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Why publish your rejects? & other thoughts on commercial design

One of the questions visitors to seem to have relatively frequently is:


trash is trash, right?

Why, when a book has gone off to press with its finalreallyfinalforsurethistimeFINAL17b.pdf cover do I feel motivated to post the samples that weren't quite right?

A few reasons:

1. The creative process is weird.

I am intrigued by the progression from point A to Z when it comes to other designers' / artists' / writers' works. I find it neat to be able to draw a mental line connecting the dots that lead to the final cover, as varied and far away as those dots may be. Sometimes the final cover is completely different than any of the initial concepts, and sometimes the first idea sticks with a handful of tweaks. Either way, it says something about the process the designer took to get to the end result. I like seeing this progression in the work that other people do (think Quill & Quire's Cover-to-Cover design feature), so I've included my own bread-crumb trail here. I'm consistently learning new things as I move through a design, and it's fun to trace them through each sample.

2. Design work is hard.

As someone who has worked in a variety of different fields, I can attest that no one ever thought that assembling car parts in a factory was fun and easy. And no one assumed that I was making them a latte for kicks. Or marking their papers for a good time. But somehow the idea that graphic design is a hobby job that people do for funsies seems to still pervade. Evidence: being asked to work for free or significant underpayment, having acquaintances suggest that you just throw something together for XYZ project, you know, in five minutes, etc.

I like the idea of putting covers in-process, covers that didn't make the cut, and a few of the many many many iterations through which some covers go before heading to print in the public eye. It makes tangible the fact that design work is just that, work. It may be more creatively fulfilling than drilling widget A to widget B was when I did factory work, but it is still my job. It is time-consuming, exciting, exhausting, fun, and myriad other things, but not easy.

3. Sometimes trash isn't trash.

Call me conceited, but sometimes I like my own cover designs. I like when authors and publishers and sales reps and readers and designers and other folks like them too, and it's always ideal for everyone to be on the same page, but occasionally, for whatever reason, it just doesn't happen. In those cases, there's just me, with a cover I thought was pretty damn neat, but I'm the only one in its camp. At those times, I tend to let out a big sigh, go back to the start, and eventually come up with something on which we can all agree. But what to do with the reject cover? While it may not warrant a spot on the front-page portfolio, I like the idea of giving the rejects their own space.

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