Yvonne Parks, Cover Designer for Rich Dad Poor Dad, Discusses Her Passion
“Yvonne’s incredible. While you’re still on the phone with her talking about ideas for the book, she’ll be drawing up 3-4 ideas and emailing them over.”
That’s the glowing reference I heard recently from an acquisitions editor in my network.
In person—well, virtually in person (we live a couple thousand miles apart)—Yvonne’s fervor for her work radiated competence and resourcefulness, even genius.
“A book’s front cover has to evoke a feeling,” she told me. “It has to make people curious, attract them. But the back cover has to be a bit mysterious. The back cover is what sells the book!”
From Music Teacher to Best-Selling Cover Designer
Yvonne grew up in a devout family on the vast prairies of Canada’s midsection, where the culture, she told me, is known for warmth and friendliness.
“I was attracted to music,” she said. She tried several jobs but ended up as a music teacher at her own studio. This not only jibed with her interest in music but allowed her to work from home and be with her children. Several years in, however, “I realized that I hate teaching,” she said. “The part of my business that I loved was building the business, creating the marketing materials. Not music. Not teaching.”
She fell in love with Photoshop. Around the same time, she started a blog.
“Back then, in the early 2000s, they were still called weblogs,” she noted with a laugh.
Isolated as a mom in her own home by the intense cold of Canada’s long winters, “I made my friends keep weblogs, too,” she said. “It was a way for us to have fun and keep up with each other.” She designed all her friends’ blogs, adding her logo and a link to go from one to the other at the bottom of each.
Then a lady asked her to design a weblog for her. Yvonne had always done them for free, but the lady insisted on paying her.
“A guy at a self-publishing company saw what I’d done for [the lady]. He was able to use the link at the bottom to see all the different blogs I’d designed. He called and wanted to hire me as a book cover designer! Initially, I said no.”
The guy persisted. Three months later, he called back. “He said he had dozens of people applying for a position with his company as a cover designer, but none of them were designing as well as what I was doing. He offered to teach me the programs,” Yvonne said.
She accepted. Twenty years later, she’s still passionate about designing book covers.
Reading the Room—Knowing Your Audience
“I’ve always been interested in psychology. I think that and my teaching experience have given me the ability to connect with an author’s vision,” Yvonne said.
As we discussed cover design, it was clear that she had indeed developed an intuition for knowing how to target her author’s audience.
Yvonne explained, “Boomers, Millennials, and college-generation students are attracted to very different looks. An older person might buy a book that could be geared for a 20 or 30-year-old. But a 20 or 30-year-old will NOT pick up a book geared towards Boomers or older generations.”
“Like Star Wars?” I asked.
“Exactly,” she said.
We discussed the similarity: how older generations view the older Star Wars movies with fondness—they saw them when the effects were groundbreaking. Yet except for those with a taste for retro sci-fi, the original movies don’t have near the following among younger generations.
“The younger generations are inundated with design,” she noted. “They’re analyzing Kim Kardashian’s latest Instagram to see what parts of it have been Photoshopped.”
What’s an example of how that plays out on a book’s cover design?
“For Boomers’ covers, I’ll usually pick a serif font. For millennials or younger, I start with something more on trend,” she said. (For more on Yvonne’s thoughts on keeping up with design trends, check out her article: Keeping Graphic Designers Relevant in a Rapidly Changing Culture.)
Local Color—or Not
Generational differences aren’t the only thing that distinguishes readerships. Different types of covers attract people from different regions, too.
Yvonne pointed out the difference between British and American covers for the Harry Potter series.
“People from Britain or Australia want line art or illustrations. Americans like photos. American readers go for color; British and Australians prefer more two-tone looks,” she explained.
Selling a Book by Its Cover
Are there any general rules of thumb for a good book cover?
“I try to keep the design clean, simple,” Yvonne said. “Clutter on the cover makes people feel tense. It also needs to be balanced. You can’t look at it and feel like it’s going to teeter over to one side!
“The cover can’t confuse people, either,” she added. “That makes people feel stupid.”
What does she mean?
“Authors sometimes want the cover art to be artsy or mysterious on the cover. Something with a hidden meaning you’ll understand after you’ve read the book. That won’t work. The same goes for the title and subtitle. It can be clever as long as it’s understandable—that makes people feel smart,” she clarified.
She had some extra words of wisdom on subtitles, noting that sometimes authors try to get too long or too fancy. “If you say your subtitle to someone, and they can repeat it back—mostly—you’re OK.”
Under the Covers
Coming full circle on the feeling a book cover evokes. Yvonne reminded me that up to 75% of book buyers are women. Even male readers often are reading books their wives or girlfriends buy for them.
“And women buy on emotion,” she said. “They want to look at a book and feel like it’s something they can cozy up to with their hot tea and a blanket.”
Speaking of getting under the covers, she told me, “I tell authors, ‘My job is to design a cover that will get people to buy the book. Once they get past the cover though, that’s up to you!’”
For more of Yvonne’s tips to authors, check her articles:
To see her book cover portfolio, including Rich Dad Poor Dad, click here: pearcreative portfolio.
To understand what makes a book successful, including cover design, check out this blog post: The 6 Things MORE Important Than the Words When Writing a Book