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I want to be... a children's book designer

Helen Chapman is Senior Picture Book Designer at Little Tiger. At the time of posting, Helen was a senior editor at Bloomsbury Children's Books, working on – GASP! – Harry Potter and other brilliant things. Here, Helen talked about what a standard day looks like for a children's book designer, and some of the skills that come in handy for the role.


Before you got into the industry, did you have any preconceptions about what it would be like to work for a publisher? And is it what you expected?

I don’t think I really thought about it, to be honest, I just wanted to help create the things I love. I initially wanted to get into magazine design, but after a couple of weeks' work experience I realised they were all set to predesigned grids and it wasn’t for me. I was very lucky to get into children’s books and find that it’s such a collaborative process, I can work with amazingly talented people, and my voice and opinions matter to help shape the final book.

Can you walk us through a typical working day?

Currently things are very strange with working from home in the midst of covid. My desk is actually at the end of my dining room table, so I don’t have far to go at all! My day usually starts with me either getting up and going for a swim or sitting outside for half an hour reading whatever book was next on my TBR pile. I’ve been trying to keep some sort of “commuting” time in the mornings to help get into an “at work” headspace. I will log on and go through emails and any urgent bits and pieces before our daily catch-up video call where we discuss everything we need to get done that day/week, etc. We’ve been having catch ups with the whole design team as well, where we can see everyone, discuss illustrators, talk about covers going to the cover meetings that week and just touch base as we’re all missing seeing each other. It depends on the project and the deadlines to what gets prioritised, how many video calls and deadlines I have day-to-day. Even though I mainly work on Harry Potter my day can vary massively – which keeps me on my toes! I’ll be dealing with buy-in titles, coming up with new ways to reformat our backlist to keep them fresh, and my favourite part is working on new (top secret) creative ideas to keep spreading the magic of Hogwarts to everyone!

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

When the covers get revealed online and the fans love all the hard work we’ve put into them, and of course the moment when we get the final book in our hands! I also really enjoy finding new illustration talent and working with them to produce something beautiful. What are some of the skills that a book designer will develop?

You’ll develop knowledge of the market: what works, what the trends are, what the internal team in your company likes and dislikes (which will help speed up your process!). One of the biggest skills that you don’t really get taught at uni that has been very useful is the ability to network. Talking to agents and illustrators is so important to keep up good relationships.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a book designer?

READ! Spend time in bookshops to really dive into the book world, and build your industry knowledge. Also just make sure you stay creative, check out the amazing resources of St Brides Foundation, go to galleries, use the help and networking that groups like SYP and the Children’s Book Circle offer.

Helen Chapman on Twitter.

Bloomsbury Children's Books on Twitter.

Bloomsbury Children's Books website.


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