Thursday, April 8, 2010

What makes a good book cover?

For the next week, I'll be running a series of posts on book covers. What makes a good cover? A bad cover? And what are your favorite covers? Please take a moment to submit a favorite cover (or three!) for next week's gallery of favorites.

So what makes a good cover? I've narrowed it down to four elements:

1. "What? Wow..."

According to Lauren Panepinto, the Creative Director for Orbit Books, a good cover should "stop someone in their tracks and catch their interest just long enough for them to want to flip the book over and read the back." How? Obviously different people in the publishing process have different ideas about what works. But Lauren believes "you catch the most fish with a really gorgeous, cool, well-balanced book cover that catches your eye, then drags it in, and doesn't let it go until you've really looked at it, instead of just glancing over it."

Chicken House uses foil and holograms to make people keep looking at their books (unfortunately that doesn't translate so well digitally):

TUNNELS by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

I've heard others in the industry talk about originality. If all the covers on the shelf are in pastel colors, a good book cover is made up of primary colors. Frances Lincoln's WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David is a good example of that:

2. Provides basic information: author and title

Do we know the author? Have we read anything by her before? Is the title obvious, legible?

3. Provides other useful information: hints about targeted age range, genre, subject matter, and style

Consciously or not, we all make these decisions based on books' covers.

Signet Eclipse's SOME LIKE IT KILTED by Allie MacKay. By the way, is this not one of the funniest titles EVER? Love it. Obviously a romance novel. It's not for my nine-year-old.

Chicken House's FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher (a Bath Spa PhD student & tutor!). I imagine beautiful prose.

Harper Collins Children's Books' WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr. Clearly an urban fantasy about faeries.

4. "This book is calling to me..."

Do you ever feel like a book was written with you in mind? A cover should reflect that, it should call to you. Author John Green has a great example of that: "The original cover of An Abundance of Katherines featured math on it, because it is a book about math. The new cover features clone-like images of pretty girls. Now, there can be no question that pretty girls appeal to a broader audience than abstract mathematics. But but but but but but: I would argue the job of a cover is not to get the book to the broadest audience but instead to get the book to its best audience."

Here's both of Puffin Books' covers:

John Green goes on to write, "The pretty girl cover will sell more at point of sale, but will it sell to the people who will like the book and recommend it to their friends? That should be the first question about a cover."

Well, I've made it fourth... oh well.

But John Green's point shows why I think cover design is so interesting. All of these elements of good cover design can contradict each other.

For example, does this cover work for you?

I'm intrigued. I have a hint of style and age. No title. Does it matter? (It's Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli).

We all know what romance novels look like, but is it possible to make a romance novel that stands out from the crowd yet still appeals to its base? That's the job of a good cover.

I think Scholastic's cover for SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater accomplishes that beautifully. It's a romance, it has scary elements... is that a dog? A wolf? Perhaps a... werewolf?

Am I missing anything? What makes you unable to just walk by a book on the bookstore shelf?


  1. Thanks for mentioning When I was Joe! I was surprised when I first saw the primary colours - I'd been thinkin black and white. But I love the way it stands out - and the sequel is orange.

    I love the UK covers for Sarah Dessen's books - petty and clever. And similarly the covers for Fiona Dunbar's Silk Sisters trilogy are very beautiful indeed.

  2. First off - what's not to love about Some Like It Kilted! lol!

    Covers that grab me give a hint of what's inside. I'm a bit over the all-black with a primary color splash (a-la Twilight series) - but, I love covers that have lots to look at. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - and also love covers like The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (makes me feel like a kid again!)

  3. Thanks for posting, Keren and Julia!

    Keren, I think it's a great cover. It really does pop out on the shelf. Did you get any input into elements of it? How soon before it came out did you see a jpg of it?

    Julia, I'm so glad someone else is as amused with Some Like it Kilted as I am. I might have to buy the book... just because. =)

    I'm planning to post a gallery of all these covers on Wednesday--can't wait.

  4. one thing that infuriates me and puts me OFF a book, is finding that the cover misrepresents the work. A longtime prolific author friend of mine used to be infuriated by the times this happened with one of her books. I've been fortunate, with most of my books I've been permitted comprehensive or at least some cover input and have been happy with the cover as representing the contents. But this problem is based on the usual contract which states that the author has no right of cover input because it falls under PR and hence is solely within the province of the publisher.


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