“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
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BABE #170: SARAH HORGAN, Junior Designer, Crown Publishing Group

BABE #170: SARAH HORGAN, Junior Designer, Crown Publishing Group

Today’s babe is a Floridian-turned-New Yorker living out her dreams in the big city. After making her big move, Sarah quickly landed a job with Crown Publishing Group, a subsidiary of the well-known and prestigious Random House. As a junior designer, she works on book covers for the religion and well-being imprints. This year she’ll have eight covers out, one of which happens to be for the Pope’s latest book. In today’s interview, Sarah gives us a look into her world, sharing the common misconceptions, struggles and inspirations of a graphic designer in the wide world of publishing. 

The Basics:

Hometown: Umatilla, Florida
Current city: New York, New York
Alma mater: Flagler College
Degree: B.A., Graphic Design
Very first job: Intern at a local design company
Hustle: Junior Designer, Crown Publishing Group

The Interests:

Babe you admire and why?
I admire my best friend, Cameron. She’s currently in China doing what she does best: loving people, teaching English and spreading the gospel. Cam has the biggest heart and makes anyone feel welcome in her presence. Total babe.

How do you spend your free time?
I’d like to say illustrating or reading, but after work I tend to either binge a series or catch a film in theaters. God bless Moviepass.

Favorite app, website or blog?
I listen to podcasts all day at work. My current favorites: My Brother, My Brother and Me, My Favorite Murder, Wonderful!, The Adventure Zone, and The Liturgists Podcast.

Favorite fictional female character?
I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice. She knew how she should be treated and didn’t compromise herself, even when proposed to by a handsome and rich bachelor. She’s a bookworm and isn’t afraid to not be like everyone else. Goals.

Go-to power anthem?
“Cosmic Love,” by Florence and the Machine.

What would you eat for your very last meal?
A giant breakfast. French toast, eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, toast, jam and grits. I live for breakfast food.

The Hustle:

Tell us about your hustle.
I’m a book cover designer at Crown Publishing Group, which is a part of Penguin Random House. I design for the religion and wellbeing imprints. In addition to book covers, I put together book jackets and choose what color the case wrap will be. I also recently started taking commissions for illustration. The sweet spot is when I can illustrate covers at work, too, and combine my two loves.

What does your typical workday look like?
I start the day with checking the mechs (work-in-progress books) and reprints that need to be done. They get passed along to the production team, to editors, and back to design. When they get back to me they’re full of corrections and marks for me to edit. I’ll work on the covers I’ve been assigned throughout the day, too. A few times a week we have cover meetings with editors to show the covers we’ve been working on. The editors will tell us what they like and what they don’t. If all goes well, a few covers will be chosen to show the author. I cross my fingers and pray the author is on board, but if not, the process starts again.

When did you realize you wanted to center your career around design?
In high school I took digital design for four years. Those classes, and the teacher who taught them, cultivated my love for design. For a while I thought I wanted to work in the fashion industry (thanks, Teen Vogue), but in college my love for branding and editorial grew. I applied to a lot of jobs at branding studios and magazines all over the country, but had no luck. After the move to New York City, I saw an opening at Penguin Random House in cover art. I’ve always been a bookworm and admired beautiful book covers, so this was the design job I wish I’d known existed.

How do you get inspiration for new designs?
I struggle constantly to come up with ideas. It’s difficult for me to think conceptually sometimes. I just have to push through until I strike gold. For inspiration, I typically turn to Pinterest first. I keep boards for book covers, type, illustration and color palettes for when I need some inspo. I also love walking around bookstores and seeing’s what’s currently on shelves. In college, I had the luxury of using one of my roommates, Amie, as a sounding board for ideas. I find that talking things through with someone helps me. I wish I could always have her with me at work for when my creative juices are low.

What are some of your favorite design-focused resources?
I love On The Grid for travel. It’s a neighborhood guide for cities all over the world that’s cultivated by designers and design studios based in the given area, so all of the places in the guides are aesthetically pleasing.

