UHoP 2019: Q&A with Jacqui Caulton, book designer

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

Welcome to the fourth annual whitefox Unsung Heroes of Publishing list, celebrating talented specialists working in-house or freelancing in and around our book publishing industry.

Over the course of the past few months, we’ve received nominations from across the industry, giving anyone who wanted the chance to sing the praises of their colleagues, from experienced freelancers to rising-star newbies, an opportunity to do so. Now we’ve sifted through the candidates and have come up with this year’s winners.

The purpose of The Unsung Heroes of Publishing is to draw attention to the people out there working hard in the publishing industry who we are sometimes in danger of taking for granted. By recognising these individuals we hope that we can continue to create a dialogue about what really matters in publishing.

Over the next four weeks we will be releasing interviews with our chosen Unsung Heroes. First up is Jacqui Caulton. Jacqui has worked as a book designer for over 20 years. She has recently set up her own publishing company, Caulton Press. She is married and lives in London.

Tell us a little about yourself and your design work.

I knew very early on that I wanted to do something creative and was always drawing as a child. I went on to do a degree in Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading – widely acknowledged as the first course of its kind in the world – where I studied under Michael Twyman. I was lucky enough to land my dream job as a book designer for HarperCollins Publishers soon after graduating. I spent thirteen highly productive years at HarperCollins – latterly as Design Director for non-fiction – working on a wide range of titles for cookery, sport, lifestyle, mind, body, spirit and memoir. My decision to go freelance was underpinned by a desire to expand my experience even further: to work for a number of publishers with differing styles, formats and content.

How does your freelance work compare to your previous in-house experience? 

I would say that freelance work is more varied and requires a broader skill set than working in-house. Now I work on covers, interiors and marketing materials across a wide range of genres and clients.

How has design in publishing changed over the course of your career – have you seen any notable changes since the rise in technology and self-publishing?

Trends in book design and typography come and go but the importance of good design remains constant.

The rise in self-publishing has actually been quite positive for me. I have worked for a number of self-published authors in recent years. I love the idea that I am helping self-published authors produce a quality book that can happily sit alongside those of major publishers.

Tell us about your creative process. How do you get a book from brief to final design? 

My creative process starts in the same way: by asking questions. Trying to tease out as much information as I can on the target audience, the kind of feel the client has in mind, and, of course, the competition. It’s important to really understand what the client wants from the outset. Regardless of the challenges faced in the publishing industry in recent years, I believe that considered, high-quality design can be the difference between good and excellent.

What is your favourite part of the project management process during a design project? 

Book design is a little like a jigsaw puzzle. I love working out how to fit all the elements (the text, illustrations and/or photographs) together in the best way possible. I also really enjoy the collaborative aspect of projects.

What tips would you give to someone hoping to pursue a career in design? 

I would say that, while it isn’t essential, going to college can be really useful. It’s great to have other people to bounce ideas off and get different viewpoints. It’s also a good way to become accustomed to having your work critiqued. Once you start work: be reliable. You could be the best designer out there but if clients can’t trust you to deliver you won’t get the work.

Has there been one project that you particularly enjoyed working on, or perhaps something you’re looking forward to creating? 

The project I am most proud of is my own book, Little Gem Apple, written under my married name, J. Blissitt, which I researched, wrote, did the photography for and published myself. It feels like a real achievement to have produced my own book and it has given me renewed respect for all those other unsung heroes of publishing, from copyeditors, proofreaders and production staff to sales and marketing teams.

In terms of other projects, my most recent title is often my favourite. I am really pleased with The Little Book of Bees (HarperCollins, available 8 August 2019). The book was very much a joint effort between the editorial director, author, illustrator and myself from start to finish and the end result is a really lovely book.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.