Cover Love: Interview with the Senior Art Director of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Kristen Ingebretson

Two months in the making! (All my fault, since I had this in my 'to post' section for the LONGEST time!) I'm SOOO excited to share with you this exclusive interview with the Senior Art Director of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Kristen V. Ingebretson on cover designs!  Below are just some of the awesome covers they have! So can you tell what are the covers I used in the background??!!

*NOTE: This post contains affiliate links with no cost to you.

Interview with Kristen

Hello Kristen!  I, like many readers are quite interested in the process of cover design and how a book gets its cover. So here goes! 

1. When do designers start working on a cover design for a new book? 
I’ll start working on the front cover about 9 months to a year before the book shows up in the bookstore. We have to have covers ready for a sales conference that is about 6 months before the book goes on sale, so we are always working toward that deadline. Once the front cover is finalized it hangs out until about 2 months before the release date, when we finish the spine and back cover.

2. Do designers read the books ahead of time? 
I wish I had the time to read every book because it is very helpful in designing the cover. You get a feel for the style of the writing and tone of the story when you read, not to mention specific scenes or meaningful images that you can design with. Since I don’t have the time to read everything, I usually will prioritize reading a new author, or the first book of a new series, so I can get started in the right direction. My editors also do a great job of giving me lots of information about every book and anything important they notice as they read the manuscript.

3. How much do authors have a say in the cover design process? 
This varies depending on the publisher you are with. Here at HarperCollins Christian Publishing the authors fill out a form at the very beginning of their book process, even before the manuscript is turned in. Included in the form is lots of information about the story, any relevant details like hair color of the protagonist or what season the book is set in. And the author can provide any thoughts they have about the cover direction. I take all of that into account as I design, and once the publisher and editor have decided on their favorite cover (or multiple covers), they send the art to the author for feedback. We work very closely with our authors to make sure they are happy with the cover and we have the best possible artwork to sell the book! 

4. How many drafts do you go through before a final is decided? 
It all depends on the project! Sometimes it’s easy and you hit on the right idea in the first round! Other times it’s much harder and you go up to 10 rounds before landing on the right look. Most often we can get to the right solution within 3 rounds.

5. Can you take us through the process of designing a book cover? 
Every month I have a meeting where the editor hands over all the information they have collected about a book, including input from the author and a manuscript, if it’s ready. I will spend some time reading and getting a feel for the content, and then do research for inspiration images, other covers in the same genre, and any designers or illustrators that have the right look. I design some covers myself but to get a good variety of styles I hire designers from around the country. Once I’ve gathered my information and some ideas I pass it off to the designer (or myself!) and start working on cover comps. We usually try to get 3-5 unique looks the first round, so there is a chance to see what design direction works the best. After the editor and publisher give their feedback we’ll continue refining the design direction (or start over!) until we get to a place we’re happy with, and then the author has a chance to see it and give their feedback. If a photo shoot is required we’ll do that after the author has seen the cover direction and model and costume options. When we have all the parts just right the cover design is tweaked to perfection and then we share it with the sales team so they can start selling the book!
6. Are their any particular book covers your team designed that are your favorites? 
Oh so many, it’s hard to narrow them down! An older one is Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay (illustration by Lynn Buckley) because it was one of the first illustration heavy covers we did and I thought the way the rose petals turned to envelopes was so clever! Unblemished by Sara Ella (design by James Iacobelli) is still one of my favorites because there’s so many layers to the cover, it’s like you can get lost in the image. And we printed that on a really fun metallic paper so the whole thing shimmers. The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck (design by me) is a favorite because I love the image. And it was one of those lucky ones where I found the perfect image early on and the pieces came together really quickly and easily. I still geek out about the If I Run trilogy by Terri Blackstock. Not only was it fun to create a whole new look for Terri, but getting to have all 3 covers create one big image is like a hidden gift to the reader (or just me!). For a long time The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber has been a favorite because it’s so unique and different from what we normally do, and is supported by some fun special effects like metallic paper and emboss. But I just saw the final printed jacket for the conclusion to the series and I think I like it even more! The colors on Reclaiming Shilo Snow are just beautiful.  
7. How about some classic book covers that you love yourself? 
The Great Gatsby is a really old one that has totally stood the test of time…the colors and magical vibe are just perfect. This may not count as classic, but I love the repackages of old books we’ve seen lately like Coralie Bickford-Smith’s cloth bound classics and the colorful illustrations of Dana Tanamachi’s children’s classics. These are newer designs but they are very reminiscent of cover design from the 1800s, when designers relied on pattern and unique effects to create covers.
8. What are some upcoming covers in 2018 releases that you especially love, and readers can totally judge that book by its cover? 
Oh so many! We continue to stretch ourselves and experiment with different cover styles, which is always fun. I’m working on sending Becoming the Talbot Sisters by Rachel Linden (design by me) to the printer now, which has these really colorful flowers inspired by Ukrainian folk art, but reinvented in a contemporary way. I’m really excited to see Fawkes in print because it is going to have embossing and gold foil and that mask is going to pop off the page. The House at Saltwater Point by Colleen Coble (design by James Hall) is so pretty and the colors are so rich. Colleen always delivers an amazing story and it keeps me on my toes to provide cover designs that are in her brand style but fresh and intriguing each time. White as Silence, Red as Song by Alessandro D’Avenia (design by Faceout Studio) is another favorite…the book is a translation from an Italian bestseller so we kept some of that old European style but it’s fresh and contemporary.
9. Are there different teams that work on covers of different genres? 
There are about 9 people in the company who art direct for different genres. We each have an area we focus on, but we collaborate and work on each other’s genres a lot, or work on multiple genres. So while I do all the fiction books I also do a portion of our non-fiction list and help out with other divisions as needed.