How have your internships, education, and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
My summer internship with Spacecamp Co. in St. Augustine, Fla. allowed me to see how designers work in the real world. I learned a lot of things there that help me with freelancing. One thing I wish my design classes would have prepared me for is the business end of freelancing. Sending contracts and figuring out what you’re worth isn’t easy.


What inspired your move from Florida to New York?
I’ve wanted to live in New York since I first visited when I was 12. I grew up in a very small rural town in Central Florida and never connected with that sort of life. In the spring of my senior year I applied to jobs in cities like Nashville, Seattle, Charleston, Chicago and New York to increase my chances of landing a job somewhere. I soon found out that most studios don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t already live in that city. I went to Paris after graduation and when I came back I had a renewed desire to live in New York City. I decided that if it was meant to be, I would find a job when I got there. As it turned out, it was meant to be. I found my dream job crazy fast. Finding new friends (and leaving behind old ones) is the toughest part, but I finally feel like I found my group of people thanks to a pal already living in the city, CRU Millennials and my church.

How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I feel a sort of competitiveness with women in my field that I don’t feel towards men. I almost feel envious when I see female designers doing extremely well. I don’t know why that is. I’d like to break that habit and start championing women to succeed. The only way we’re going to move forward is by building each other up instead of hoping to see each other fail.

What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Thus far, my biggest career milestone is designing the Pope’s latest book cover. It’s pretty cool seeing your name printed on the back of a book. This year I’ll have eight covers out in the world.

What are some common misconceptions about your role?
One question I get asked a lot is how much say I (versus the author) have in a cover. It’s actually the editors who tell us the vibe they want the book to have. They say whether it should be illustrated, all typography or photographed. The author has some pull as well, since they make the final decision, but ultimately the editors know what will sell. Another question I’m asked is if I have to read the book first. Thankfully, no, I don’t. That would be an awful lot of reading. The design team is given a summary of the books, and if necessary we can request a manuscript.

What are some of the everyday struggles with your role we might not see?
The back and forth with editors and authors can be difficult. Sometimes authors can be hard to please. I had a book last summer that just kept going because the author couldn’t settle on a cover. It made me question if it was all my fault; if my work was actually good enough.

What is your biggest strength in your role?
My biggest strength could also be my downfall, but I can’t stop working on something until I know it’s absolutely perfect.

What is the skill you most need to improve?
Something I’m working on is objectively listening to criticism. I’m learning that you can’t let the words affect you personally—because it’s not about you. It’s about creating the best possible version of whatever you’re making, and nothing is going to be perfect on the first try.

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Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
I honestly look to my boss for inspiration. She’s very relaxed and easygoing, plus we’re both fours on the Enneagram. When I left my interview with her, I told people I wanted to be her best friend. Not to mention, she’s an incredible designer. Jessie has been at Crown the longest out of anyone on the team.

Who are the brands/companies/creatives you’d most like to collaborate with?
I would love to design a cover for a Penguin Classic. Something that’s instantly recognizable and can be collected.

Similarly, who are the designers that have most inspired you as a designer?
I love Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge advertisements and Van Gogh’s everything. Some current illustrators I’m inspired by are Julia Rothman, Bodil Jane, and Monica Garwood. One of my favorite things is when artists have a very distinctive style that you look at and just know it’s them. Lately I’ve found myself picking up books that Oliver Munday has designed. He’s got some great covers.


What does success look like to you?
Success to me is being proud of the work you’re putting into the world. It doesn’t matter if other people notice or applaud you. What matters most is that you feel good about what you’re contributing.

What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
When I first started at Crown, I was invited to sit in on a big cover concept meeting with the editors and design team. I accidentally sat on the side of the table where the big-time editors sit and didn’t realize design sat together on the opposite side. I was too nervous to get up and move. This still haunts me at night when I’m trying to sleep.

Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from doing anything you want to do!

Connect with Sarah:


This interview has been condensed and edited.
All photos property of Sarah Horgan unless otherwise specified.

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