Cover story

Stuart Bache is managing designer at HarperCollins. Each year, he compiles a selection of his favourite book jackets from the past twelve months. This time, he has sought the opinions of people around the book trade, which he has kindly shared with The Bookseller

Most years, I sit down and write a list of all the book covers that I’ve spotted over the last year, perhaps browse the internet for inspiration, and post them for you to see.

In 2013 I had the honour of being a judge on the inaugural ABCD Awards and felt it wouldn’t be ideal to show everyone which covers were my favourite in case they rocked up in the awards.

So I started writing a list of all the book jackets I loved in 2014… and then I thought: "Who cares what I think?"

Instead, I asked authors, agents, designers and editors: "What were your favourite books covers of 2014?" The only stipulations were: choose three, write your reasons why and they must be from 2014.

Here they are:

Jonny Geller: agent and joint c.e.o., Curtis Brown

Jaws by Peter Benchley

This design by Tom Lenartowicz may not have even been used, but when I spotted it on the Internet, I thought it was just perfect – witty, clean, inventive and shows how you can reimagine a classic.












All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld – Pantheon
Designed by Joan Wong

This design of a wonderful novel is dramatic, exciting and unpredictable. It feels dangerous. Loved it.











J by Howard Jacobson - Jonathan Cape

I know I’m hopelessly partial about this masterpiece [Geller is Jacobson's agent], but Suzanne Dean’s design is a stand-out, daring example of how simplicity works. It mirrors the novel – unsettling, dark and yet attractive in a strange way.










Suzie Dooré: editorial director, Sceptre

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Canongate
Designed by Rafaela Romaya

I won’t be the only one saying this, I’m sure, but Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is just the most beautiful design I’ve seen in ages. I’d wear it on a T-shirt. I’d hang it on my wall. It’s not just a book, it’s a gorgeous thing.










Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – Picador
Designed by Nathan Burton

I really loved Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven and wish we’d published it. So when I saw how amazing they’d made it look I was torn between compounded jealousy and admiration. That pink. The finishes. Argh.










The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman – Sceptre
Illustrated by Lorenzo Petrantoni

Apparently I am allowed to pick one of our own books, so it has to be The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. We wanted the image to somehow reflect the dizzying intellect and humour of the novel, and I think it’s pretty much perfect.









Natasha Hughes: licensing and properties editor, HarperCollins

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – Sceptre
Illustration by Neal Murren

My favourite Fiction HB of 2014 has to be The Bone Clocks – an obvious choice one might say – however, I think it ticks all the boxes. It’s beautiful, it stands out, it conveys lapses in time and reality so elegantly that I knew I had to own it on the day of publication. Minimal areas of spot UV and embossing add to an already busy design without over-burdening it. It’s simply beautiful.









Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – Picador
Designed by Nathan Burton

2014 – the year of neon pink – and this is my favourite example (apart from the one above, obviously). It pushes YA dystopia away from typically all-black, it’s fresh and feminine with a dark and eerie edge. It looks great on the shelf and is instantly eye catching as a thumbnail.










The Visual Companion, The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies by Jude Fisher – HarperCollins

Yes, I may be biased, but this cover not only represents a tremendous feat of imagination and skill, it also signifies the culmination of three years of hard work on The Hobbit trilogy. With a brief of ‘this cover has to work as hard as possible’ and with very little available assets, this cover is a myriad of images and a real testament of the designer’s incredible expertise in Photoshop!






Maggie Shipstead: author of Astonish Me

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – Knopf
Designed by Abby Weintraub

In choosing my favorite designs from this year, I realized that I’m drawn to book jackets that have a sense of mystery but also convey information. I like visuals that are compelling on their own but have significance that only becomes clear as you read. The glowing encampment shown here belongs to the band of traveling performers at the center of Mandel’s novel; the knives are a tattoo on a character’s wrist. The dark sky and overarching Milky Way reflects the fact that, in the novel’s post-apocalyptic world, there is no electricity to dilute the night. I love how the image manages to be both peaceful and eerie, and I love the unexpected combination of serifed and sans-serif typefaces.





The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero – Doubleday
Designed by Michael J Windsor

I haven’t read this book yet, but the jacket makes me 100% sure I will like it, which is pretty much the best case scenario for a jacket. The forbidding, old-fashioned look of the house and gate and wintry landscape reminds me of spooky books I loved as a child, and the occult symbols and portentous words printed around the edge intrigue me. I want to know what it all means!








