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

Plus, we spoke to the top two cover designers about their art

This week, readers on Electric Literature’s Twitter and Instagram voted to narrow a field of 32 beautiful book covers down to their favorite of the year. Some of the margins were razor-thin—in particular, both Sin Eater vs. The Exhibition of Persephone Q in round one and Animal Wife vs. Follow Me to Ground in the quarterfinals were decided by fewer than 10 votes. But in the end, one cover prevailed.

First, let’s meet our Final Four:

Animal Wife by Lara Ehrlich, cover design and art by Caitlin Sacks

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford, cover design by Jaya Miceli, cover art by Toon Joonsen

Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae, cover design by Crisis Studio, cover art by Toyin Ojih Odutola

The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao, cover design by James Iacobelli, cover art by Joseph Lee

From these four contenders, each of which had already knocked out three other hopefuls on their way to the quarterfinals, a vivid ultimate pairing emerged:

We spoke to the designers of the final two about the process of designing their eye-catching covers.

James Iacobelli, designer of The Majesties

What was the most important thing for you to convey about the book? How did you use the design to get that across? I wanted to find the right simple image that would portray the luxuriousness, complexity and destruction of this novel. It had to have menace but remain beautiful. Having been a fan of Joseph Lee’s art, I knew it was a perfect match.

Did you have any interesting false starts or first drafts you can tell us about? All along, I had been interested in the concept of deconstruction. I was working with silhouettes and butterflies. None had the impact I was looking for.

What’s your favorite book cover of 2020, besides your own? I’m obsessed with Howdunit.

Caitlin Sacks, designer of Animal Wife

What was the most important thing for you to convey about the book? How did you use the design to get that across?

The author, Lara, really guided me with the direction for the cover. We wanted to emphasize the duality of the title Animal Wife. Is she the human wife of an animal? Or is she the animal? The answer changes between stories.

I think there’s this idea so many women have, that once you get married and have kids, you’re trapped. Your life isn’t your own anymore. The cover wolf/housewife can be seen as a wild animal that’s been domesticated, or she’s a wife with a growing resentment for her family. Either way, those animal instincts are bound to kick in for self preservation eventually.

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

Two key phrases I used as my starting point were motherhood and abandonment. The title-story “Animal Wife” is a reimagined tale of the swan maiden, where the swan transforms into an unhappy wife and mother. So my original idea was a swan swimming in a lake with a gaggle of cygnets following close behind. The swan is reflected in the water, without her children; a life where she is free from familial responsibility. We ultimately agreed that it felt too tame a cover for this book.

What’s your favorite book cover of 2020, besides your own?

Wave If You Can See Me by Susan Ludvigson. My dear friend and jaw-droppingly talented designer, Vivian Rowe, created it. She and I met at Red Hen Press, an indie non-profit publisher, where we both became lead designers. I’m in constant awe of her work. She’s a fantastic illustrator, hand letterer, and graphic designer. She’s a triple threat! Hopefully you’ll be interviewing her next year for Best Cover 2021. 

I’m so thankful to Red Hen for allowing me to create book covers and distract the staff with my incessant talking. I used to get in trouble for it in fourth grade, but everyone at the press seems to like it. 

And finally, here’s your 2020 Book Cover Tournament winner:

Animal Wife by Lara Ehrlich! Congratulations to Lara, Caitlin, and Red Hen Press.

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Thank You!