Dreaming of a role in book creation, but unsure where your skills fit in? What’s the difference between a junior designer and designer, and what is a picture editor?
Here, our design and production teams answer all your questions, with insights on their day to day work, responsibilities, and what skills they think are most needed.
The design team create and coordinate the cover design for every book we release. Most likely you'll see this work physically in a bookshop or library, as well as online via retailers or audiobook streaming services.
Working with editors, sales and production, the design team are the experts in creating stunning concepts to form a cover that stands out from the crowd.
During the publishing process, design will bring multiple visuals to a cover meeting, sometimes collaborating with a freelance illustrator, photographer or designer. The visuals will have input from the editor and sales before the design team refines, then adds the spine and backcover. During all of this, design will be working closely with production, to ensure the perfect finish.
If you fancy a job in design you’ll need to be:
- able to demonstrate creative flair and a desire to learn
- organised and detail orientated
- a big thinker and collaborator
Design assistants help the wider design team with anything and everything. An average day could include setting up a freelancer’s cover files for print, talking with production about book finishes, working on small illustrations or bits of lettering for other designers within the team, laying out internal spreads for illustrated books, and occasionally designing covers.
As the job is very broad, design assistants work with lots of people across the division and get a great overview of how covers are designed and sent to print. They also need to stay very organised and be precise when following instructions and meeting deadlines.
- Josie Staveley-Taylor, Design Assistant at Penguin General
A junior designer’s day to day tasks break down broadly into two categories – designing and artworking.
Typically, a junior designer will take on more artworking tasks, and complete them for other designers – i.e. they may not design the front cover, but will get the cover ready for print. This includes adding a spine and back cover, a colophon (the logo of the publisher or imprint), plus barcode and finishes (foil, spot UV varnish, pantones).
The kinds of cover design briefs they are given by the art director will most often be reissues, paperbacks, and small-scale books, whereas a designer will be working on more high-profile titles, as these come with added pressure.
A junior designer needs to have an understanding of how type and image come together on a book cover, as well as a working knowledge of Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator and an eagerness to learn.
- Lucy Thorne, Junior Designer at Cornerstone
Designers work on a variety of projects designing both covers and interior text layouts. Day-to-day tasks include creating concept visuals, developing typography, liaising with freelancers and illustrators, and working alongside the wider team to create the best package for each book.
I work closely with editors and art directors to make sure the final design showcases the book and is relevant to the target market. Being adaptable is an important characteristic. You need to be able to incorporate feedback from the wider team, including sales and marketing while keeping the author’s vision in mind too. Designers are also responsible for negotiating illustrator fees and contracts to stay within the allocated budget. My role requires me to juggle multiple projects, so organisation and time management are key.
- Arabella Jones, Designer at Penguin Random House Children's
The role of a senior designer involves creating and commissioning artwork for titles across all imprints (for me, within Vintage), managing each title from conception to production. This includes negotiating fees and art directing photographers, illustrators and other out-of-house artists.
A key part of the job is to support the creative or art director and deputise for them when necessary. I often represent the department in meetings and discuss artwork and concepts with editorial, sales & marketing and production, as well as out-of-house clients such as authors, booksellers and printers. I also need to be able to support other members of the team, including junior staff.
Being a senior designer continues after work - you’re always thinking of ideas and looking for inspiration - so I draw, read, watch, collect and go to plenty of shows and galleries. I regularly update my website and social media as it’s always a pleasure linking to and finding new artists - it’s important to be an active part of the creative landscape!
- Matt Broughton, Senior Designer at Vintage
The job of a picture editor is to find existing, rather than commissioned, artwork for the covers of books.
I might work with a succinct brief from an editor, read a manuscript, or come up with my own ideas for an existing book which needs a new cover. I work with picture libraries, museums, galleries, and directly with artists and photographers to find appropriate images. It is very much a collaborative process with the designers and editors, and indirectly, with authors. Once images are chosen, my job is to ensure that permissions and copyright are cleared, fees negotiated, and high-resolution images for reproduction obtained.
A knowledge and appreciation of art, a grasp of history and the ability to research any topic are important, as is the creative skill of understanding what might make a good cover image. And you need to love reading!
- Lily Richards, Picture Editor at Vintage
A studio manager mainly deals with book cover design, plus some whole book design. They handle freelancer contracts and payments, and the day to day running of the design studio – but the main role is to keep everything on schedule.
