The success story of an independent book designer: An interview with Mark Ecob
“In a large publishing house, I felt disconnected from the authors. Now I work directly with them, I’ve realised why I do what I do.”
The best thing about Reedsy is finding people who do such great work, you start getting excited about having them at your side and helping bring your book to life.
How did you get started in design, and how did you get into book covers specifically?
I left a graphic design degree with a gift for ideas but no finishing skills, and a real lack of career advice, so I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had interviews at a typography studio, Playstation Europe as a games designer, and a book publisher. The publisher picked me and I took the job because I needed one!
I loved it, the creative freedom, ownership and variance that came with book covers was amazing. 13 years later I’m still doing it.
What was it like in the early days of Mecob?
Nerve-racking and the hardest work I’ve ever done.
I was fresh out of being Art Director at Canongate Books in Edinburgh, and nervous as hell that I couldn’t cut it on my own without a title and a company to hide behind.
I dusted off my contacts book, took my portfolio around London and the work started to trickle in. It began to flow and hasn’t stopped since then, so I must be doing something right!
My portfolio of work started to major on design I’d done as a freelancer, and with that my confidence grew, especially as clients like Penguin, Amazon, Faber and Random began to approach me.
The downside of working for myself is that I find it hard to switch off, the hours I kept in those first couple of years were crazy. Now it’s really paid off though, I have great relationships with a wide range of clients internationally from the big houses to innovative self publishing platforms and individuals.
Where do you feel your strengths are as a designer?
Ideas. Spotting a good concept and realising it is what I’m best at, sifting through text to identify the perfect face for the book.
I’m also pretty versatile, I can turn my hand to most things and no-one likes to change direction like book publishers.. I had to learn to change direction with them.
More recently, after actually asking my core clients what they think I’m good at, it dawned on me that I’m good at combining the creative and practical sides of a brief. Innovative ideas and wonderful images are great, but they’re pointless if you can’t work do it on time or within budget. I try to make sure everyone in the process has a good lay of the land as we go.
Oh, and there’s no ego. A lot of designers, and sometimes rightly so, bring a healthy dose of ego to the party. But I try to leave it at the door.
Your portfolio is staggeringly varied – there doesn’t seem to be a genre or subject you can’t work with. How have you managed this?
It came from working in a lot of different publishing houses, and also saying yes to absolutely everything to challenge myself. For a while I enjoyed a stint of Art Directors asking me to work in new areas, there’s nothing like a fresh pair of eyes, but soon I’d worked in pretty much every market area so that doesn’t happen so much now!
I’d advise anyone to just get stuck in and have confidence, better to fail and learn something than not to try at all.
Is there something that makes a Mark Ecob cover what it is? Like a hallmark or identifying quality?
I don’t believe so, I do so many types of work that I don’t think I have a style per se. It’s in the eye of the beholder though, some Art Directors and Publishers come to me for a certain look, some for just a good, practical response to a brief they can rely on.
How do you start generating ideas for a book?
Read it, almost always. Then sketch out cover ideas whilst marrying them up with the other parts of a brief – market, production value, competition, the author’s view.
Cover work can be individual pieces of art, or commercial packages that follow a trend. I enjoy the extremes and where they might meet.
In an ideal world, after immersing yourself in it, you give the book a face that comes from within its pages. It’s like giving an actor the perfect costume, so they feel the part and perform perfectly.
Have you done much work with independent authors? If so, is there anything different about it?
Loads. When I started my company, I made it my business to seek that kind of brief in an ever-changing publishing landscape. Now, a good proportion of my work is for independents, self-publishing platforms or ventures like Unbound who bring books to readers in new ways.
It’s definitely simpler and you’re given greater freedom. The best independent authors are receptive to industry expertise, which still has a massive part to play.
It’s also very rewarding to know that the work you do can bring someone’s book to life, and hopefully success. In a large publishing house, I felt disconnected from the authors. Now I work directly with them, I’ve realised why I do what I do.
Thanks for your time Mark.
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