Inside the Publishing Industry: Stuart Bache, Cover Designer

With well over a decade of experience in both traditional and independent publishing, Stuart Bache started his career as a Junior Designer for Hodder & Stoughton, worked as Senior Designer for Puffin Books and HarperCollins, and was Art Director of Oneworld Publications. He has worked across every major genre for a whole host of publishers and authors, including Mark Dawson, Stephen King, John le Carré, Adam Croft, S. K. Tremayne and the Tolkien Estate.

Stuart is now the Art Director and founder of Books Covered, where he continues to create market-leading book covers for authors, agents and publishers.

GJ: Can you give yourself a quick introduction, including how you came to design covers.

SB: Hello, I’m Stuart Bache. I’m Art Director at Books Covered and have been designing book covers for well over a decade. I started my career as a Junior Designer at Hodder & Stoughton, and was a Senior Designer for Puffin and HarperCollins.

GJ: Can you describe your experience in graphic design and book cover design.

SB: After graduating in 2003, I worked in a small design department for a charity in the Midlands then for a branding company in London. I never really felt like I had found an aspect of design which worked for me – at the time I was designing and typesetting hundreds of pages – and then I found a job opening at Hodder & Stoughton.

Cover design wasn’t something I was experienced at, but the idea of working on one thing (i.e. a cover) which would be different every time was exciting.

I took a pay cut for the job. It was hard work and a very steep learning curve (…with many dog books to work my way through) but once I had learned to think more like a reader and less like a petulant child who want their own way everything clicked.

GJ: What do you do when you’re not designing book covers?

SB: I’ve been writing on and off for nearly twenty years. Up until recently I never took it seriously, but the book is finally working its way onto the page. However, having a 15 month old daughter and a business to run means weeks can pass by without a word being written.

GJ: Can you describe the importance of a good book cover?

SB: We all love beautiful book covers, but the cover has to work within its market. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a carbon copy of those already out there, all I mean is needs to have a sense of the familiar about it (i.e. it looks like an action thriller, romance, etc.).

Familiarity is how many of us buy a product, big brands use it all the time in terms of colours, typography, and imagery. And you can totally have a unique cover AND still have familiar tropes from a genre.

GJ: What are the key considerations when an author is selecting a cover designer?

SB: Experience. Any designer can designer a book cover, but not many will have the experience to know what works and what doesn’t.

GJ: What are the key considerations a cover designer needs to consider when designing a cover?

SB: What’s currently working with the market – as it can change quickly or slowly  – and picture research.

Picture research is by far the hardest aspect of the job. When you work for a large publisher you can choose from a selection of exclusive images, illustrators, and even photographers. But when you work for indie authors your budget is understandably much smaller, and so you are limited to images from places such as Shutterstock… which means you may end up using an image which is over-used within a market.

GJ: Do you read the book or do you go on a synopsis from the author. How does it work?

SB: I rarely have time to read the book – I design over a 100 covers a year – so I ask for a synopsis.

In fact, the blurb from the back cover is perfect as it’s what a potential reader will see. That has all the salient information I need. If I need more details (such as a scene or character description) I’ll ask for it ahead of time.

GJ: What are the key aspects a cover needs to contain?

SB: Specifics will depend on the genre. However, in general you need to be able to show a potential buyer 1) your genre, 2) the title and 3) your brand.

When buying we make decisions very quickly, so you need to impart that information as quickly as you can.

GJ: Do you have a favourite cover you have ever designed?

SB: I would like to say I do, but I’m afraid I don’t. Bad answer, I know. I’m always happy with them, but once one is finished I’m already working on the next.

GJ: You’ve just won an award from KoboWritingLife for The Indie Author Mindset, a book I’ve just finished reading. Can you explain the process you went through to come up with that cover?

SB: I design all of Adam Croft’s fiction books, so we already have a good understanding and I know what he’s looking for. He rarely gives me any more information than a brief synopsis and that just shows how well we work together.

Non-fiction especially in the reference/‘how-to’ market, requires simplicity and needs to look like something you will learn from (like a textbook). They always have strong colours and strong typography.

The lightbulb idea was one of the latter concepts. I liked the way it related to ‘Mindset’, that it was a ‘ping’ moment for an author as everything fell into place.

GJ: If authors have existing covers do you ever get asked to appraise them and give constructive criticism? [Can you guess what’s coming?]

SB: Sometimes though not very often. I’m always more than happy to give direction and help.

GJ: How much do you typically charge for book cover design?

SB: My company charges $350 for ebook-only and $580 for ebook+paperback.

GJ: At this point I took a deep breath and sent Stuart over my book cover, asking for his opinion. After staring intently with my chest pounding as I waited for his reply. Thankfully he came back to me almost straight away.

SB: Like the idea. I would say it’s very murky, and I can see why you’ve made that decision, but it makes everything very dark and it’s hard to make out what it is. I think the title could be clearer too, more prominent, with perhaps a strong accent colour to help it stand out. Hope that helps.

GJ: Phew. I was happy with that and once I’d sent the notes off to my designer to have a play around, I thanked Stuart for taking part in the interview.

Not only has Stuart released a guide to design covers, Author’s Guide to Cover Design, he’s recently teamed up with the guys at and put together an in-depth course specifically created to give independent authors all the tools, tips and understanding of what makes great cover design and how you can create your own covers. I’ve watched the one hour webinar about the course and sat back amazed as he put together a fabulous cover from scratch in front of us. Amazing!

If you enjoyed this interview then why not subscribe to my mailing list to be notified of every article I post. I regularly interview authors and those in the publishing industry, along with providing an insight into my own experiences as I publish and promote my debut novel, In The End, an apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless.


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