Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 19, 2020

The Birth of a Cover by Dr. Mira Reisberg

The Birth of a Cover

by Dr. Mira Reisberg

Have you ever purchased a book for yourself or for someone else solely based on a cover?  I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is a resounding yes. So it really is a truism–covers sell books.

This makes them incredibly important – they can make or break a book’s sales in any market. Your cover must sing and jump off the shelf into readers’ and buyers’ hands. Here are some central tenets for design that really resonate in the world of children’s book covers.

  • Hint at the story and characters and what’s to come
  • Have a strong composition with an arresting and compelling focal point that dominates
  • Offer clear titles and text (be careful with those fonts)
  • Keep it simple in terms of design, color, and layout (busy isn’t better)
  • Use high contrast so when it shrinks down to 1” for a magazine, or catalog, or an article, both the image and text are still readable

I wanted to show some recent work I did with former students finalizing their book cover, Joy the Pandacorn, to show examples of design and re-design in action. The author, Maggie Lauren Brown’s manuscript was acquired at the end of our last illustration course and she had a say in the selection of our illustrator, Fia Kilbourn who was also in the course.

So… here are some insights, iterations, and thought processes on this specific cover design and illustration that might be helpful for you in the design and production of your own books.

First a word about the creators of this whimsical work.

Joy the Pandacorn was brought to life by our amazing illustrator, Fia Kilbourn is a confirmed bookworm who was once kicked out of math class for trying to sneak in the ending to a novel because she was so close to the end and just had to know what happened. Her background in graphic design and literary studies shines through her artwork. And when she’s not expressing herself through drawing, she also knits, crochets, or tik tok dances. She also considers selecting the perfect gift an art form.


Maggie Lauren Brown, who penned this lovely tale, is a former professional mermaid-for-hire cirque de Soleil performer and elementary school teacher who now moms and writes picture books and middle grade novels for kids. She is crazy talented and is now repped by Adria Goetz from Martin Literary.

We mention Maggie in this post about covers because while you might think the following information is only for illustrators, it’s not true. Many editors don’t know this info so when they finally show your cover design, these are all things that you can respectfully point out to help make your book cover the strongest, most beautiful and most marketable it can be.

And now onto some specific cover considerations I applied art directing this and other books:

  • Images that face front on, or to the right, capture your viewer’s attention, leading them where you want them to go – inside your book.
  • Next up, think contrast – big/small, warm/cool, near/far etc.
  • Aim for one dominating hero image that really stands out.
  • Avoid having the same intensity of color saturation throughout. Prioritize what’s most important
  • Cool colors recede and warm colors come forward. Design your art so that your ‘less important’ aspects recede and your more important focus shines brightly.

Working with Fia has been really wonderful as she wants the same thing we all do – to have a fantastic cover that leaps off the page or bookshelf and into children’s hands and hearts.

The top initial thumbnail covers have small spots of intrigue, which are lovely and a great starting point. The ones below are also lovely but the one on the right gives readers a clue what a Pandacorn is. Fia hadn’t accounted for author/illustrator credits yet but she did so in the next iterations where we asked her to really focus on Joy and explore a little more.

These were much better, but I was worried about the credits being so close to the edges and wanted to feature them a little more. I loved Fia’s willingness to explore and push herself and while I loved the image below left, I really wanted the parents on the front cover for the clarity they gave young readers, so I did a funky little mockup below right using clip art.

  Fia said she didn’t like the parents coming in from the sides and when I told her they absolutely didn’t have to come from the sides, she totally rose to the occasion.

This is the cropped image as Fia has a whole bunch more art continue around the edges for the wrap. We still need to put a spine in the middle, a back cover blurb inviting readers in, and a bar code to the right of Pandacorn and Penguitten. Also Maggie’s middle name Lauren is missing but it will be fixed shortly. I am absolutely smitten with this cover and it makes me smile every time I see it. In an earlier iteration, after Maggie or Fia spoke about an older cover looking more like a family book rather than a starting school story, I was absolutely delighted when Fia included a backpack and her parents waving her goodbye. My only suggestion was to have dad looking at mom as she looks at Joy to make it more relational. Bravo everyone. I love this cover and hope that you do too. I forgot to talk about the many conversations about the angle of Joy’s horn, but you can imagine. Also, I just want to say that while this looks like a ton of work, because Fia is working digitally, she can just copy and paste, reusing elements, rather than having to redraw them all the time, so it’s mostly brain work on Fia’s part, which I think she did beautifully.

Joy the Pandicorn is an analogy about biracial kids and identity and fitting in and it’s absolutely delightful and wonderful. Maggie is the mom of a biracial boy with another biracial kid on the way. I am so proud and happy to have had the opportunity to be a part of this magical book and to work with these exquisite creatives.

Not too long ago, Fia and Maggie both took our illustrating course and Maggie also took our picture book writing course, now they have this beautiful picture book coming out. I’m delighted to say that most of our students’ books–500 and counting–are available at our virtual storefront, which brings more money to authors and illustrators, independent bookstores and our scholarship fund by clicking right here!
Joy the Pandacorn isn’t available for pre-order in the Children’s Book Academy Shop quite yet, but you can pre-order from Clearfork/Spork directly.

If you’ve been considering learning to write and illustrate a picture book or board book, our upcoming interactive, triple-taught session of The Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books will be our best course ever!!! As with all our courses, we also have a whole bunch of fabulous, now-published former students who will be joining you to share their experience, knowledge and insights to support and actively help you as well as extraordinary editors, art directors and agents joining us both live and at the end of the course for the multiple exclusive Golden Ticket submission opportunities.

Mira’s bio: And here’s my keyword bio to save time. Multi-published, award-winning, children’s book creator with over 600,000 copies sold, CBA director, currently acquiring Editor and Art Director at Spork, former kidlit agent, former kidlit and art ed university professor, PhD in Education and Cultural Studies focused on kidlit. Students have been very successful. I love what I do. Mira is over the moon excited to be co-teaching the up-coming illustration course with multi-published former student/wonder woman Larissa Marantz who helped design the original Rugrats, and exquisite Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Art Director Andrea Miller.


Thank you mira for sharing this good information with us. Here is the link to pre-order JOY THE PANDACORN.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Reblogged this on Print On Demand Assets and commented:
    These are solid principles to follow when creating your covers.

    Note how it took a few iterations before finally arriving at the end design.

    How many variations do your covers usually pass through before you are satisfied?


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