Last night, just as World Book Day was coming to a close (yes yes, your child looked adorable), the winners of the third annual Academy of Book Cover Designers (ABCD) Awards were announced at a ceremony in a bar beneath the streets of Hoxton Square. Now in its third year, the remit of the Academy is simple: to celebrate the ten best covers of the year. Last night, these were chosen by people who understand book cover design: book cover designers.
Prior to the event, 900 entries were narrowed down by a panel of judges to a shortlist of six covers in each of ten categories: children’s; young adult; sci-fi/fantasy; mass market; literary fiction; crime/thriller; series design; classic/reissue; women’s fiction and non-fiction (a broad enough category to warrant a shortlist of 12).
It was then down to the throng of two-hundred-or-so cover designers at Zigfrid von Underbelly to pick their favourites, a simple case of popping a voting slip into a makeshift ballot box. Once the room was full and the votes counted (by eager and intimidatingly efficient student volunteers in some back-dungeon), the awards were awarded. There was much hooting and hollering, some impromptu speeches and even a mic-drop (entirely unintentional).
To call it a ceremony isn’t really accurate – it was all far too informal and enjoyable for that. Shindig would perhaps be more precise. The awarding of awards certainly happened, yes, but it was all a fantastic excuse to fill a room with peers in this very specific creative field, a scattered bunch rarely given an opportunity to get together in one place.
The deliberately relaxed atmosphere was something that ABCD founders Jon Gray and Jamie Keenan aimed for when they launched the Academy in 2014, frustrated by the prohibitive expense and diffuse nature of the larger awards.
“I judged D&AD a few years ago and came out feeling a bit miserable about it all,” says Keenan, “I talked to Jon and we thought that it’d be great to have a competition that was free to enter, completely inclusive (covering books intended for Tesco, books for children, as well as the usual poncey fiction), fun to take part in, and most importantly, judged by people who actually design book covers.”
Their idea has gone down a storm, with the annual awards night quickly becoming an important date in the publishing calendar. The inclusivity of it is key to this – the ABCD credo is ‘everybody counts or nobody counts’. To this community, many of whom are freelancers or small publishers, that’s significantly more welcome than ‘everybody counts, as long as they’ve paid’.
Keenan has no pretences about the DIY ethos of ABCD, and acknowledges that it’s only worth doing if everyone takes part. “We didn’t really know what we were doing – and still don’t – but while ever there’s interest in it, we feel that it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”
Judging by the response of the crowd last night, it’ll be around for a while. There was no sense of corporate pressure or competitiveness, just a lot of like-minded designers enjoying a rare opportunity to meet in person and celebrate each other’s work.
Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a book cover designer based in York and regular CR columnist. See danielgray.com and @gray. All the work shortlisted for this year’s ABCD Awards can be viewed at abcoverd.co.uk