Sunday, 4 April 2010

You Can Judge A Book By Its Cover

A book jacket has a lot to achieve.

It has to be eye-catching enough to stand out from all the other books on bookshop shelves, but not so different that it scares off its book’s potential readers.

It has to provide information on several levels: the title and author name must be clearly legible; the book’s genre has to be immediately apparent; the illustration or design used has to do have some connection with the book’s plot, or central theme, without giving away any essential plot points; the jacket has to make it clear if the book is part of a series by conforming to certain design elements of previous books in that same series while also distinguishing the book from others in the series; and the jacket also has to establish or continue to uphold the style for its author, in order to help promote future sales.

There’s a fascinating discussion of the psychology of cover design in Lynn Price’s book, The Writer’s Tackle Box, which I urge everyone to read: it's already available in America from Behler Publications, and will be available in the UK at the end of May, published by Snowbooks.


Unsurprisingly, authors rarely get any say in the design of their book jackets (although some independent presses are fantastic about listening to their authors when it comes to jacket design). The major retailers will have more say in the design of the book jacket than an individual author will: if a senior book buyer doesn’t like a jacket it will almost always be redesigned.

Some designs break the rules: Scarlett Thomas's novel The End of Mr Y had a jacket design that rendered its title almost unreadable, but its striking design and original oversized format more than compensated for that (even though the ink from the gorgeous matt-black edges rubbed off all over me as I read it).

Let’s put this to the test. Sally Zigmond is a good friend of mine and she comments regularly on this blog. Her first novel, Hope Against Hope, is published today by Myrmidon Books and its cover appears at the top of this article. What I’d like you to do is suggest what genre Sally writes in, and hazard a guess about her novel's subject-matter, just by looking at the cover. You're not allowed to look it up on Amazon, because that would be cheating. And no, Mrs Zigmond, while you’re allowed to comment you’re not allowed to play because you already know all the answers!

33 comments:

Carole Blake said...

Woman's fiction: missing child?

garymurning said...

It is incredibly important to have the right cover, isn't it? I was very fortunate that my publisher (an independent) gave me a say in the development of the cover -- something for which I am eternally grateful, given the lack of input some authors have.

DJ Kirkby said...

Historical fiction? Set in Wales, family torn apart by WWII? Going to look on Amazon now...

Old Kitty said...

Hi

OOOOh not fair - I read about Hope against Hope in Nicola Morgan's blog...!!!

But I do so agree about book covers - it's the one thing that gets me to buy a book when I'm bookshopping. It sounds really shallow but it's the first thing that catches my eye and make me pick the book up. Of course I read the blurb next but the image is always the first to get me to reach over and grab.

:-)

take care
x

Amie McCracken said...

I read about it on Nicola Morgan's blog too...but when I first saw it I thought it was some kind of historical fiction because of the old timey look of the girls.

Gemma Noon said...

hmmm, family saga, cross-generational, probably set around the world wars?

Dan Holloway said...

That Scarlett Thomas cover is just dreamy good. I agree totally with your comments, and I must confess I've tried to make my own covers tick the "letting readers know what they're about" boxes. BUT there seems to have been a real resurgence of striking and original cover art over the past year, and it's a joy to see. And not just with the "literary" stuff where you don't have any expectations of conformity (other than if you're going for a Richard &judy slot in which case you'll try and identikit Lewycka or Hosseini). What we've seen is a lot of special editions of books with wonderful covers, and a lot of so-called branding that's actually more like art. Long may it continue. And I most definitely want to read the Thomas, just from seeing that cover

Marisa Birns said...

I did read about the book on Sally's blog. But when I first looked at cover before I knew the story, it seemed to be historical fiction/family saga.

Sally Zigmond said...

Jane Smith: you are a spoilsport. But it's a great game to play and one book-browsers are playing all the time, even if they don't know they are.

Carole: As one might expect, you are by far the closest.

Yes, bookshops have a huge influence over jacket designs and as you say, the jacket does much more than show a pretty picture.

This is why, with rare exceptions, self-published books never look 'right.' On the whole, authors are the worst person to design a cover because they're only thinking of what the book means to them, not on how it will be displayed, promoted and ultimately, sold. I did have some say, but not an awful lot.

A clue: check the bottom half of the picture. That gives you one of the themes and identity of the hero. And no, it's not Wales. (Where did you get that from,DJ? I'm intrigued) And neither World War I or II.

Jane Smith said...

Sally, I know: I am very strict! But I bet a few people will sneak a look at your book on Amazon to get a head-start (there's a link to it in my original piece, if anyone wants to cheat!).

I've recently been working with an independent publisher to find just the right cover for a book: the publisher has gone through four or five completely different designs to find one with just the right sense of authority, has listened to my input at every stage--and has known exactly when to ignore my opinions! It's been fabulous to have such a peek into this part of publishing, which isn't one I've been much involved with: it's not usual for authors to have much of a say, for all the reasons that Sally suggests.

DJ Kirkby said...

Hi Sally
I have no idea why Wales popped into my head when I saw the train bridge. My brain does things like that to me all the time and there is only rarely a discernable reason.

Gehayi said...

