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Top Shelf Book Cover Awards celebrate 10 years with changes to 2022 program

A tenth anniversary of anything marks a very good time to reflect, to remember, to look ahead and, at times, to “re-package” the gift we’ve received over the prior decade. ECPA is doing just that for the 10th Annual Top Shelf Book Cover Awards, recognizing excellence in book design.

For this year’s 10th anniversary, ECPA is making two key changes to the submission and judging process – emphasizing industry involvement in celebrating the industry’s top book designs:

  • First, nominated covers will be submitted into one of four categories this year: Non-Fiction, Fiction, Children’s, and Bibles.
  • Second, rather than using outside designers as judges, this year
    each participating publisher will provide a designer to cast their ballots for the best entries (though votes cannot be cast for their own designs).

Submissions opened on April 15 for ECPA members with a deadline of August 15.  Visit to submit your designs and learn more about this year’s program features.

ECPA will present the 2022 Top Shelf Awards at the ECPA PubU opening session, on November 16 at Lipscomb University in Nashville.  The event will also include a Design Track for industry designers, developed by Torrey Sharp, founder of Faceout Studios in Bend, Oregon.  Torrey has been a key Top Shelf partner throughout the award’s history.

ECPA president Jeff Crosby recently interviewed Sharp about the program and his advice on how participating publishers can best curate and select their nominated titles:

CROSBY:  This is our 10th anniversary of the Top Shelf Book Cover Awards, and you have been a key partner with ECPA throughout these years. As you reflect back, what do you see as the notable achievement resulting from the presence of Top Shelf? What do you as an industry partner feel most grateful for?

SHARP: I’m grateful to be part of an ECPA community that is striving to produce meaningful and beautiful books. The Top Shelf Award program has given ECPA a vehicle for celebrating beauty, validating the work of artists and designers, and encouraging excellence in every facet of what we do. Each year’s winners are a testament to the quality design this industry is producing year in and year out. I am grateful that ECPA, as a leading voice in the industry, works hard to elevate great content (through other awards) and great design though Top Shelf. These efforts push us all to be better.

CROSBY: As we look ahead to the changes ECPA is making for Top Shelf’s 10th anniversary celebration in Nashville, including moving to four categories and having publisher designers as judges, what is your own take about these changes? What are the up sides? Are there any down sides, in your view?

SHARP: I think this is a fun change to take on this anniversary year. Over these last 9 years, we have worked hard with ECPA to find judges whose own work reflects excellence and who have the credibility and experience it takes to judge the merits of another’s work and then the conviction to narrow submissions down to a few winners. This is not easy for judges to do. There is inherent conflict in the process. It can only be done with integrity when completely absent of external factors such as, who the submitting publisher is, who the designer is, etc. As with any new panel of judges that come on board every year, it remains imperative they judge fairly based only on the merits of the design and nothing else.

CROSBY: What guidance would you give art directors and designers as they consider which of their titles to nominate, and how to thoughtfully curate their submission process, in order to stand the greatest chance of receiving a Top Shelf Award during the program this fall?

SHARP: All of us work at a rapid pace in this industry. When award seasons hit, it can be a scramble to remember all the work that has been done in the past year. The biggest advice I can give is to curate a submission list during the year as books release. Then, when you are ready to submit, run each possible submission through the Top Shelf criteria: appropriateness for the market / level of conceptual thinking / quality of execution.  Judges evaluate based on objective and subjective criteria. They seek to highlight exceptional work that meets the stated criteria and catches their individual attention in a special way. A unique aspect of Top Shelf is that each winning selection is accompanied by a judge’s comment. This helps inform everybody why certain winners rise to the top.

CROSBY: Many designers I’ve worked with throughout my career have told me they are always thinking about colors, textures, treatments, and other design elements well in advance of non-designers (like me) being aware of them. As you go about your work at Faceout Studio, what do you see on the horizon?

SHARP: Design is about communicating meaning and beauty. It serves a purpose. Naturally, as expectations, preferences, trends and other external factors change, the way we solve design problems needs to change. Motivated designers are constantly learning, exploring new methods and tools, observing trends and honing their craft. Some have described book design as similar to a name tag you might wear at an event or a cocktail party. It’s an introduction of sorts – in the case of books, an introduction to an idea or a story. However, book designs are serving bigger needs these days. They can be brand identities with extractable elements that are used in other mediums or NFTs. Branded elements often become important parts of the content mix experienced by those reading, watching or listening to what publishers and authors create and deliver to the market.

CROSBY:  Thank you, Torrey, for the counsel and expertise you’ve lent to this important industry program.  We look forward to these special features, and recognizing the winners with you in Nashville in November – as we, as an industry, celebrate the industry!

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