inspired by elements of the story (see below). You will recognise some of them from the original brief.

a gentleman in moscow
Progress of the cover


7.  Show it to the author

When Amor saw the cover he liked it (phew!) and only suggested a few tweaks, such as changing cocktail glasses to wine glasses. Showing the author is a scary moment, it's awful if they don't like what you've come up with but wonderful if they do!

8. Create a few little extras...

Finally, I supplied a few icons for the book's chapter headings and put together an animated version of the cover to use online. I get quite attached to covers like this and it's nice to help send them on their way.

a gentleman in moscow

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