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Inside the Life of a Digital Cover Designer


Sandra Chiu '08
Sandra Chiu '08
Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing/be a book cover designer? 

It was a childhood dream of mine to one day be an illustrator of children’s books. It’s still a dream of mine actually, and I’m working on building my illustration portfolio on my days off. So, in that sense I did always want to be involved with books. I had not considered publishing until after graduating and still feel very lucky to have landed in the industry designing book covers.

My biggest piece of advice to current students is to take advantage of your summers off and apply for internships in fields you are interested in. I didn’t do any internships until a year after graduating, and wish I had gained that experience sooner. I spent 6 months completing internship programs with 3 different publishers in various departments before I found the position that jump started my career.  

How does your background in art and comparative literature from Hamilton influence what you do?

I fell in love with Comparative Literature after taking a course with Professor Nancy Rabinowitz. She introduced books that were so diverse in perspective that, coming from a working-class immigrant background, really spoke to me. I learned to think and read critically and I still use that skill today when looking over manuscripts in order to provide a design solution.

Art at Hamilton was great, as I had the opportunity to explore different fine art mediums and be thoughtful about the art that I made. I’m still very proud of the paintings I created for my senior project. Although I work digitally as a cover designer, I still need to use the basic art principles I learned to create balanced compositions.

What led you to become a book cover designer? 

I began my career as the art department assistant, where I learned the ins and outs of how an art department functions at a publishing house. I worked with designers to help them clear rights for images they want to use on designs, liaised with different departments from copyediting to production to make sure the printed jackets are free of errors, and printed in time for publication. It was inspiring to see everything at work, and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to try my skills at designing back covers. Additionally, I took night classes to develop my skills even more, and I am happy to say I am now a senior designer, designing full jackets and art directing on some projects as well.

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What has been the most rewarding part of your job?

The best part of my job is the opportunity to read great books and being able to create a package to send it out into the world is just icing on the cake. It’s also great when readers respond positively to the cover design and when the design truly goes well with the book’s content.

Last words of advice ...

I want to wrap this up with some words for current students who don’t know what they want to do after graduation. Don’t stress out about it! It’s easy to feel defeated and worried about your future when it seems like everyone else has something lined up. Comparison is the thief of joy, so just focus on your path and follow your passion. It took me two years to enter the publishing industry, and another three years to get on the design track. I learned a lot along the way and my education at Hamilton was a great foundation to jump from.

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