It all begins with a lineup: a roll call of story ideas that we “line up” for each of our six issues per year. We make some final decisions on what our stories will be, we have each piece written, the text comes in, and it’s distributed to myself and Heather Marcus, our photo editor. Then, we begin.
A lot of stuff happens in between, but no need to get specific — you get the idea. We generally work a year in advance, to capture fresh imagery in each season. We know how much our readers love all the seasons New England offers (even the cold, damp, muddy, and just plain miserable ones). We cast a wide net, sending our best shooters out into the region to capture the mood and tone of each story. We do as much planning as possible ahead of time to see which story will offer the most promising cover possibilities. But because we often run into certain obstacles and other conditions out of our control (Mother Nature especially), capturing the essence of the landscape, steeped in New England charm, on the right day, with a perfect blue sky and a fresh sense of the season is a challenge. Then throw into the mix the idea of finding one image that’s idyllic, cover-worthy, an image that’s fresh and hasn’t been seen a hundred times before — one that’s graphically “clean” and arresting, one that can hold cover lines effortlessly and really “pop” on the newsstand. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
And just when we think we’ve got it right and found our image, well, then the human equation is factored in. Often we can’t agree on what the best cover should be. Enter the cover committee: a staff group that includes Yankee‘s newsstand adviser plus our president, our vice president of marketing, our editor, our managing editor, photo editor Heather Marcus, and myself. We all have our opinions on what we think makes a good cover image, and we all have our own preferences, interests, and tastes. (What I consider “pretty” may not be what someone else thinks is pretty, and so on.) And, let’s face it, an image can evoke emotions and feelings within each of us in a positive or a negative way based on our own individual experiences.
We all realize the importance of the cover, and we all feel strong in our convictions from our varying perspectives. But we also agree that we have one common goal, that the face of our publication has to serve many needs and belongs to no one individual or department. Really, it belongs to you, our readers.
So we bring in another factor, the opinions of people we don’t really know: an audience survey. Before I started here in 2007, Yankee began polling its readers to test potential magazine cover images against one another to see whether any strong preferences emerged — a process that is, as I understand it, more commonplace now more than ever amongst other publishing companies. Our readers’ opinions would later help us decide which cover image was most likely to sell well on the newsstand. A questionnaire goes out to a random group of volunteer newsstand buyers and subscribers willing to participate. The covers that score the highest positive ratings get our attention. It’s one more variable in our process.
For each issue, I may design anywhere from 15 to 30 cover options — a few too many, perhaps, but it’s hard to predict what will resonate and what will stick. We whittle down the possibilities to 4 to 6 of the strongest contenders. Those covers go into the survey, and approximately 200 to 300 voices are heard — your voices. Good or bad, we hear you. (It took me a while to realize that I was better off not reading the comments offered by some of our more vocal readers. Not to sound snarky, but everyone’s got an opinion and they don’t mind sharing it — and everyone thinks he or she is right. And, let’s face it, so do I.)
Ultimately, my job is to present the strongest options I have for each issue, coordinate with the committee on what they think we should see, and let the process play out through its many stages. Often some of my favorite images get left on the cutting-room floor. But it’s not about me, I tell my delicate little ego; it’s about you, our readers. And there are a lot of times when I disagree with the outcome of these tests. But I’m just a small part of the big picture and have resolved to learn to accept the process and go with the flow. My job is to dress her up, fluff her hair, powder her nose, put her in some heels, and send her down the runway.
I continue to offer ideas that are evolved and outside the box, push the envelope some but not too far. I often look back at Yankee‘s past covers to draw inspiration. I love looking through all of the incredibly elaborate, thoughtfully crafted, illustrative, conceptual, and whimsical works of art that graced the face of Yankee‘s past. Some of my favorites are the concept driven covers created by J. Porter and the likes of fine artists such as David Brega and Erick Ingraham. I celebrate and recognize that the sign of a truly skilled art director is seeing the big picture, creating those little details, the ones that the reader isn’t even aware of yet somehow subliminally gets, those clever little nuances and strokes of genius in its design.
Every magazine evolves over time. I sometimes push to revisit the flavor of those old Yankee covers and have us consider creating a finely crafted, illustrative cover for today’s readers — one that readers will cherish, maybe even frame and hang in a special place for remembrance and safekeeping — those editions like the ones that my grandmother proudly collected and displayed on her coffee table to show off to all of her friends. It’s a creative process that doesn’t end with one issue, but keeps evolving, too, just as I have since I stepped through the doors here at Yankee.