As a student in their first year of English and Creative Writing, the Cultural eXchanges Festival has been an interesting experience. Due to the events of Covid-19, the format in 2021 was taken online. However this did not hinder my enjoyment of listening to Donna Payne discuss current issues affecting publishing: the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the process behind designing book covers.

Donna Payne is the Creative Director of Faber, one of the world’s leading publishing houses. Faber designs 360 book covers a year, spanning fiction and non-fiction. One of their most recent publications is Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, which has already gained rave reviews hailing it as ‘simply brilliant’ and a ‘gorgeous read’ (Waterstones Books: Reviews).

I found the conversation with Donna Payne eye-opening as a student interested in the publishing process. Donna explained how growing up she never expected to go into the creative industries. No one in her family had been to university and she was an only child. However after completing a foundation course in Liverpool she began to gear her talents towards designing.

Due to the closing of bookshops in 2020, marketing for Faber had to be moved online. Additionally, during the pandemic, books weren’t given priority as essential products which heavily impacted the publishing industry. Despite the difficulties in online publishing, the design team at Faber are doing what they can to promote new books, such as Klara and the Sun.

Donna talked about how important it is to have a rough idea before developing a book cover and how lockdown has affected meetings. She joked about the difficulty in reading people’s reactions to ideas online, and I realise that this is not just a personal struggle.

The Black Lives Matter Movement in June of 2020 greatly influenced the designing process for Faber. An example Donna gave was of the representation of non-Caucasian characters on book covers, as well as attitudes towards equality in the workplace. However, although diversity is being increasingly represented as a result of the movement, it still has a fair way to go.

When covering the designing process, Donna highlighted the importance of learning from other people’s ideas at every stage. She also pointed out how the sooner you get used to creative criticism the better.

The weekly schedule for the creative team at Faber includes a meeting for marketing and sales, to discuss the book’s target audience and genre. Alongside this the designing is a collaborative process, and several drafts are used before deciding on the final product. Donna also showed us some slides with multiple drafts that had been used for book covers, which were all intriguing to look at. The first thing you consider when choosing a book is its external appearance, which is why the designing process is so significant.