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Thursday, 31 March 2011

The glance test

bookshop How many books do you think the average bookshop carries? 20,000? 50,000? 100,000? Put it this way, Richard Booth's Bookshop. 44, Lion Street, Hay-on-Wye says it has over 1,000,000 books in stock. That’s a lot of books. Of course there are a lot of books there we’ll never look at, whole aisles we won’t wander down, entire floors we might never step out on, but when we do pin down what we’re looking for we’re still going to be faced with three or four thousand books at the very least. One bookstore in America carried 20,000 titles which including a hardcover list of 8,000 adult books.

Let’s just stick with the 8000 adult hardbacks for a moment and imagine them all lined up for us on a ve-e-ry long shelf and let’s say that we looked at each cover for a whole 1 second. It would take you two and a quarter hours just to look at them. Some studies show that you actually have a whopping great twelve seconds in a bookstore to turn a browser into a buyer. And, of course, what will appeal to one potential reader is going to turn another one right off. Here’s an example. While I was working on this blog I talked a bit about it to my friend Koe (the half-life of linoleum) and he told me about a couple of books he’d been attracted to purely on the basis on the covers. One was The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem. This is what he had to say:

The Disappointment Artist I think what appealed to me about the cover when I first saw it was just the literal humour. The poor kid whose ice cream is melting in his hand. I am pretty sure that it seemed to me then that there was a lot more ice cream melted on his hand than had come off the ice cream. It looked worked on by the art director – that an ice cream melting rarely looks like a melted ice cream. I thought the image just very clever.

When I was a kid I used to eat an ice cream like this when the Good Humour truck stopped in the neighbourhood but back then – Good Humour gave out napkins with a little die-cut in the middle that you put the stick through to save your hand from the melting. This child appears to be a disappointment . . . it never would have taken me that long to eat an ice cream - it would never melt in my hand. How could this even happen?

Today, I am looking at this cover a bit more earthily perhaps . . . it almost looks pornographic. I asked my wife what she thought of the cover just now and she said something along the lines of, 'it grosses me out, I'm a mom, I want to clean this mess up.'

Personally I loathed the cover. I would never in a million billion trillion years have picked it up. Even the thought of using the image in my blog makes me uncomfortable because I hate runny messes like that. Even as a kid if a single dribble of ice cream started running down the side of my cone I'd lick it off. In fact my usual approach to eating a cone was to bite off the end and suck the ice cream inside where it would be contained. There is no way I would have given that cover twelve seconds of my attention. Of course others say that twelve seconds is a gross overestimation and that a mere three seconds is a more realistic estimate. Personally I’d say three seconds on the shelf and twelve in my hand.

What we’re talking about here is what some people call The Glance Test.

Let’s give it a test. Here are a selection of covers to novels by Iain Banks. See which one jumps out at you. You have about three seconds to view each one:

For me it was Whit followed by The Crow Road and in both cases the titles improved the book’s chances. What you might not have noticed is that there were two different covers for most books. When his books started coming out they were published with monochrome covers, white-on-black for one followed by black-on-white for the next and much as people used to argue about whether the merits of the odd-numbered Star Trek films as opposed to the even-numbered, people would also argue about whether the books with the ‘black’ covers were better than the books with the ‘white’ ones. The publisher has now reprinted all the books and I’m not impressed with his choices. But you might like them.

The thing about Banks now is that he is established and so you could put pretty much anything you like on a cover and people will pick it up. Certainly in the UK. Not sure what his international reputation is like but if you’ve never heard of him then he is worth checking out. He is the author of my favourite opening to any book:

It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.

That’s from The Crow Road. But this is an article about covers not opening lines.

covers I like minimal covers personally. Just looks at the covers of my own novels: title, author’s name, barcode, wraparound illustration and all on a clean, white background. I got the idea from Banks. A lot of thought went into those covers. I was thinking ahead too. I knew that I had at least another three books and so I’ve already planned what the next books will look like. They will very likely be tweaked along the way but the basic design is there. I have a range. It’s something that the good publishers do, publish an author’s works in attractive sets. Music publishers don’t tend to but it’s happening more with DVDs, especially boxed sets.

