The Making of Hot Little Hands

A post by ABDA member Laura Thomas

When I was initially briefed for the cover of Abigail Ulman’s excellent short story collection Hot Little Hands, the notes from the publisher included: “Girls meets Tales of the City – an utterly fresh, insightful and pitch-perfect set of tales about young women coming to terms with (or failing to come to terms with) desire, and being desired.” and “The title’s pretty strong – a strong graphic/ illustrative approach? Bright, bold, fun, young, perhaps a little sexy, a little hipster-ish (not too much, though).”

The email exchange with my art director at the time, Alex Ross, went like this:
Me: “Yeah cool that sounds super fun!”
Alex: “That’s what I thought…it’s all yours. And let your hair down with it. Seems pretty open to me.”

Fast forward several months and I’m wondering if I’m even in the right profession.

Of course, I fell in love with the book and felt very connected to it from the start. This is the book! This is made for me! Surely this will be a dream project! I have so many feeeelings!

Armed with an amazing title, and a strong theme to tie the collection together, I forged ahead and developed a really solid array of terrible covers.

Yeah… hm. I really focused on the hand thing, didn’t I? It seemed like a sensible place to start. I imagine at this point, the publisher was probably thinking “did she even read the brief…?”

The feedback was generally “This needs to be a bit cooler and sexier – a bit bolder… we’re talking San Francisco hipster, not Brunswick afternoon tea hipster.”

So I tried bolder (though, admittedly, I was a bit confused about the hipster thing):

Still stuck with the hands, but it felt like we were moving closer to the mark. Not quite there yet, however “… why don’t we try a purely typographic approach? The author has compiled some visuals that could serve as inspiration.”


Usually, in my role as in-house designer I am kept quite separate from any kind of author interaction, so I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. However, Abigail’s Pinterest board provided perfect inspiration for the next round, especially because at this point we are a few months into the process and I was feeling a little frazzled and wondering what I was doing wrong? Who am I? What even is a book cover? So I decided to wave goodbye to the hands, stop thinking too hard, and go simple, bright and shouty.


Using a chunky and colourful typeface found on Shutterstock, these new cover ideas seemed to be hitting the mark a little more. The author requested some updates with different colours and suggested a table-cloth pattern background, and perhaps “a black and white constellation-y background, and ‘Hot Little Hands’ written in big letters with one colour per word.”

We tried to incorporate these suggestions but the simpler approach proved more effective and we eventually came back around to the big type on black. The bright, yet muted colour blocks creating a bold, eye-catching cover, with a subtle grainy texture overlay to keep it from being too kiddy.

Though we were nearing deadline, the finalisation process was far from over: colours were tweaked approximately 652 times, textures were dropped and reintroduced, and we agonised over the colour panels on the back cover. Do we really want to push the letters to the very edge of the cover, or should we leave a gap? Why aren’t the colours the same as the proof cover?! Disaster!

We got there in the end, and the author tells me she is very happy with her cover – what more could a designer ask for?



At the launch it was even printed on some tiny bags of coffee beans, which was just delightful!


Hot Little Hands won Best Designed Literary Fiction Book and Designers’ Choice Cover of the Year at the Australian Book Design Awards 2016.

Laura Thomas worked for many years as an in-house designer at Penguin Random House. She is now a senior designer at Scribe Publications.