I’m in charge of the process from the day a book cover is first briefed, to the day it goes to print. I work closely with the art director and liaise between in-house designers, editors, marketers and producers. The role requires multitasking, project management and negotiating skills, plus a good-humoured ability to balance linear deadlines with the not-at-all-linear creative process.
- Becky Stocks, Studio Manager at Penguin Press
An art director's role is to oversee everything that's going on – so I don't do hands-on design, but have a brilliant team of 37 designers that I co-ordinate. I decide who the best designer is to take on different projects, and then work with that person quite closely throughout their process.
If things are going well, it's just a case of celebrating that and saying, ‘Wow, that's amazing!’ And if things aren't going so well, I can be a second eye. You can be so close to a design that you just can't see it anymore, and hopefully I unlock something. Sometimes I come up with the solution; a lot of the time I can't, but I make suggestions that create the solution.
- Anna Billson, Art Director at Penguin Random House Children's
Production are involved in all things print, and are the team who transform publishing ideas and concepts into the printed physical book.
Working with editors, designers and various printers at the beginning of a project, the production team advise on costs, schedules and the best printing techniques to create the perfect product.
During the publishing process, production will organise and advise on the typesetting of the text, keep timelines in check, work with the designer to make the artwork print-ready and keep the sales team up to date on costs.
Once the book is printing, the team will troubleshoot and problem-solve, and ensure the books arrive in the warehouse on time.
If you fancy a job in production you’ll need to be:
- organised and schedule-savvy
- a good problem solver and communicator
- have a keen eye for detail and a love for printed material
As production assistant, I work alongside the other assistants in the team to manage and order the extensive reprints of Penguin Random House Children’s catalogue titles, both colour and mono (black and white).
This includes books from Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We coordinate effectively with design and editorial teams to make sure everything is in place. We work with external suppliers based in China, Europe, and Asia, as well as locally printing in Australia, South Africa, and India. We also work on co-editions (for different language markets), as well as non-book-trade orders for retailers such as TK Maxx and Aldi.
Important skills to have include good prioritisation and organisation, communication, and managing a fluctuating workload.
- Memoona Zahid, Production Assistant at Penguin Random House Children's
Production controllers are responsible for costing, scheduling and facilitating the production of books by liaising directly with our external suppliers and various internal contacts from the design, editorial, sales and rights teams.
A typical day in the role of a controller includes requesting and checking quotes and schedules from suppliers, and sharing these with the relevant internal contacts for review before orders are placed. We will complete pre-flight checks on print-ready files from design before passing these on to the printer to process through their system for our approval before printing. We will also receive the final printed copies of our books to approve before the bulk orders are shipped out to our distribution warehouse.
The role requires first-rate communication and organisational skills, a good eye for detail and the ability to work well pressure.
- Stavi Kotsiovos, Production Controller at Penguin Random House Children's
Senior Production Controller
A senior production controller is basically the project manager for a book, from an edited manuscript right through to finished copies.
Every book has a schedule which production need to set up, so the book arrives in time for publication. Time management is really important as you need to be able to switch tasks at a moment’s notice when things out of your control go wrong.
Day to day tasks can vary from dealing with printer issues (books running late, sometimes printed with an error, or just dealing with basic supply chain issues), to sending manuscripts to typesetters and liaising with editorial teams to make sure they’re happy with the setting of the book. We also work with sales on different ways we can make a book look extra special for exclusive editions – sprayed and stencilled edges, signed editions – all need to be costed correctly so that finance are happy we’re not overspending. No two days are really the same, and you’re always learning something new!
- Phil Evans, Senior Production Controller at Transworld
A production manager is in charge of producing books for a number of imprints, taking ownership of production for all titles on those lists.
I also produce some complex titles for other imprints, such as looking after a cookbook range and some graphic novels, and provide general support for all the controllers in the team. I also act as line-manager for one of the production controllers, and take on various production-related projects.
- Konrad Kirkham, Production Manager at Vintage
Head of Production
The head of production leads a team that delivers the finished book, turning manuscripts and art into finished books.
Production work with internal teams (such as design, editorial, sales, rights and inventory management), and with external suppliers all over the world (printers, typesetters, repro houses). We keep books on schedule, within budget, and looking the very best they can. The head of production also feeds into the strategy of the division, helping to drive forward the vision of the company. The role requires great communication skills, organisation, and creative problem solving.
- Catherine Ngwong, Head of Production at Ebury
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