Announcing the Winner of Electric Lit’s 2021 Book Cover of the Year Tournament

Plus, an interview with the finalists about their design process

Last week, the Electric Lit team stayed glued to our phone screens as we tasked our social media followers with anointing the best book cover of 2021.

The tournament was full of close calls determined by razor-thin margins (Mona at Sea prevailed over Black Girl Call Home by just five votes in the quarterfinals) and surprising twists (Nightbitch, a staff favorite predicted to be the winner, suffered a resounding defeat by Crying in H Mart in the very first round) as we tried to guess which cover would appeal the most to our readers—the kaleidoscopic neon pinks of Three Rooms or the tension of the noodle pull gracing Crying in H Mart?

From 32 visually stunning works of art, here are the semi-finalists:

Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi, cover design by Holly Ovenden

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, cover design by Na Kim

The Ghost Sequences by A.C. Wise, cover design by Vince Haigh, artwork by Olga Beliaeva based on the photograph “Morning Tea” by Serge N. Kozintsev

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So, cover design by Elizabeth Yaffe

From the Final Four, now we’re down to the two very aesthetically distinct finalists:

We spoke to the designers of Somebody Loves You and The Ghost Sequences about creating their book covers:

Holly Ovenden, designer of Somebody Loves You

Tell us about your design process for this book cover and what you wanted to convey through the artwork?

Somebody Loves You is a beautiful and piercing debut novel, about a young girl called Ruby who decides to give up speaking from a young age. The book portrays a family dynamic which is overshadowed by Ruby’s mother’s mental illness and the way she finds solace in the garden.

Click to enlarge

I wanted the cover to feature the garden weeds that Ruby’s mother becomes obsessed with, as if the reader is peering through the plants into a snapshot of the family’s everyday life. Her mother’s eye and Ruby’s lips slightly open set against a melancholy grey pressurized suburban atmosphere.

Did you have any interesting false starts or rejected drafts you can tell us about?

I worked up three different designs for the cover, the two other directions were photographic, and they decided to go for this illustrated route—which I was overjoyed about!

What’s your favorite book cover of 2021, besides your own?

There are so many to choose from this year. One that I really loved was U.K. design of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun by Pete Adlington. Such a beautiful and clever package with gorgeous endpapers and also how the design has been so cleverly applied to the backlist covers! Real wow factor! Also, anything book cover designer Anna Morrison creates is always spectacular!

Vince Haig, designer of The Ghost Sequences

Tell us about your design process for this book cover and what you wanted to convey through the artwork?

Undertow’s publisher, Michael Kelly found Olga Beliaeva’s artwork, so the design was entirely led by that—it captures the elegance and ambiguity of Wise’s work to an almost uncanny degree. With an image this strong, my job was mostly to get out of the way and to some extent, all of my final designs de-emphasized the text in favor of the image. It’s a bit of risk doing something like that, but A.C. Wise has a following who would actively look for her work and the image was so strong I was confident that it would draw attention from new readers. 

Did you have any interesting false starts or rejected drafts you can tell us about?

I experimented with a more intrusive idea, in which handwritten chalk text was arranged in a circle around the image as though it was part of some kind of ritual the two figures in the painting were taking part in. However this felt like it was adding something to the image which wasn’t necessary and ultimately, it unbalanced it. I kept the chalk hand-lettering, but I kept it separate from the image.

What’s your favorite book cover of 2021, besides your own?

I’m very jealous of Jamie Keenan’s U.S. cover for Keith Ridgeway’s novel A Shock, which takes a simple image from the novel’s first chapter and runs with it. It’s tactile, ingenious and while it cheats outrageously (look at the S!), it absolutely gets away with it because the eye actively wants the visual gag to work. 

Drum roll please, here’s the winner of 2021 Book Cover Tournament:

The Ghost Sequences by A.C. Wise! Congratulations to Vince Haigh, Olga Beliaeva, and Undertow Publications.

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Thank You!