10/04/2012 12:02 pm ET

Book Cover Design: Susan Zucker Discusses Rejected Covers For 'American Dervish'

Rejected Covers is part of an ongoing series on rejected book cover designs, in which we invite cover artists to reveal some of the rejected ideas and inspirations behind a particular project.

We talked to Susan Zucker, the designer of the paperback version of "American Dervish" [Back Bay Books, $14.99]:

In your own words, what is this book about?
"American Dervish" is about the spiritual and emotional quandaries of Hayat, a boy of Pakistani heritage growing up as a Muslim in America.

What was the mood, theme or specific moment from the text you depicted with this cover?

The young teenage narrator's very American world is impacted by the arrival of Mina, his mother's gorgeous, lively best friend from Pakistan. He falls for her unconventional interpretation of the Quran, and he falls for her as well. She is central to much that happens in the book. The beautiful hardcover, designed by Julianna Lee, captures a turning point crisis of conscious moment but the design direction for the paperback was to focus on the relationship between these two key players instead.

What inspires your design?

In addition to the above, the fact that Hayat is both Pakistani and American contributed to the choice of photo, font, border, and pattern. The title just brings it all together.

What is your previous design experience, with books and otherwise?

Most of my experience is with designing book covers, plus the occasional logo or poster or whatever if someone asks me. I did some packaging design when I first started out but then got involved in publishing and never looked back.

What was the biggest challenge in designing this cover?

It wasn't so easy finding good photos of people whose ages, ethnicity, clothing, facial expressions and body language worked together and not only made sense but were also meaningful.

How does designing a paperback differ from designing a hardcover book?
The process is pretty much the same for me. Maybe a paperback tends to be less subtle than a hardcover. It's a smaller canvas and there's usually more copy to contend with.

Did you consider different ideas or directions for this cover? Why were these rejected? Do you have a favorite amongst them? Are you happy with the final decisions as it ran?

I tried a take on the relationship between Hayat and Mina that suggests happiness but fraught with some issues. I also tried covers that focused only on Hayat, emphasizing his Pakistani-American identity in one, and hinting at his identity struggle in another.

What is the most important element of a successful book cover?

When the idea and the execution come together without revealing too much but just enough, and manage to do so in a beautiful way, enticing someone to pick the book up, maybe even read it, then whatever those intangible elements are, I'd have to say they were successful.

What are some of your favorite book covers?
There are just so many and on a different day I'd produce a different list, but here are a few:
"Leviathan, or The Whale" by Philip Hoare, designed by Leo Nickolls
"A Temple of Texts" by William Gass, designed by Gabriele Wilson
"Blindly" by Claudio Magris, designed by David Gee
"The Keep" by Jennifer Egan, designed by John Gall
"The Marchesa" by Simonetta Agnello Hornby, designed by Jennifer Carrow
"The Chinese Parrot" by Earl Derr Biggers, designer unknown

Do you judge books by their covers?
Yes! I judge a book as an object by its cover. And if it turns out to be something more, great cover art and great writing, well then. As if there weren't enough reasons to love a good book.

Why were the rejected covers rejected?
Some of the other covers I submitted focused on just the main character, Hayat. As much as the creative director, Mario Pulice, liked what I did with those, he felt that the the solitary boy figure approach too closely resembled the same mood as the hardcover look. He, as well as the book's editor, found that the covers I did depicting more than one character better conveyed the strong (and complex) relationship of Hayat with his family which is at the heart of the novel.

Check out Susan's rejected covers for the paperback version of "American Dervish":

Rejected Covers, "American Dervish"