The key is simplicity. But passing the Glance Test requires a few issues to be addressed:

Create a Compelling Title

What makes a great title? In a word: brevity but brevity that piques interest.

How Much Text is Good Text?

Less is always more when it comes to text first impressions. Reduce your text to the absolute minimum necessary and stick to the point. Many book covers end up cluttered with endorsements, quotes, stickers all of which are using up your precious three seconds.

Keep it Consistent

The branding, image and tone of your book cover must reflect the marketing you do in other areas of your business – e.g. I use the same font on my blog as I do on my books. Consistency in the "look and feel" of your business colours, text and service offering will help people remember you.

clip_image002Here’s the cover of a novel by Thomas M Disch based on the sixties TV series The Prisoner. It’s actually a pretty good novel, far better written than I expected. And like all novelisations it is aiming at a specific demographic: i.e. the people who watched the original series. It’s not a bad book cover as far as book covers go. It hasn’t got the font quite right but it’s close enough for government work. There’s McGoohan’s ever-serious physiognomy over the backdrop of Portmeirion; we even have the penny-farthing logo but to my mind any true fan of the show would need far, far less than this to pick up the book. If I was designing the cover this is what I would have proposed:

It contains the most basic of information. But that’s all it needs to do. All the rest can be on the back cover or the flyleaf.

a-clockwork-orange-by-anthony-burgess This has been done before, of course; there is nothing new under the sun. When you go to sites looking for great cover art (and there are not a few of them) one of the ones that always keeps popping up is the iconic cover to A Clockwork Orange by David Pelham: bold primary colours, the title, the author’s name and a discreet little penguin in the corner. It is a classic and yet they’ve had several goes at redoing it including a minimal one with nothing bar a glass of milk on the cover. The question is: Would you pick up a book if all it had on the cover is a glass of milk if you didn’t already know what it was about?

Up until now I’ve only talked about books that pretty much will sell themselves. What about a book by a complete unknown which most authors are to most people on the planet? Here are two covers to the novel Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. Eat the DocumentThe one on the left was the cover to the hardback which is listed among the worst covers of 2006 according to Edward Champion, who wrote:

Bad enough that we see a monochromatic image of a woman clad in a sweater and jeans that tells us absolutely nothing about the book. (Is this an academic response to Our Bodies, Ourselves or a novel?) But that horrid yellow text, intended to capture the wretched typographical triumphs of the 1970s, causes this eyesore to be a classic case of a book being unfairly discriminated against by its cover. No wonder this fantastic novel didn’t sell so well earlier this year. Thankfully, the paperback version has a much better cover. – Edward Champion, ‘Worst Book Cover of 2006’, Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits, 8th December 2006

Personally neither cover does anything for me. I prefer the first one but then I got to thinking about people seeing me read it on the bus and that kinda put me off it. But Champion is right: what do the covers tell us about the book? Nothing. Which is bad but misleading is worse. Here are two covers to The Yellow Wallpaper. Yellow WallpaperI gave my wife a copy as a present, the one with the naked lady on the cover as it happens, and that’s the one I’ve read. According to Wikipedia:

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is a six-thousand-word short story by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, illustrating attitudes in the nineteenth century toward women's physical and mental health. The story also has been classified as Gothic fiction and horror fiction.

As best I can remember there are no naked ladies just a woman quietly going out of her mind while supposed to be resting in bed. Why did I pick it up? Because of the naked lady? Actually because it was a thin book – very thin actually – and I’m drawn to thin books. As best I can remember all I had to go on was the spine at the time. It was what was on the back of the book that helped me make my mind up. The cover with the wallpaper on is okay but nothing to write home about.

In the story, the unnamed narrator is imprisoned in her bed for a postpartum "rest cure" on her doctor-husband's orders. She hates her rented room, especially the partially stripped-off wallpaper, which is in "one of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin" and has a "repellent" colour, "a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight." I need to ask the question: Should the cover show any wallpaper at all because surely it’s best to leave that to the imagination of the readers? (Just in passing I found a radio dramatisation of the book here which you might find interesting. There’s also a BBC dramatisation in 8 parts which some nice person has uploaded to YouTube.)

