Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I recently stumbled onto a blog post that got me thinking about the process I use to choose the next book I’ll read. Emily Gatlins’ post was a recap of books she chose over a 90-day period, based solely on their covers–not taking into consideration who the author was or what the book was about. Just that the cover drew her in. You can read her post here.
Nowadays it’s a lot harder to select books based on covers because we tend to have limited exposure to covers. Since I buy most of my books online, I see covers that are suggested to me by whatever online venue I’m using. I also see covers scroll by on my Facebook wall. And, if I check out what’s on the Goodreads shelves of friends, I see covers.
But that really adds up to pretty limited exposure, doesn’t it? I can recall a decade ago loving to roam bookstore aisles, just to give some book cover an opportunity to shout, “Pick me up!” at me. I discovered Maeve Binchy and Margaret Atwood that way many years ago.
Currently, I’m reading Longbourn. (Because Wendy told me I had to, that I would love it. And I do.) Would the cover have caused me to pick it up at a bookstore? I don’t think so. It’s not a bad cover, but it seems kind of quiet to me.
On the Barnes & Noble site, the books suggested to me on Longbourn’s page didn’t have covers that attracted me except for Quiet Dell. But I’m concerned it might be a dark novel, and I don’t usually enjoy them. So I’m hesitant to give it a try.
When I went to the publisher’s site to download the cover image for Quiet Dell, I was offered up other book covers to consider. The Violet Hour called out to me, not because of the cover art but because of the title. It’s lovely, and I want to know more.
Before I could settle on The Violet Hour, my eyes caught on All We Had. I love the bright colors and striking image. Yup, have to check that one out.
A book that I’m going to read because I can’t stop looking at the cover is The Butterfly and the Violin. I find the art so pleasing, the soft palette so inviting, and the mix of images so lovely, I can’t say no to this book.
Now that I’ve taken you on a tour through book covers I judge with a thumbs up, let’s ask, So what? Here’s the thing, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the covers I gravitated to might have caused you to think, Really? That cover? No way.
But as writers, it’s important for us to figure out what makes a cover work and what makes a cover fail. Because at some point you will sit in front of your computer screen and see what the publisher envisions as the right cover for your book. Most likely that design will bear little resemblance to what you had been dreaming of. Now what? Is it a good cover?
Here are qualities that make a cover “good”:
–Is an accurate reflection of the book’s tone. Quiet Dell is a dark book–I read the description of it, which I know was a total cheat. The gloomy cast the fog gives the cover, the empty swing, the shadowy feel, all add to the sense that the story isn’t going to be lighthearted.
—Suggests what the book is about. All We Had is about a single mom and her daughter, who finally gain a glimpse of what it means to belong when they settle in a small community, and the mom works as a waitress at the local diner. That ray of hope is reflected in the lighting of the cover, which in essence puts a spotlight on the diner. It’s a story of hope but also of disappointment, and the cover reflects that with the dark sky.
—Doesn’t try to tell the entire story. Have you ever picked up a book and felt that the cover gives your eye such a dizzying array of objects that you can’t figure out what to focus on? That would be a cover that’s trying too hard. Simple images often work best. While The Butterfly and the Violin has three images, the cover feels like one image because the design subtly directs your eye in a way that isn’t jumbled but feels orderly.
—Looks good large and small. In the past, a cover needed to beckon to you from a bookshelf. Now it needs to stand out when it’s displayed online. Our first glimpse at a cover is usually a small image. It needs to be striking, first, when it’s small and then, when we click on that image and go to the book’s page, when it’s large.
—The title is easy to read. As was true with The Violet Hour, the title can sell a potential buyer on your book. But if the buyer has to work really hard to read the title, that might be a clever design, but is it a good design? Probably not.
What book did you buy based on the cover?
What makes a book cover good? Click to tweet.
What book would you read if you chose it solely for the cover design? Click to tweet.