Monday, May 14, 2012

Cover story

Your book cover is your shop window.  It’s the eye-catching promotion that says to the browsing reader, ‘Look what we’ve got!  Come inside!’

That's what it should be. All too often, though, it's chosen on the basis that it's a 'good design' which may not have anything much at all to say about the story within, or worse still it may be something taken from a photo library because it's cheap to produce and it may even be a photo that's been used before on another book, or even on more than one, just with your name and title superimposed. If you're lucky enough to be asked your opinion and you say you really, really hate it, after a bit of huffing and puffing they may indulge you just this once, but it's made clear you'd better be effusively pleased with the next one, even if it's worse.

Do other people like their book jackets? I've had one I do like (Cradle to Grave, as seen on this site), one I quite like and I've been indifferent to, or have actively disliked, most of the rest. I've had complaints from readers about the red on the lighthouse on this cover here, when I clearly describe it as being yellow (my editor explained it 'worked better' for marketing) and I even had a picture of a slim steel poker, the murder weapon, on the cover of one of my earliest books when it was described in the first paragraph as 'a brass poker with a heavy brass knob on the end'.

Do you ever buy a book just because it has a great cover? Often, I've tried a new author because of an atmospheric cover that tells me something about that book to suggest it's the sort of thing I like to read. Once or twice, I suppose there's been something so different that I've picked it up out of curiosity, which admittedly gives the author a chance to tempt me with an interesting blurb and a good opening.  But I don't think I've ever seen a conventionally smart cover and thought, ‘Such great design! I must buy that. Never mind about the story.’

Rick talked about this a while back, instancing Ian Rankin’s dull new ‘designer’ covers. I used to think, ‘Oh well, these people are the professionals. They must know their own business.’ Now, after long experience, I find myself having to avert my eyes as the emperor prances naked past.


Rick Blechta said...

Speaking as a cover designer, I find that more often than not, I’m directed to an almost silly degree by the Marketing Department of my various clients. Often the demands of these people fly in the face of what good design should be. Looking at the cover of your novel and speaking as an experience designer, I think that a yellow band on that lighthouse would be a pleasant lift to the pretty relentlessly purple of the image.

Of course, what do I know? I’m only a designer. Marketing always trumps good design. That’s why every single book published sells far more than anyone expects due to the brilliance of book marketers.

Aline Templeton said...

I confess I hadn't thought before how frustrating ti must be for the designer too, but of course the Gods of the Marketing Department will push them around too.


Charlotte Hinger said...

So far, I've really liked the covers from Poisoned Pen Press, and am quite pleased with their designers' openness to suggestions.

Rick Blechta said...

Charlotte, that's actually a very good sign that they let you talk directly to the designer. Generally, you don't get past your editor who just acts as the conduit between you and the marketing department, who in turn speak to the designer.

Aline Templeton said...

It would have made a huge difference to be allowed to speak directly to the designer. I wonder how may publishers do let you do that - I think you're very lucky, Charlotte.


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