Leigh Zieske is a book designer for Disney Lucasfilm Press. She has worked on some of the most popular Star Wars books that have been released over the last few years and she was kind enough answer a few questions via email for 365 Days of Star Wars Women.
How were you introduced to Star Wars and what are some of your favorite films, TV shows, characters?
I was introduced to Star Wars as a child and I’ve been a fan since I saw the opening credits. My family used to have movie marathons of all the classic films on VHS at home. Every Christmas my brother and I would have a lightsaber duel with the wrapping paper tubes. While Rogue One is my favorite of the recent movie releases, my all time favorite Star Wars movie is Return of the Jedi. Leia driving Luke through Endor on a speeder bike is one of my favorite scenes in any movie. Also, EWOKS!
Can you explain what a book designer does and how the design of the book can affect someone’s reading experience?
A book designers job is to visually guide the reader through a story. We compile the text and illustrations, but we also add visuals to enhance clarity. Before we can even get to that point, I sit down with the editorial team to figure out who this book is intended for and how to best convey the spirit of the material. This includes discussing how many page designs we need to let the reader know if the narrator is speaking or if something is a flashback. From there we find the right person to illustrate and continue coming up with creative solutions. We’re not done until someone walking by goes, “oh, that’s cool!”
Is this your first position as a book designer? I’m curious what led you to this position (your education and work experience) and if book designing was always a goal or if it was something that you discovered.
This is my first position as a book designer and I have fallen in love with the publishing world. After completing my MFA in graphic design, I came upon the job through a creative staffing agency I was working with. I’ve always been an avid reader; so when I was presented the opportunity to help create YA covers for Star Wars books, there’s no way I could pass it up.
What are some of the books you’ve worked on during your time at Disney Lucasfilm Press? Is there one book you are the proudest of?
There are so many books to choose from! I think I’ll always look fondly at the young adult books I’ve worked on including Ahsoka, Rebel Rising, Leia: Princess of Alderaan, & the upcoming Solo YA Most Wanted. Unlike most of our books, the YA novels do not have interior art. The challenge is deciding how to best present the central character(s) so a passerby will stop walking and take a second look. We get one chance to either make a statement or lose a reader. Also, I like to sneak in something special, or unexpected on the case. Don’t forget to check under your dust jacket…
Is there a certain part of your job that’s your favorite part of the book designing process or a part that you find the most challenging?
I think my favorite part of designing is the collaboration of creative people. I love sitting down with an author or editor to understand their vision and then picking out artists who can bring the words to life. It’s so fun to bounce ideas around with people who feel passionately about making an amazing product.
How many titles are you usually working on at one time? Is there an average time between when you learn about a new book and when the cover (or overall design) of the book is finalized?
On average I’m working on about 2-4 books plus a few smaller projects.
I could be working on a movie tie-in project with photography in the morning and by the afternoon I’m compiling art notes for a children’s book. Things are constantly changing and we have to be able to adapt. Our books typically take about 3-4 months to complete once they’ve been written.
When it comes to covers, interiors, etc. do you submit a few different looks and one gets chosen? Are you usually given any guidelines for designs or do you get to start with a blank slate? Do authors have a say in what the book covers look like?
Options, options, options! If there’s only one idea on the table, you’re not really doing your job. I try to present a minimum of three options to the artists and to the editorial team for covers. Once we get layouts back from the artist we can start to narrow things down from there. Every project has slightly different specifications, but the biggest rule is to include the Star Wars logo. It may seem obvious, but including the logo, art, and a title can get tricky sometimes. Our authors are included in every step of the process. Some of them give us their ideas, others are just excited to see their words in action.
For people who want to learn more about book designing, especially as a potential career choice, what advice or information can you pass on to them?
Go to school! While you’re there keep in mind that every project assigned is an opportunity to show the world who you are and what you’re into. I took a rebranding project and created the story of a post-apocalyptic militarized CDC. Explaining that project and process to create it got me in the door at Lucasfilm by broadcasting how much I love storytelling. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan, do a Star Wars project and put it online. You never know who’s looking.
Are there any books coming up (perhaps that have been announced but not released) that you’re especially excited for people to see the book design for?
Right now, I think I’m most excited to see Choose Your Destiny: A Han & Chewie Adventure on shelves. I had so much fun reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid that being part of the Star Wars version feels surreal. I still find myself making sound effects as I flip through it.
You can find out more about Leigh on her website.
And in case you’re curious about the surprises lurking under the dust jacket Leigh mentioned above, here’s an example @Geek_Kay was kind enough to take a photo of for 365. Check your books Star Wars fans!
Check out the entire list of women in 365 Days of Star Wars Women in the Women in Star Wars Index. It includes highlights from each post plus notes which posts include new 365 interviews with actresses, writers, artists, and more.