A paperback release is a second chance of sorts. If for some reason a book’s hardcover design doesn’t resonate with readers, publishers have an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and reinvigorate the vibe of the book, not to mention show off any fancy awards that might have been bestowed.

While most of us just see a pretty cover, a lot goes on behind the scenes. We asked designers and creative directors to tell us how three hardback-to-paperback redesigns came together.


The “Improvement” hardcover design. (Counterpoint)

The “Improvement” paperback design. (Counterpoint)
'Improvement,' by Joan Silber

Hoping to modernize the Turkish illustration that graced the hardcover, Nicole Caputo, creative director of Counterpoint, and her in-house team decided a human element paired with photography would draw in more readers. Caputo reached out to freelance designer Allison Saltzman, known for the striking photographic covers of “Tangerine” and “Sunset City,” to freshen up one of Counterpoint’s most celebrated books; the 2018 PEN/Faulkner Award winner for fiction features a series of interwoven stories, including the tales of a woman, whose boyfriend is in prison, and her aunt, who once lived in Turkey. Saltzman staged a quick photo shoot in her living room with her daughter and a rug she picked up on a trip to Istanbul, then submitted nine designs.

While the team originally settled on a cover with a woman in a blue dress beside a red suitcase, Caputo switched it out just days before going to the presses. “We felt the hand design would reach the widest audience,” she said, “and that the image was more relatable and more striking.”


An early sketch of the paperback edition of “Sticky Fingers.” (Sketch by Linda Huang)

The paperback design for “Sticky Fingers.” (Vintage)

Graphic designer Linda Huang admits the advent of social media has changed her job, allowing her to see the latest work of fellow designers and get a peek at book jackets before they hit shelves. Huang has noticed that a simpler look can telegraph a lot, like the cleverly straightforward cover for Elif Bautman’s “The Idiot,” which features a photo of a vaguely brain-shaped rock against a pink background.

For her redesign of the biography “Sticky Fingers,” she wanted to use streamlined imagery — she ultimately chose a photo of Rolling Stone’s co-founder and publisher Jann Wenner — while incorporating the feel of the 1960s and ’70s music scene that the magazine became famous for covering. Departing from the hardback design, Huang achieved the rock vibe by using the gradient, color-blocked background typically found on concert posters and fliers from that era.


“The Unfinished Palazzo” hardcover design. (Thames & Hudson)

“The Unfinished Palazzo” paperback design. (Thames & Hudson)
'The Unfinished Palazzo,' by Judith Mackrell

Lower production costs allow Rosie Keane, the cover design manager at Thames & Hudson (United Kingdom), to sprinkle embellishments on paperbacks that can’t be extended to hardbacks. She did just that with the redesign for “The Unfinished Palazzo,” a history of three socialites — Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim — who had connections to Venice’s Palazzo Venier. Keane swapped out the more literal black-and-white cover, which featured photos of the women and the Venice skyline, and amped up the paperback version with shimmery gold ink and embossed lettering to evoke the glitz and glamour of the socialites’ time in Venice. The noirish geometric cover looks nothing like an art history book, which is the point: It aims to appeal to fiction readers and others looking for an escape.