Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Covers that book buyers will notice

My post of two weeks ago dealt with the hare-brained decision by the Chicago Sun-Times to lay off all its staff photographers in a money-saving effort. Arming their reporters with camera, they now wanted the story and pictures out of their staff. The example I gave of a Sun-Times cover against one by its main competitor that had been shot by a professional photographer provided an instantly understandable reason why it’s worthwhile to pay the bucks for a pro.

This brought me to a link a designer-friend sent to me. If “one picture is worth a thousand words”, then a book’s cover can and should add a lot of information to the potential purchase of said book. Are you adding a thousand words to the content of the book by having a cover? Realistically, no, but you can add massive amounts of salability to the book. The flip side is that saddled with a bad cover, you can remove any salability of a book. I have actually seen with my own eyes someone pick up a book, and drop it almost immediately with an “Ewww!” expression on their face. I went over to look at this offense and the immediate response I had to this tough-to-decipher cover was pretty much the same when I unfortunately did decipher the image on the cover.

So here is a gallery of some really excellent book covers for you to look at: designobserver.com/50Books50Covers

You may not like them all, but all are brilliant on a technical level, exceptionally distinctive and enticing, and depending on how they were displayed in a store (in other words there was clarity in the category of book it was), I, myself, would certainly pick them all up for a closer look. That’s the best any publisher could hope for, other than someone seeing a book with a cover so enticing that they immediately pick it up and run to the cash register to buy the tome simply because of its cover.

A lot of publishers, in an attempt to keep their costs low, hire designers who are very wet behind the ears, simply because these people are inexpensive. This is not to say that they don’t possess talent, but they certainly don’t possess experience. Because of their nature, book covers are exceptionally difficult to design. You don’t have a lot to work with and you must communicate through design that the book underneath that cover is worthy of a buyer’s consideration – in a very brief amount of time. Good book covers need the skills of exceptional designers with a lot of experience. The editorial and sales teams must trust their designer’s concept and not try to micromanage every detail on the cover. If that was the case, why not have the sales team just design covers themselves? Bet you can easily guess the sad place that sort of experiment would end.

Having an exceptional designer (and paying them properly) is spending money wisely. If a book cover is responsible for even one hundred sales on just the basis of a splendid design, doesn’t it pay for itself anyway? Seems to me the alternative is exceptionally “penny wise and pound foolish”.


6 comments:

Vicki Delany said...

As you know, Rick, I am totally in your camp regarding book covers. But I must say I am surprised at the page you linked to of supposedly good covers (not your picks I know). Some of them are dreadful. After all, in this day and age a cover has to be readable in thumbnail size. On some of those the author name and title of the book are not readable.

Vicki Delany said...

Perhaps inspired by your blog, the CBC is having a contest for Most iconic book cover http://www.cbc.ca/books/2013/07/canadas-most-iconic-book-cover-round-one.html. Although some of the covers are very good, I think they don't understand what iconic means.

j welling said...

This is the best illustration of why covers matter that I've read.

Thanks.

Rick Blechta said...

Vicki, there are a few on the list I don't particularly care for, but I think all have been well-executed. At a thumbnail size, it's difficult to read an awful lot of type. Unless the book is by someone really famous and the typesetting for the author and title practically cover the book's front (making an image nearly superfluous), I find I have trouble. With all the books on the list, I found myself attracted to the overall design. Most well-designed websites (like Amazon) have a feature where you can click on the image and get a much larger rendition of the cover. I wouldn't want to have to try to design a cover that had all copy readable in thumbnail size. It would almost always then look awful in large size.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I find most covers by traditional publishers are well done and self published book covers are generally poor.

Rick Blechta said...

Charlotte, I think what you say is true – up to a point. Trad publishers have staff who know how to put a book cover together, but I find many of them workmanlike and unimaginative. Part of that is due to process. The design studio at a publisher has to pump out a lot of product and they just can't spend a lot of time on any one cover (unless it's by one of their huge authors), so they rely on some direction from editorial, then review by marketing. The cover is finalized and they move on to the next one. If you've noticed, many of the big name authors have a sort of "template" for their covers. The typesetting is generally the same, their is some sort of illustration and the colors are changed to protect the innocent. That's it. Marketing here is looking for more of a branding approach to a cover. "Hey, there's a new book by so-and-so. I have to get that!" In this case – while I don't like it from a design aspect – it's the correct approach. Either way, many, many books from the big guys are pretty ho-hum. The smaller presses tend to do a better job on cover design, I find.

As for self-publishing, the author or someone with very little experience executes the cover. I used the word "executes" with great intent...