I'd guess that Hoping Against Hope is about a journey of discovery that parallels a physical journey (the train bridge). The person making that journey is the young woman on the left, whose life has some connection to a girl or young woman in the past (the girl with the bow in her hair). The two resemble each other, so I think that the girl with the bow grew up to be the grandmother of the woman on the left, and that in some ways their lives are alike in that they have/had to make decisions about the same things--though not necessarily the same CHOICES.

Dan Holloway said...

Ooh, I missed that it was a guessing comp, how cool. I can see the Wales thing - made me think of the GWR, but I'd say from piccie - grown-up sequel to Railway Children. Train & title may also signify evacuees - separated for years from parents?

Sally Zigmond said...

I'm sorry to have highjacked your blog, Jane. (No, I'm not actually. It's fun. So there.)

Gehayi: You have a great imagination but one thing you say is spot on. The two women DO resemble each other and there are parallels between their individual 'journeys'.

On the other hand, it's nothing like as complicated--certainly not in time. I'm a simple soul.

Don. If I said these fictional women predate The Railway Children by more than fifty years, does that help? Probably not.

Dan Holloway said...

Well, that would place it at the time of the GWR construction/Crimean War. I would guess the two related/connected women in question live in two places first linked by the railway, and taht this opens up the possibility of (re)union?
This is fun.
D(A)n :)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

interesting. I just blogged about this yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Looks like an inspirational fiction for teen girls, with a plot related to looking for clues to a female ancestor's thoughts.

Cacy said...

Christian Fiction. A turn of the century mother and daughter or two sisters/friend take a journey to bring them closer as one or both face personal tragedy or overcome impossible odds.

Elen Caldecott said...

Rats, I know the plot already too. But I still wanted to say congratulations, Sally! It's great that it's finally here.

Dave Bartlett said...

Period romance, probably set in Yorkshire in early Victorian era...?

I have some decent ideas for the covers for projects I'm working on, but I'm fully aware that if and when publication comes, I'll have little or no say in what form the covers take.

But that's ok, because at least the designs are in my head and in my own graphic mock-ups, to help inspire me at times when I hit the dreaded writer's block.

hampshireflyer said...

Historical family saga?

*googles it*

Mmm... interesting combination of settings there!

Anonymous said...

It's only after reading the comments that I realised the author name was not the title. Of course, I'm squinting at a computer screen and not browsing in a bookshop so maybe I wouldn't make the same mistake in real life. (I'm not so sure though). My immediate thought was 'Chick Lit' and then 'Biography'. Neither of which I actively choose to read. I would have walked past this without investigating. I'm sorry if this is a disappointing response to something that is so personal.

behlerblog said...

I think Zigmond's book is about two twins joined at the kneecaps. One wants to be a ballerina and the other fancies dressage and has her eye on an adorable Arabian mare. Trouble begins when Dancer Twin lands the lead in The Nutcracker.

Jane, dear, thank you for showing off my cover art. I told our designer the cover had to set the tone for the equally irreverent content inside. Such fun!

Monkey in a Spacesuit said...

Looks to me like "The Other Boleyn Girl," or something of that genre. I'm intentionally scrolling right past the other comments first in case there's a spoiler. But my guess is very similar to the top post: Women's Fiction, with a heavy influence of romance/ loss of childhood innocence.

Sally Zigmond said...

Spot on, Lynn Price! Give that woman a lifetime's supply of Twinkies. (except it was Sleeping Beauty, not The Nutcracker.)

And thank you, anonymous 2. I'm not disappointed because your comment says more about you than my novel.

Tahereh said...

hmmm... i'd say two sisters, someone dies, there's a tragic love affair, and it takes place abroad.

am i totally wrong??

(hehe i love this idea, by the way!)
(great blog!!)

Sally Zigmond said...

You've been peeking, Tahereh!

Shall I give Jane her blog back now?

Jenny Woolf said...

Women's fiction, fairly literary, about relationships.

I do agree about the cover. I saw a YA book the other day which had a truly misleading cover - looked exactly like a girly book about magical people and turned out to be sardonic comedy about magic. It's really disconcerting when this happens!

lisagracebooks said...

My guess is romance.
I love my cover for "Angel in the Shadows, Book One" by Lisa Grace. I do think my cover says it all and the illustrator that my publisher hired did ask for my concepts.
You can view my cover on most book seller sites or my web site.
http://www.lisagracebooks.com

parametric said...

My guess is historical fiction, Victorian era. The sepia-toned girls make me think historical, and I perceive the Victorian era (rightly or wrongly) as a time when gigantic bridges were being built left and right.

womagwriter said...

I'm part way through reading Hope Against Hope so I can't play. So I'll just add that I like the cover, it fits the plot, and I'm loving the book.

Covers are so important, I agree. There's a certain type I'm drawn to and will always pick up, and others which put me off. I tend not to go for anything pink or with shiny writing on. I think a good cover attracts me more even than the author's name (unless it's an author I know either in person or through the net!)

Anonymous said...

I'd guess women's fiction, perhaps involving travel to Europe, maybe with a little mystery thrown in (unlocking the secrets of the main character's ancestors, perhaps?).

virginia said...

it is interesting to read how a book cover is designed, and the final choice made - there's even an artist's blog that describes the process (with pictures, of course):

http://henryseneyee.blogspot.com/

as always, the simplest and most effective cover requires the most thought time.