How I Work: Book cover designer Na Kim

Farrar, Straus and Giroux designer Na Kim discusses making fruity covers for erotic stories, and why publishers should take more risks

When CR compiled its 2018 book covers of the year, one named kept cropping up – Na Kim. The designer is based at Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s office in New York, where she’s designed covers for Lucia Berlin, Sheila Heti and Jeffrey Eugenides. Kim originally majored in illustration, but says she bartended for six years before finding her way into cover design with an internship at Bloomsbury Publishing.

Here she tells CR why fruit is the perfect visual metaphor for sex and why she always reads the book before designing.

Her process We have some form of manuscript pretty much every time. Sometimes it’ll just be a proposal, but usually there’s a first draft read I can read for reference. For fiction I pretty much read the manuscript from start to finish, but with non-fiction I find it easier to work when I have a general outline of what the book is trying to say. Obviously’s it’s harder to work on a book that you don’t like, because you lose interest in it. But it can be equally difficult when you’re really invested in a book personally, and get an idea of what it should look like in your head. If that sketch doesn’t get approved it can be really hard to let go of.

How reading changes when you’re designing I usually take notes while I’m reading, and I don’t really approach it like a book I would read for fun. You’re looking for things that stand out visually, and can serve as metaphors for events or characters in the book. I try to sum up the book in three words and figure out descriptions that help me start seeing how I want to approach it.

Her favourite projects There’s books where you immediately have an idea. You get this one concept, or vision, in your mind, and that can be pretty exciting. There’s a book that will be published in the fall of this year, and it’s a memoir by Tegan and Sara called High School – even just the title can evoke a lot of emotion and moods. That was a book where I had an idea instantly, and really pushed for it, and it happened to work out.