10. Do all covers require a photo shoot? 
No, we actually use a lot of stock photography. Stock photography resources continue to improve and there are photographers who specialize in setting up historical photo shoots to sell as stock. We do photo shoots for almost all of our Amish fiction, since there aren’t a lot of resources for Amish photos, unsurprisingly, and a lot of historical novels so we can get a model that matches the description of the heroine.
11. How long does a cover photo shoot take typically? 
It’s a weeks-long process to get model options, then costume options, any props we need, and coordinate the timing of model and photographer. After the photo shoot I have to go through hundreds of shot to narrow it down to the one perfect expression and pose, and then the photographer does any retouching we need.

12. Many spines and back covers are very simple. What determines how much details go into them? 
It depends on the style of the cover and genre of the book. I’ve always thought that the spine and back cover are just as important to try to hook the reader as the front, especially with so many books being spine-out in the bookstore, so I try to pay a lot of attention to the the design of the spine and back. Sometimes the length of the copy restricts the level of detail you can design too!

13. Now a little about you. How did you become a book cover designer? 
I stumbled into it, really. I was a designer at an advertising agency and looking for a new job. I had a friend who was an editor which prompted me to start looking for design jobs at publishing houses, which I thought I would enjoy because I love to read. I applied online and thankfully it worked out, and after 12 years I can’t imagine another profession!

14. What are your favorite book(s)? 
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, my 4th grade self still loves Where the Red Fern Grows, and the Anne of Green Gables series really ignited my love literature.

15. What are you reading now? 
I just finished Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller. It’s the Little House story told through the mother’s point of view, and it was fun to revisit another series I loved as a child but with a grown-up perspective. 

Thank you, Kristen for taking the time to accept this interview! I know for certain our fellow booklovers will be THRILLED!  And I am still in AWE with the designs you & your team did with If I Run Trilogy, Unblemished Trilogy, and The Evaporation of Sofi Snow Duology. Also love the illustrative Dear Mr. Knightley and the softness and comforting design of The Writing Desk. One, I'm really looking forward to is Fawkes by Nadine Brandes and The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck! I think I also have a soft spot for Where Hope Begins!

Due to my tardiness and the fact that I don't think the screen gives these covers justice, I'me gifting (1) winner a copy of at least one (or more - most likely more) of the books mentioned here (and maybe others on this blog).

U.S. shipping only. ("Sorry my international friends! Check out the other giveaways that offer international friends.)

To learn more about HarperCollins Christian Publishing and the books they have to offer, check out their website and social media (linked below).

*NOTE: This post contains affiliate links with no cost to you.



  1. It's very interesting to learn how detailed these cover designs are. I love the cover of The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright. It offers a perfect hint if the story waiting inside!

    1. O, I LOVE that one from Jaime!!!! Great choice!! It's quite funny, since I brought that exact thing up with Jaime in our interview on the blog! LOL

  2. I really like historical fiction covers that showcase dress style of that particular time period (The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz and A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green). I do absolutely love the covers of Dear Mr. Knightley, If I Run trilogy, and Unblemished trilogy. Such beautiful covers!

    1. O, me too! Historical covers is the first step I take into their "world" so to speak, so those are important!

  3. Thank you for the fabulous interview with Kristen! I enjoyed it very much and really would love to meet her and see that process. It is quite fascinating! Thank you for doing the interview.

    1. Thanks Perianne. It was definitely enjoyable for me since it gives me more insight!

  4. It's always so fun to get a "Behind the Scenes" look into making Books! :-)

  5. I like cute covers with flowers and dogs and quilts etc.

    faithdcreech at gmail dot com

    1. Faith, you must like cozy mysteries!! I'm also a fan of the ones with cute pets, and nice designs of quilts..

  6. Awesome giveaway! Would love to win any of these books. Vivian Furbay jtandviv (at) q (dot) com

  7. Sounds like a fun job! It's interesting how the process works. And I wonder if it's different for cover designers who don't work for a specific publishing house - for example, a friend of mine recently wrote and self-published a book (her first) (called Magic Headaches if anyone is interested!). It has a cover design, of course, but it's fairly simple. However, she's currently talking to a cover designer that she admires, and from what she was saying it sounds like that person doesn't work for a specific company (but I could be wrong). Anyway, it really sounds like an awesome job - wish I would have considered this when I was going to college! :)

  8. Thanks for the interview ladies! Very interesting to get a bit of an inside peak into the cover design process.
    I too like the historical fiction covers, especially a Laura Frantz and Tamera Alexander.


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