De Potter’s Grand Tour by Joanna Scott – Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Designed by Abby Kagan

I remember when I first saw this design on FSG’s blog–I immediately sent it to my agent with a note saying something really articulate like, “Isn’t this the coolest??” The art deco style of the illustration and the vintagey/Euro-ish font are appealing in their own right, but they also give the bookbuyer a meaningful hint about the book’s setting and era. The design is unusually symmetrical except for–of course–that little plunging figure just above the water, which gives the bookbuyer a much bigger hint about what’s going on inside the pages. The image is striking, iconic, and, remarkably, both alarming and amusing.





Matt Roeser: senior designer, Candlewick Press

Marshlands by Matthew Olshan – Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Designed by Oliver Munday

This cover wins my yearly award of “I want this as wallpaper!” The color palette, the simple illustrations and texture, and the way some of the letters are tucked behind the various landscapes. It’s perfect.











The Martian by Andy Weir – Broadway Books
Designed by Eric White

I’m not usually a fan of photographs of people on a cover, typically preferring a more graphic approach. However, this image so perfectly captures the story in an intriguing way that I can’t imagine someone walking past this book and NOT picking it up. Also, space!










Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle - Granta
Design by Timothy Goodman

The simultaneous simplicity and complexity makes this one of my favorite covers of the year. I love how your brain instantly recognizes the design as a maze. I love how you have to try hard to read the title. I love that it’s eye-catching and effective.









James Smythe: author of No Harm Can Come to a Good Man

So, the best covers of 2014. Or, like books themselves, the cover of 2014 that I liked the most. Just like the old ‘don’t judge a book by’ adage, I’m swayed by the quality of the book once I’ve read it, and whether the cover works perfectly with the text itself. So, yeah, a beautiful cover can sell a book to a potential audience; but can it sell a book to an audience even after they’ve read it? That’s the mark of a truly great book jacket. With that in mind, and in no particular order…

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar – Hodder & Stoughton

This is something else. It’s stark and brutal (like the book). It’s evocative: of the lines of concentration camp uniforms; of queues of people, fractured and broken and fleeing; of general uniformity, smashed into pieces. It’s quite, quite beautiful, and somehow almost unnerving to see it in person; as if it doesn’t quite fit, when of course it entirely, absolutely does. Amazing book, amazing cover.









All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld – Pantheon
Designed by Joan Wong

This is the American cover. Nothing against the UK one, which is beautiful in its own way, but this US one… Crikey. I like fractured images, apparently, and I like something that resembles chaos. The book is structured in the most beautiful way – seriously, something of a masterpiece, the basic form of it – and this cover somehow echoes that structure without actually just co-opting it. It’s also not literal: while there are cattle killings in the book, the wolf and lamb on the front aren’t from the text itself, being more metaphorical (particularly when you dig into the text and wrench out the religious allegory that seems, somehow, to be buried deep in there).






Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer – Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Designed by Rodrigo Corral

Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy came out this year, a masterwork of SF storytelling – being something different, while also nodding at the past in a truly intriguing way – and it’s had some great covers. But this one? This is my favourite. A bundle of all three volumes in one actually presents the books as, frankly, I think they’re meant to be read. And more than that: it’s just stunning, a beautiful bit of design that somehow says all you need to say about the contents of the book in just a letter and a feather.




Shannon Cullen: publisher, Puffin    

Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts – Penguin
Designed by Isabelle De Cat

This is so beautiful and elegant, so classic yet contemporary and… non-fiction? It’s a great example of how history books don’t have to conform to the usual ‘look’ for the genre in order to appeal.











Solitaire by Alice Oseman – HarperCollins Children’s
Designed by Kate Clarke

I work in YA/Children’s and this really stood out to me this year. Simple but sophisticated for teens, and a brilliant strapline that sealed the deal for me. I think you can tell the author is young and in touch with her audience, assuming she signed off on this!










Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Penguin Modern Classics edition – by Roald Dahl

I’m a lover, not a hater, sorry! I think this brilliantly sums up an aspect of this book if you read it as an adult, which is who this jacket is aimed at. If you haven’t read it since a child I’d urge you to see what you think many years later, about how he portrays parents, which is what this cover says to me.









This post originally appeared on Stuart's own website