I have heard that phrase countless times, particularly when I was a child. I never understood it, though. When browsing bookstores, I always chose the book whose cover spoke to me most, even spending a touch more on a prettier cover. Most times, my shopping methods work out for me. Sometimes, though, I am duped by clever art directors! (I’m still disgruntled about In The Woods by Tana French.)
What is it about book covers?
There are hundreds of thousands (if not more) books published each year. Somehow, a publisher has to convince you to pick up one book out of those masses. The art director has to know, or at least do her or his best, to know what will grab the buyer’s attention. Will it be bold or unusual graphics? Will it be a crazy color combination that somehow makes sense? Will it be just font? I’m still amazed at how art directors and graphic artists think so creatively along those lines.
So, what goes into designing a cover?
When I was at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute, we were able to meet quite a few art directors. I remember clearly the interesting differences each one’s approach had. For instance, one told us he had to read every book, cover to cover, or he would not know what to design. That made sense to me. However, the one from Hyperion said she could not afford to read all of the books she designed. Both are from one of the six publishing companies, and both were talking about best-selling novels (the one from Hyperion was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe). And yet, both have completely different methods for design.
Then, after all of the hard work designing options, a cover can be killed. It may be beautiful, but may also look more like a romance novel than horror story. Maybe it won’t appeal to the intended reader. I find it horrible that, in some cases, buyers (for retailers, not us normal consumers) will refuse to buy the book because of the cover. The artist then goes back to square one. Recently, The New York Times online released an article, “Book Covers That Got Away”, with some example of covers that didn’t quite make the cut, which I highly recommend perusing sometime.
Out of curiosity, I have a poll for you today based on book covers. Whether you are a Justin Cronin fan or not, I want you to give your honest opinion. Which of the two following book covers would you be more likely to buy?
My answer? I bought both.