Mary Beard recently explained how her most recent book cover design evolved. My experiences have been a little bit different. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had great designers at LSU Press. Amanda McDonald Scallon designed the cover of Old Hickory’s Nephew (OHN), which I think brilliantly captured how Jackson haunted Donelson for his entire life. I gave no input about how the cover should be designed. For the Andrew Jackson, Southerner cover, I suggested the portrait that graces the front but gave no other direction.
For the most part, academic publishers want to be left alone when it comes to design. They have marketing specialists who know what they’re doing when it comes to creating a book cover that will sell. It behooves authors to remember that fact. At the same time, my impression and experience is that it’s okay to indicate preferences for things. For example, with OHN, I told LSU Press that I didn’t like a certain bland book design that I had seen on their books. This time around, I suggested the portrait that they decided to use, but I understood that it was only a preference and that their designer had the final approval on whether to use it.
One other important thing to remember: If you want to use a certain image on the book jacket, understand that the image owner will not only have to grant you permission but will also likely require a rights fee or some other kind of compensation. Thankfully, The Hermitage owns the Jackson portrait for the forthcoming biography, and they were willing to allow its use (as they did for those on the OHN cover) for reasonable compensation.