But back to unknown authors. Here’s another wee slideshow for you:

The key word here is, of course, UGLY. Sometimes it’s meant literally, other times it’s figurative. To my mind the most memorable cover is the movie poster I slipped in but then, like I said, I like minimalistic presentations.

Have you ever bought a book just because it had a cool cover? I’ve certainly bought comics just for the cover art and LPs, in fact one of the main gripes people had about CDs when they came out was that so many great covers couldn’t be appreciated in the same way. I find that’s pretty much the case when I’m browsing Amazon for books. Amazon thumbnail size is about 80 x 115 in pixels and that’s the image most of us see first. That being the case what we need are images that communicate when reduced to a fraction of their size. Here’s a good example: tiny

Do you have any idea what the book might be about? Try this link.

There are a couple more tests that book covers need to pass:

The “yeah, right!” test is all to do with believability. Back in the sixties there was a trend in comics, at least in DC comics, where the cover lied. Take this one here Death of Robin(Batman #156) which shows Batman carrying Robin’s corpse. You knew, you just knew that Robin wasn’t going to die. Okay years later they did kill him off only it wasn’t Dick Grayson they killed, it was his replacement, Jason Todd (who first appeared in Batman #357). And, yes, they really did kill him off. And he stayed dead too unlike most other heroes that are killed off. Now we know it’s just a marketing ploy and they’ll find a way to bring him back. But in the sixties I learned very quickly not to trust the covers. Here’s another one with Jimmy Olsen as Superman’s son like that was true.


But the simple fact is that often the art on the cover bears no resemblance to the characters within the book. And the worst offenders there are probably fantasy and science fiction novels. Here’s the cover to C E Murphy’s Heart of Stone. Heart of Stone It’s not a bad cover. The only catch is that the heroine in the book is black, not white. Should that matter? Personally I think so. In the thread where I found that example there was this response which I think is worth mentioning:

It's not that the art directors and artists and publishers are racist. But, by way of an example: a friend of mine -- a British fantasy author -- had the first book in her latest series bomb really badly on release in the US. Non-white protagonist, cover with representation of said protagonist ... publisher did the marketing right, but sales were inexplicably w-a-y down on what had been expected. The UK cover, in contrast, was a lot more abstract (as British covers currently tend to be) and sales were fine, on track with her previous novels.

The practice of “racebending” or “whitewashing” of covers is quite common it seems.

Here are three covers to the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier. The first is the Australian cover, the second is the first US cover and the last in the revised US cover. LiarOn her blog she writes:

Covers change how people read books

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

And in interview she said this:

RACEBENDING.COM: When the initial Liar cover was released, several bloggers—including industry professionals—spoke out against the cover design. You also spoke out against the cover design on your blog. How did the public outcry on the internet blogosphere lead to Bloomsbury changing the cover design?
Larbalestier: It definitely helped but there was a lot going on behind the scenes as well.

RACEBENDING.COM: How has the Liar cover controversy impacted your writing?

Larbalestier: That’s a very difficult question to answer. I’ve been thinking about issues of race and representation for a very long time. What happened with my cover is not an isolated incident. A dear friend and mentor of mine, Samuel R. Delany, has been dealing with similar stuff since the 1960s with almost every book he’s ever written. I’d seen it happen to other people so it was strange going through it myself but I felt oddly prepared. I’m very pleased that many people who had not previously thought about race and publishing and representation now seem to have had their eyes opened.

Samuel_R_Delany Delany is, of course, a science fiction writer and we all know how little the covers of science fiction books have to do with the content even if the art is often great art.

The “so-what?” test has to do with whether what we see matters to us. So what if there’s a white girl on the cover and the book’s about a black girl? So what if the robot on the cover never appears in the book? A book cover to my mind should not be something that you need to get over. It should complement the text. You could also call this test, the “can-I-live-with-it?” test. There are books that I own that have awful covers but they’re good books. And so I’ve learned to live with the covers. Here’s an example, Robert Silverberg’s A Time of Changes: A Time of ChangesThe first cover is the one I used to have. I have no idea what happened to that copy but I lost it. I was desperate to get a fresh copy and so I bought one online with the second cover and it just doesn’t feel like the same book to me. The text is the same but the book is somehow less satisfying. I love the book and so I’ve put up with it but that’s the best I can say about the cover. The first one was bought because of the cover. It is a cool cover.

