In conversation with: Laywan Kwan



Laywan Kwan was born and raised in Maryland, and went to school at the University of California, Berkeley for a degree in architecture.  Now she is living and working as a book cover designer in New York City.

Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Casual Optimist, Literary Hub, Electric Lit, Spine Magazine, SheDesignsBooks, Paste Magazine, and other publications.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

This really depends on the day of the week because we have jacket meetings on Tuesdays.  Jacket meetings are where the art department present their cover designs to the editors and publisher.  These meetings usually determine the approval of a jacket, or a new direction for a design.  So the day before, up until the last minute, we are putting last minute touches on jackets and putting together our presentation.  The rest of the week is mostly working on covers, and everything else that entails producing the full jacket.  My time is mostly divided between writing/answering emails and designing.  I will check in with editors – asking them for updates on covers.  And I will write to freelance designers/illustrators – giving them direction.  Then I’ll make some time to work on my own covers – designing, doing image research (this takes a huge amount of time), working on mechanicals, and checking on proofs.  

What’s the best part of your job?

My favorite part of the job is getting a well-written book, designing a cover that I love and am proud of, that cover getting approved, hearing praise from the team (and the author!!), and then seeing it on the shelf.  This entire process has only happened a handful of times during my career – but it is incredibly satisfying!

You designed the original hardcover of one of the most popular books of the season, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, what was your inspiration behind that?

It’s funny you mention The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, because this was one of the few books that I mentioned before – where everything went pretty smoothly and the end result was totally rewarding! The paperback, designed by the talented Donna Cheng, is making a reappearance on the bestseller lists now. For me, the inspiration behind the cover was 100% the story.  The book was all about Hollywood glamour, and the main character was noted to wear a green dress.

To date, what’s been your favorite cover to work on? 

Such a hard question!  I loved working on The Atmospherians.  That was another one of those smooth jobs with a rewarding result.  It just felt like everybody on the team was on the same page and knew what this book should look like.  Another favorite was The Companions.  It’s a science fiction book set in the future where dead people are uploaded to robots to be companions for the living.  There was a lot of material to work with, so I could let my imagination run wild.

Who inspires you most in the world? 

My husband

You live in New York City which was hit hard by the pandemic, how has COVID-19 affected you and your work? 

In the beginning, it was super stressful.  Nobody was prepared.  We didn’t have any systems in place to accommodate for a work from home situation.  One day we were in the office, and the next everybody was working from home – trying to get access to applications, work servers, emails, even trying to navigate how to communicate with each other.  Add to that the stress of what was going on at the time – and it was hard to get any work done.  But as things slowly adjusted, I think I’ve actually learned to be more productive while working from home.  There has been a problem with balancing work and home life though – where there are no boundaries and I could potentially be working on a project all day and into the night.  Also, looking at proofs and color correcting has been more problematic since these physical items have to be mailed and only one person can look at it.  I also rarely see the finished product now, unless I go to a bookstore.  On the brightside, I’ve learned how to bake no-knead bread and can take breaks whenever I want!

What advice would you give to a new creative wanting to break into the publishing industry? 

First and foremost, you need typography and photoshop skills.  Other skills (like illustration or photography) make you even more attractive!  Find books that you like, and re-design the cover to what you think it should look like.  Publishing is a very insular industry, so art directors will want to know if you can brand a book in such a way that will be appealing to its audience.  And now that social media has made things more accessible, you should use it to your advantage and showcase your work.  I find tons of other creatives to work with through Instagram and Pinterest.  

Keep up to date with Laywan and her work by visiting her website or Instagram.