We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of independent publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.
Meet Mina Bach, a very talented and well-known freelance Book Designer living in London. Her style of work is based on a keen interest in typography and lettering, carrying a bit of the warmth of the Mediterranean as she is originally from Barcelona. She began her career in publishing at the age of eight as a self-published author, making series of comic books, and today she is working with some of the best within the world of traditional and independent publishing. We sat down for a talk with Mina about her journey to become a successful freelance Book Designer, what makes a good cover, and five tips on things one should consider when briefing a Book Designer.
Hello, Mina! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of how you got into the world of publishing and becoming a full-time Book Designer?
I’ve had the ‘publishing bug’ from a young age. Possibly inspired by all the books and newspapers in the house; my little brother and I spent all holidays and weekends writing and drawing very elaborate comic books. We would make multiples of each page by hand and staple them into little magazines that we would pop in the neighbours’ postboxes, independent distribution by eight year olds!
Fuelled by my love of publishing, I went on to study a BA in Book Design at the London College of Communication and an MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins. At the same time, I did as many jobs and internships in publishing design departments as possible until I landed my dream job after graduation. After working in-house in different publishing houses for many years, I have now gone freelance full-time and love the freedom and amazing projects, publishers and authors I’m lucky to collaborate with. We all share a love of books, and the enthusiasm is truly contagious!
How would you describe your style of work?
People have said about my work that I “capture a classic aesthetic that also has a contemporary feel.” I have a keen interest for typography and lettering, and I think I carry a bit of the warmth of the Mediterranean in my colour palette as I’m originally from Barcelona.
What makes a good cover?
In absolute terms, a book cover is successful when it makes you want to pick it up or click on it online. When a cover speaks to you on that level, it’s a very personal and unique experience. As a reader, I love when I finish a book and go back to the cover and discover all those elements that were there all along, subtly referencing the ending, but impossible to decode unless you have actually read it.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Paul Smith, the British designer said that, “You can find inspiration in everything, and if you can’t, look again.” I am lucky to live in London where inspiration is indeed everywhere, not just in art galleries and antique markets, but in restaurants, streets and in Londoners themselves with our rich multicultural heritage.
I find research can also be a very valid source of inspiration. When I’m working on a book that is period specific, I like researching all aspects of that era from the lettering styles down to the fashion and hairstyles.
The best way to brief you/a Book Designer is?
Synopsis of the book (final manuscript ideal if available. Include detailed physical and psychological descriptions of the main characters, places and objects)
Who is the audience (age, fans of … etc.)
Three adjectives to describe the plot
Comparable successful books in the genre
Supply a mood board or at least three visual examples (doesn’t necessarily have to be book covers, anything that sets the right mood and tone)
Is working with an independent author/publisher different than working for a traditional publisher?
Absolutely, while the design process is actually the same, working with an independent publisher or author gives you much more freedom, which is ultimately beneficial for everyone involved. I have been lucky to work for very big publishers, but indies will always be special to me. Even though their budget might be a bit lower to begin with, they are often more open to try new ideas that are going to get them noticed in the shops or online where you only have a small thumbnail to go by, and a striking design can be much more enticing.
You are a successful Book Designer but also a self-published author. What does self-publishing mean to you?
There are so many success stories of authors who were previously rejected and then get picked up by big publishers after their self-published title proves to be a success. I think self-publishing has its own place and merit beyond being a means to get noticed by a big house. You’ll never own a book as much as you own a book you have self-published or know your readers as much, and that comes with a freedom that is priceless. If you get a contract with a publisher along the way and that’s what you really want, then that’s a bonus, but you should really embrace the opportunities that come with self-publishing like knowing your audience and getting to pick who you work with (editors, designers, etc.).
How do you get yourself and your work noticed?
An online presence is incredibly important; I have an online portfolio and share content on my blog and social media where I really have the opportunity to engage in a conversation. I have met so many talented people online that have become clients, collaborators and friends. You can’t just wait around and hope to get noticed, though. If I really want to work with someone I admire like a publisher, illustrator or photographer that I haven’t yet met in person, I take a more direct approach. I email them with some ideas for projects we could collaborate on or a great place we could go for coffee and a chat. You have to make things happen for yourself.
List your top three favourite book covers and tell us why they make such a great impact on you?
1984, George Orwell – Designed by David Pearson.
David Pearson is one of the best (and nicest) designers; his work is always bold, brave, and challenges convention, and this cover is his most radical design. It engages with the content in a very effective way, references the publisher’s design heritage and is distinguishingly memorable.
F. Scott Fitzgerald Penguin classics series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.
These are truly gems to be collected and treasured in all their metallic foil glory. I was still a student when I met Coralie at the launch of this series; I went up to her for a conversation that we later continued on email. I will be forever grateful that she took the time out of her very busy schedule to write emails to a book design student, and I shall treasure the advice she gave me as much as I treasure her books.
For my last choice, I would like to say David Pelham’s A Clockwork Orange, Chip Kidd’s Jurassic Park, Jessica Hische’s Drop Cap series, Peter Mendelsund’s Kafka series and everything Alvin Lustig ever produced.
All these designs have become iconic and stayed with the readers whether or not they had actually read the books. But I am going to choose a cover design that contains them all, and all possible and future book covers. The blank ‘Design Your Own Cover’ editions with blank front covers that encourage everyone to create their own and become a book designer for a day.
Photo Credit – Mina Bach
To learn more about Mina and explore her work,
go visit: minabach.co.uk