So what are my favourite covers? Can’t really write a piece like this without including one or two. Probably top of this list is this one by Adrian Chesterman, The Demolished Man. A great wraparound cover which I once saw as a poster in a wee shop in Edinburgh, never bought – couldn’t afford as I remember – and I’ve regretted it ever since. Here it is and a couple of others I liked.

4 covers

So, how important do you think cover art should be?

Let me leave you with another slide show to ponder: the various faces of Nineteen Eighty-Four.


The Book Design Review

AIGA Design Archive

The Book Cover Archive


Smashing Magazine

Judging the Book: 50 Most Captivating Covers of All Time

Cover Art Clichés for 2009

Cover Matters: On Clichéd Covers in Fantasy

The Three Second Test


Jim Murdoch said...

But that is the thing, Art, so much of the time the artwork doesn’t tell the reader what to expect. The book I’m reading at the moment is called The Water Theatre - you can see the cover here – and it’s a bloke walking through a gate. It tells me nothing. I’m sure somewhere in those 433 pages the protagonist walks through a gate but if he does the author attaches no great significance to it. It feels like a stock image and no real thought has gone into choosing it. I would never pick up a book with a cover like this in a million years.

Agreed, though, if every book cover was designed by me it could get a bit boring but I really think that the more clutter there is on a cover these days the less impact it has on potential readers who, as I said above, are probably staring at a tiny icon on a screen; bookshops are a little different I admit. I also agree that picking the right type is important. I spent a long time looking at fonts before I decided which one I was going to use for my covers – it’s called Dream Orphans – and you could argue that each book should have a unique design but I was thinking about how good it will look when I have six or seven books all in a row and that day will come.

Tim Love said...

Thanks as ever for the read. Though I can't get worked up about covers, I think they matter, even in this e-book age. There are Harry Potter child/adult versions (and retro-fits of film stills) to compare.

Jim Murdoch said...

I did think about the Harry Potter covers when I wrote this, litrefs, and I think it’s interesting how they felt the need to market exactly the same content in a different way. I mean they’re exactly the same books, it’s not as if there’s an unexpurgated version for grown-ups or something. That I wouldn't mind. They do it with films. Why not books?

Art Durkee said...

I think you're being too literal in your expectation of what the cover gives you. If a cover has abstract art on it that isn't a literal illustration from the book, that still tells you something, and I don't have a problem with it. It becomes a matter of personal taste, after a point.

Your issue with SF covers, for example. One reason abstract art got popular for SF book covers in the 50s and 60s, when that trend began, was twofold: "difficult" and mind-blowing art was supposed to make people think of the future, to blow their minds the way the story would; and it's too hard to literally illustrate every SF novel, many of which have the same trapping but are otherwise nothing alike. You can't put a rocket ship on every cover. And how does a cover artist illustrate an alien race no one has imagined before? That did lead to a lot of clichéd SF covers (magazines especially) of the Bug-Eyed Monsters With All The Tentacles, and also to the clichés of putting rockets on the cover. At least the abstract art is more creative than the usual SF pulp clichés.

Abstraction is where tone and mood come in, without being literally illustrative. A blue book cover gives you a different mood than a scarlet one, even with nothing else going on. That can reflect the contents very well.

Even though your own book covers are symbolic rather than illustrations of events within the pages, I do think you're getting hung up on literal rather than symbolic depiction of contents. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, in which case, sorry. I'm just really aware of the history of book design, for various reasons.

Your point about clutter not reproducing at small sizes is a valid one. But at small screen sizes, you can't read the cover type, either. The only thing you can see at a tiny repro size is an iconic splash of color that may or may not be recognizable as a piece of art. If a cover is already famous then you'll recognize it; otherwise, it's irrelevant.

Designers don't make their choices based on how small Amazon is going to reproduce their covers online—nor should they. Book covers were being designed as physical objects, long before the Internet. Unless something is only published as an e-book, that's not going to change, nor do I think it needs. (Don't fix what ain't broke.)

