Propaganda Art & the Book Cover


Q&A with Penguin Publisher Elda Rotor

The Evolution of the Dust Jacket, Part 2

In researching the use of the dust jacket recently for a piece I was writing — if you haven’t read my story on “The Evolution of the Dust Jacket” check it out here — I became aware of the myriad of cover designs for Orwell’s Animal Farm. Because it was published at the end of WWII, Animal Farm manufacturing and design benefited from advances and changes in industry standards for book production, and you can trace the modern evolution of the approach to the book cover as a marketing tool through its many covers.

Penguin Random House is the publisher of Animal Farm, so I reached out to my good friend and publisher extraordinaire Elda Rotor, vice president and publisher of Penguin Classics, to get her views on the role of the book cover.

Linda Secondari: The book cover has been transformed over the past century from a necessary protector of the folio to a marketing tool. What do you think the real purpose of a book cover is?

Elda Rotor: A book cover is the first engagement with a reader and a great way for readers to begin that process of storytelling. The choices that artists and designers make communicate something special about the book, and readers’ interpretation of that is a powerful start to their reading experience.

LS: How do you define a successful book cover?

ER: A successful book cover sparks that engagement I mentioned above, and it also invites a reader to keep trying to interpret the package. It also becomes an integral part of the book itself; it becomes it’s skin and thus part of one’s understanding of the entity and world you will get to know.

LS: How do you know when a book cover is successful?

ER: When it’s talked about. When a person picks up a book despite any biases or obstacles to the book’s subject matter or title. When the book cover itself becomes iconic.

LS: Which Animal Farm cover is your favorite? Why?

ER: I like the Shepard Fairey cover; I’m a fan of street art, and he is one of my favorites over the last decade or so. I recognize his style, and it adds something to the conversation. When talking about themes in Animal Farm, I think picking an artist like Shepard Fairey might appeal to young people interested in politics and activism, thinking about political art. I also think of books as beautiful objects of art, and for art lovers who can’t afford original work, collecting books designed by their favorite artists is a wonderful way to create a library of objects of art, through and through.

Elda Rotor is vice president and publisher of Penguin Classics. She oversees the U.S. editorial program, including the works of John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, Shirley Jackson, William Golding, and the Pelican Shakespeare series. She has created and edited several series, including the Penguin Civic Classics and the Penguin Drop Caps, and co-produced Poems by Heart, named one of the best apps of the year by Apple. For Penguin Books, she edited the memoirs Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs by Peter Coviello and Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America by Sharmila Sen. Previously, she worked at Oxford University Press. She is a board member for both the Academy of American Poets and Kundiman, a national organization dedicated to Asian-American creative writing.

Thank you to Elda for being such a great interview! Also, thank you to Please JL Javier (photographer) and CNN Philippines Life for allowing me to use the great photo of Elda. If you want to learn more about Elda, follow this link!

Linda Secondari

Linda Secondari is an award winning Designer and Creative Director with more than 20 years of Design Strategy and Branding experience specializing in the publishing space. Linda is currently Creative Director for the Global Academic Business at Oxford University Press where she manages the Design Strategy Group, a team of 40 Designers and Art Directors split between OUP's Oxford, New York, Toronto, and Delhi offices.

Linda and her award winning creative team are responsible for the Design development of over 3,000 print titles a year as well as many digital products. The team also engages with content areas at the Press in ideation and visioning exercises to facilitate collaborative engagement between key stakeholders in the development process for products.