Suzanna Dean

Creative Director at The Random House Group

From beginning your career with Penguin Books to now currently working At Random House as the Creative Director. How has the commissioning Landscape changed during this time?

The commissioning landscape has changed exponentially since I started at Penguin Books all those years ago. However though it’s changed many of the issues remain the same. There is still considerable pressure on both illustrators and designers but now still more so as the book industry changes and there is more competition from digital platforms.

How important is your own practician of designing book covers, with your role as Creative Director at Random House?

The book cover has become a greater and greater focus to the in-house publication teams, as physical books get harder to sell. There is more debate over each new approach suggested. The number of people who have to approve a cover has increased and so has the number of intrusions on the illustrator’s process. A whole committee becomes involved and desire tweaks or re-commissions. Many more great covers and great illustrations are changed or rejected. As Creative Director at Random House, I design book covers and over see a large departments creative output. I see this change happening across the board. Not just at our publishing establishment but across the industry. That said the commissioning process is remarkably similar to when I started.

Happy Are The Happy Front

What is the most effective way for illustrators to submit their work to you at Random House?

You send samples of work in (either digitally or by post), the team reviews them to see seems suitable and then we file them to hopefully wait for that appropriate commission. For me, but not everyone, the most effective way is to send samples in the post. I like physical samples and they are ordered in my own particular way across my office. My email box is always too full and I am therefore constantly obligated to delete without time for proper filing.


What are the mistakes that illustrators can make in submitting their work?

Illustrators need to do good research to ascertain what the publishing house does and the nature of the work they tend to produce and commission. I get a surfeit of samples sent to me that are of no relevance to the team. Also I would advise that when you do send things in it is best not to send too much – a little is habitually enough for the designer to follow up on if you might be relevant to a commission. Too much stuff tends to just clog our systems up.

How do you go about sourcing illustrators for commissions?

I personally, source illustrators in many ways. I go to student graduation shows, I scour blogs, websites, and also look at agencies internationally. Bookshops (children’s’ bookshops in European are a great source of new talent- even for adult publishing) I also find illustrators at exhibitions, and through competition entries. Technology has also made it easy for me to search illustration agencies globally – it’s so rare now for an agency in the UK to take on exciting new talent.

How Should A Person Be?

What are the three key elements that you look for in an illustrator?

I relish finding someone who can draw well, who has imagination and who can build on the brief that I commission. I like to work with Illustrators who really listen to the brief and respond to what is asked of them. As part of the job Illustrators nowadays need to be open to tweaks or changes – as this is now one of the realities of taking on a commission. Our discipline by nature does not allow the unbridled freedom of the fine artist. It is about collaboration, and about interpretation of the text and brief. The relationship works best when illustrator and commissioner can work together to get the best out of a brief and basic idea. Each needs to listen and have empathy for each other.

How important is an illustrators self initiated work to your decision making?

Showing an art director self initiated work can lead to interesting and perhaps unexpected commissions. It’s always worth showing us new avenues that you are investigating as these can augment an exciting and ground breaking cover. Good for us, good for you.


You hold the view that the digital e-book can offer designers the opportunity to be even more creative, from the move of the physical book. What, for you, does an e-book have to offer that allows that extra source of creativeness?

The eBook has necessitated a review of how designers and publishers approach the look and feel of the physical book. We constantly have to work hard to try to engage the reader to want to have physical books on their shelf rather than or in addition to the digital. The physical book needs to become ever more desirable and therefore I think this can be an exciting opportunity for illustrators and designers in collaboration.

6th February 2014

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