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Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Our Conversation with Kensington's Creative Director Kristine Mills-Noble
This is an interview you will find nowhere else...Her work has graced the covers of books by some of the most celebrated authors such as Brandon Massey, Evie Rhodes, Victor McGlothin, Janine A. Morris, Roz Bailey, Anita Bunkley, Gwynne Forster, Faye Snowden, Candice Dow and countless others. Meet Kristine Mills-Noble, creative director for Kensington Books. You might not know her name, however, the contribution she has given to the literary community through her work is undeniable.
How did she begin on her journey? When did she discover her desire to create? Conversations explores this and more with the woman behind the designs.
Kristine, thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. I have to tell you that to have this opportunity to converse with the woman who has graced so many book covers with her work is an incredible honor. Do you remember what it felt like when you first saw your work on a finished product?
I remember it very well. It was about 20 years ago and a young lady was sitting across from me on the New York City subway reading a book, I looked up and it was one of my covers. So I walked over to her and asked her how was the book. We started a conversation about the author and why she chose that book. To my surprise I was amazed to hear that she almost always buy a book based on the cover. At that point I began to realize how important cover design was to the success of a book. Most people still judge a book by its cover.
Where did it all start for you? At what age did you know that you were creative and wanted to pursue that path?
I guess it really started for me when I graduated from college. I did not study art in undergraduate because it was something that I never thought about. I had no idea what a graphic artist did. You see I grow up in a traditional hard working family. My parents always encouraged us to be a doctor, lawyer or something that you could get a "Good Job" doing. Art was never introduced to us as a way to make money or have a career. So after receiving a degree in Bio-chemistry I took a job in a lab doing research. I thought that I was going to DIE. I had a friend who saw that I was unhappy and knew that I was a closet artist and told me about a job in the art department at a publishing house who would pay for me to go to art school, 20 years later I am still at it.
Were there others around you that shared similar interests? Did they encourage you and what advice did they give when those close to you saw that you were serious about your work?
Growing up, I did not have people around me that had similar interest. My encouragement has always come from my mom. She did not understand how I was going to make a living doing this, but she told me to go for it. I have also been blessed in coming across some incredible art directors early in my career who pushed me and made me think outside of the limitations of a book cover.
I'm sure you would agree that human beings are extremely visual creatures. As a visual artist myself, Kristine, I dare say that your work has been instrumental in elevating the book sales---and thus careers---of a great number of authors through your eye-catching designs. Can you tell us what type of planning goes into deciding what will work with a particular book?
Lots and lots of planning goes into a book cover. The first step is to work with the editor to get a sense of the story and voice of the author. I often times will read the manuscript to get some ideas. I will then decide if this should be a photographic package or illustrated one. This will be determined after I get input from the author, the editor, the publisher, the sales team, the marketing team, and the buyer. So you see its not as easy as designing a cover that looks good, I have to keep everyone’s input in mind. I have to sit down and come up with something that is dramatic, eye-catching and meets its targeting audience in 5 seconds. That is all the time i have to make an impact. when a consumer is in a bookstore they are scanning the shelves for something that catches their eye.
Readers are quick to remember the author's name and not so familiar with the illustrators and cover designers. Have you gotten any feedback from the authors as to what their readers are saying about the covers.
You are right, the average person do not know who I am or remember my name. My kudos come when I see an author’s career began to take off. I get many thank you notes from authors and agents saying that they were very happy with the covers. I also know that I am doing something right when I see other publishing houses picking up my designs.
One author I have had the pleasure to interview several times is award-winning horror writer Brandon Massey. His covers, which you have designed since his second book DARK CORNER, are quite darker than your work for author Anita Bunkley's novel SILENT WAGER. Does it help you to know a great deal about each storyline before beginning your plans for the design?
It’s crucial to a package’s success that I have a “feel” for the story. Brandon and Anita are very different types of writers, so I would never package them similarly.
When you look back at the body of work you have acquired, why do you think you have become one of the memorable cover designers that are linked to contemporary fiction?
Once again, I think having the opportunity to work with some incredible talents who have always forced me never to take the easy way out, but to think of each project separate and apart from the rest. I could look back over my work and see so many different looks and styles. There are covers that I am very close to because they were more difficult to package then others. Making me really dig deep for the solution to the problem. An art director told me very early in my career that cover designers are problem solvers. Always come up with the most creative way to solve the problems.
Kristine, before I interview someone I try to do as much research as I can about that individual so I can be more knowledgeable about their past and accomplishments. I have to say, though, that it was hard to find any other interviews that you have done. Have you purposely tried to stay in the background, away from the limelight?
I enjoy working behind the scenes. My joy is in conceiving and creating a look for authors. As you mentioned earlier most people don’t remember the book designer. However in the book design world i have won many awards and have been interviewed by many trade people.
More than ever, young people are looking to graphic design as the vehicle they want to use as a career. What advice do you have for those who might be reading this and they are looking for guidance?
I would encourage young African Americans to consider going into graphic arts in publishing. Our numbers are quite small and we shouldn’t limit ourselves. Although people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” that isn’t always true. The cover of a book is a huge selling tool and a signal to readers of what to expect. I would love to see more of us in the creative departments of book publishing.
Has there been a time that you thought this was not going to be the career for you? What motivated you not to give up?
As with anything there are going to be difficult times. Mines usually come when i have non art people telling art people how to create. What makes me not give up is that although there are times when I don’t always agree with the politics or policies of a corporation I love what I do. I love creating, and book covers are the best way to do that. Each story is different, each voice is different allowing me to challenge myself every day. The authors always help me not give up. They allow me to take that journey with them as they follow their own dreams.
Again, thank you for your hard work and positive example, Kristine. Any last words you have for our readers?
This is my mantra: ALWAYS GO THROUGH LIFE LOVING WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU ARE DOING.