A conversation with Halverson on book cover design


Pete Halverson of Jackson, 49, is the senior book designer at University Press of Mississippi. He grew up in Auburn, Alabama, and moved to Jackson to attend Millsaps College. He graduated in 1993 with an Honors BA in Painting, worked as a framer and joined University Press in 2001 as a production assistant. He and his wife, Lucy, who is also a Millsaps graduate, are the parents of a daughter, Camille, who is in her final year at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.

Did you decide to become a book designer or did chance play a role?

“It was a happy coincidence. I saw an ad in the newspaper for the University Press job. It was a part-time job as a production assistant. This meant that I helped the art director and the designer of the book in some of their tasks. I knew enough about publishing with Photoshop and Quark software to cope with what the job required and learned more and more on the job. I moved on to designer and then to senior book designer. I’ve been here for 19 years which is a long time but doesn’t seem like a long time.

What skills should a book designer have?

“You have to be able to use Photoshop and Indesign software. You have to be creative. A background in graphic design or art is good for this. You also have to be logical and pay attention to details. Design works on both sides of your brain. We do some creative stuff on the covers to make the books attractive and make people want to buy them, but you have to be logical with the inside pages.

What are the tasks involved in designing a book?

“When I receive a book, it’s a collection of Word (Microsoft) files. It’s my job to take that and put it in Indesign, then design each type element and get it ready for the printer. Within this process there is a lot of back and forth between the design department and the project editors, who work with copy editors.

How long does it take to design a book and complete it until it’s printed?

“The whole process takes about six months. I have about 13 books going at the same time at different stages. We focus on one at a time. In the different stages, they do not require as much attention as at the beginning.

What is the University Press of Mississippi?

“We are a consortium press. We are not affiliated with just one public university in Mississippi, but all of them. We are part of the state higher education institutions. Our authors come from all over the world, not just Mississippi. We specialize in specific areas. One area we specialize in is comic book studies. Many people are surprised to find that this little Mississippi press is known the world over for its books on comic book studies ”.

How many books does the University Press of Mississippi publish each year?

“We publish around 90 books a year. This number has slowly increased with each year that I have worked here. I am responsible for about 30 pounds a year. This goes from the covers to every inside page.

What kind of books does the University Press of Mississippi produce?

“We write a lot of 6 inch by 9 inch scholarly monographs. The majority of what we publish are these. We do a lot of pop culture books on film, books on civil rights, books on Caribbean studies. We have a series of children’s literature. I have a book coming out next year on the Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. It helps fulfill our mission as an academic press and helps the university by publicizing what it has in this collection. We also produce art and photography books.

How many books have you designed during your career and which ones have marked you?

“I’ve designed hundreds of books, between 400 and 500 pounds, maybe more. We are working on so much that it is difficult to choose our favorites.

“I am really proud of a book called ‘Cham: the best comics and graphic novels, 1839-1862’, which is a biography and catalog of drawings by the French designer, Count Amédée de Noé. It is the largest book the press has ever published, outside of the Mississippi Encyclopedia. The cup size is bigger but the encyclopedia is longer.

“In 2014, I wrote a book about Bob Ross paintings, ‘Happy Clouds, Happy Trees’. I was really happy with this one. There has been a surge in popularity. We had to reprint this one recently because it’s back in the public eye due to a documentary about it and his shows on Netflix.

“In May of this year, we produced ‘Vintage Postcards from the African World’, a four-color book of about 150 postcards from Africa and the Caribbean. They were collected by author Jessica Harris. She organized the 150 in her collection and wrote an essay about them. These are rare postcards. You don’t see them anywhere. It’s nice to have them in a book format where you can watch them in one place.

Is there anything new about book design?

“The bottom line is that a lot of books have gone digital and are e-books like you would read on a Kindle or an iPad. Every book we publish is available in print and e-book format. We’re a traditional publisher, but about 10 years ago we made the decision to jump into the technology that was coming out. It was a good decision.

Are printed books here to stay in the digital age?

“Yes. I don’t think you can replace a physical book. There’s something about just holding a physical book in your hand, the tactical sense of turning pages and looking at it just can’t be replaced. . I think there is value in eBooks because they can be very practical. But at the end of the day when I get home, I would rather pick up a book than look at a screen A book doesn’t lack power, and you’re not going to break it. Eventually it will collapse, but you won’t have to upgrade your computer to read it.

As a book designer, do you own a lot of books?

“Yes. I have shelves that only have books that I’ve worked on. It’s neat to look and say, ‘Wow, I wrote each of these books.’ It’s like a artist who has a portfolio.


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