PUBLISHING IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS: Liz Nicholson on design at home

Today we welcome Wakefield Press designer Liz Nicholson to the blog, to discuss her work, her designs, and being at home.

Hell! What’s that beeping? My portable oxygen tank is empty and needs to be swapped. I guess the next beep will come from my insulin pump – yep – only a few units left and I need to swap the cartridge and infusion line over. Getting out of the house can be a real pain sometimes. Now I’m not going out, working from home allows for all sorts of beeps to interrupt.


I’m Liz and I’ve been a designer for Wakefield Press for years. My first step into book design was 30 years ago in London, pre computer days, when ‘paste-up boards’ and ‘rubber cement’ were tools of trade. Book design became my passion after years in advertising, then any design jobs that came my way.


Thinking way back I was fascinated with the pocket-sized graphic comics I was given at church youth group. They were cool before fanzines were cool; at least, their style and drawings were, even if the contents was a little ‘black and white’. I remember one was about ‘the end’, where the world is struck by all sorts of plagues, floods, fires, locusts and many deaths. One frame showed a mass of Christian people flying up to heaven, like a million superheroes. A bit worrying for my young teen self but I have replaced that worry with the nightly news. Still glad my visual senses were switched on enough to pursue art and design.

Christian cartoons as design inspiration ...

Christian cartoons as design inspiration ...

Christian cartoons as design inspiration ...

Being a book designer is a lot about bringing order and beauty to chaos. Laying out a non-fiction book or one with lots of photos to place can be a juggle. Balancing the text and images over 100 to 200+ pages needs a rhythm of layout with the tone brought out via the typestyle and the colour and size of the various elements. I enjoy it much as I enjoy jigsaws.

Book covers can be an easier gig at times but also impossible, as the successful cover means different things to many people and it isn’t my decision. I have a vote but so does the publisher, marketing department, the editor and the author or author’s agent.

This is where the cover design brief comes in.

It sets a few parameters, like size and format, while providing the title, blurb, marketing details and a synopsis; and no, I don’t usually get to read the book before it is published, which is why the brief is so important. On the plus side I have a house full of Wakefield books to plunder whenever I want, like now.

Some authors have firm ideas about what they want on their covers – and why shouldn’t they? Would you ask a stranger to dress your beloved child/furbaby? So all thoughts are thrown my way with the end result a cover that hints at the book’s contents, visually ‘zings’ (sorry, advertising hangover I’m sure) and encourages shoppers to pick it up, read the blurb and have a nose through.

Big question: do you choose a book by its cover?

I would imagine most Wakefield Press fans are not so easily fooled. Carefully written back cover blurb, endorsements, media chatter and marketing all play very important roles. Hopefully my role has at least helped in catching your eye and clicking further or picking it up, turning it over and taking it to the sale counter. Any way you look at it books are going to help us all through these unknown days and months ahead.

So buy a book, even if it is for the cover. It will make my heart sing 🙂

Some more favourite Wakefield Press books from my designer eyes:


Otherwise Known as Pig by Catch Tilly Otherwise Known as Pig, cover designed by Liz

Adelaide Noir By Alex Frayne

Adelaide Noir, cover designed by Liz

Bodies of Thought by Erin Brannigan, Virginia Baxter

Bodies of Thought, cover designed by Liz

Master of Stillness, Jeffery Smart by Barry Pearce

Master of Stillness, cover designed by Liz

Venetian Voices by Christine Courtney

Venetian Voices, cover designed by Liz

On a Clare Day by Burt Surmon

On a Clare Day, cover designed by Liz

Almost an Island by Liz Harfull

Almost an Island, cover designed by Liz

The first week by Margaret Merrilees

The First Week, cover designed by Liz

This Excellent Machine by Stephen Orr

This Excellent Machine, cover designed by Liz

Support Wakefield Press by buying our beautiful books!  Visit our website or contact us on 08 8352 4455 for more information, or to purchase a book (or three!). We can post your purchase to your doorstep!

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