The only time designers think about repro at all sizes, tiny to large, is when creating a brand logo that needs to be recognizable at all sizes, and from a distance. The Penguin Books icon is a good example, so is the Nike swoosh. Book covers are one-time deals.

And there are readers who LIKE clutter, who are attracted to it. If they like a messy novel, and the cover accurately depicts that book's style and tone and contents, symbolically or literally, then it's a successful match between book and reader.

Which is really what that is all about: connecting the reader to what attracts them and they might want to read.

One definition of successful marketing is to exactly that.

Kass said...

I've bought many a book purely because I liked the cover.

Dead Air, the less graphic image was one I like a lot and Whit, the graphic one.

I sometimes think of a title to things before I come up with the body of the text or poem.

Marion McCready said...

Great post! Loved the slideshows :) I've always really liked Iain Banks' Whit cover - the white on black one - such stark symbolism, it's an image that really sticks in the head.

I've just recently picked my pamphlet cover picture, it's one of Roxana's. There's another picture of her's that I would have really loved to have used but unfortunately it doesn't go with my title at all. But anyway I love the one I'm using, it's kind of abstract, slightly surreal and gorgeously textured. I think her pictures and my poems work on a similar wavelength (in terms of themes and approach). That, plus the fact that her pictures are simply wonderful, meant I was in no doubt from the start that I would use one of her pics for my cover (with her permission of course!).

R. Brady Frost said...

Marketing can definitely get different results in different areas. I suppose that's why major brands spend so much money studying and catering to specific demographics.

I wholeheartedly admit that I am often influenced by a cover. Unfortunately, bad covers tend to give the impression that the publishing house didn't think the piece was good enough to deserve otherwise. I know that isn't always the case, and it isn't fair to new authors who just aren't given as much attention as the sure things. Sometimes people have the best intentions but things just don't play out the way they expected.

The copy of 1984 that I read was hardback and was missing the paper sleeve. The board was light blue with a dark blue binding. It had the title stamped in, but there was no fanfare about it. I think the book still ended the same, even if it wasn't all dressed up. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

I agree, Art. The covers of all my own books have been abstracts, inkblots, and I chose that motif because it’s one that appears frequently in my writing and one that I feel gets the reader in the right mindset for the books; inkblots reveal more about the viewer than the artist. The other thing about my covers is that they come out not too bad when reduced for the web. The inkblot is essentially my logo and by the time I have seven books out there that’s what I expect people to think of. So there is method in my madness. Uniformity was important.

The real core of my article was the fact that covers in the 21st century are not what they once were. As you say, with an e-book there is no physical object. So, I think, more and more designers ought to be thinking about how they work is going to be seen. Okay, on their own website the publisher can have as big a graphic as they like but most review sites will still only have one about 200px wide or less.

I take your point on clutter and it takes all sorts. The article obviously reflects my personal tastes. That aside I still think that many attractive covers – like the one for The Water Theatre - do the book no favours whatsoever. In many cases the cover is neither here nor there, it’s the name that sells, but I’ve never heard of Lindsay Clarke and if this book had been lying on a table in Waterstones I still wouldn't have. The only thing it has going for it is an intriguing title.

In many cases, yes, a book cover is a onetime deal, for the author who only has one book but even if I only had one book I’d still be thinking about my second and my third. At the very least I’d want my name to be a logo, like a band logo, something that went with me.

Kass, I know exactly where you’re coming from and there have been times I’ve had to stop myself buying a book with a beautiful cover because I knew I would never read it. Comics were different. I bought many comics purely for the cover art. I don’t know how much you’ve looked at comics recently or ever but from the eighties there was a real change in attitudes and everything to do with comics moved up a couple of gears. The guys who did the artwork were Artists-with-a-capital-A. One of my most precious possessions is a hardback book with all of Dave McKean’s covers to The Sandman series – wonderful stuff. You can see the whole lot here. But my favourite artist is probably Bill Sienkiewicz.

I think when it comes to poetry, Marion, then I would always lean towards abstract. It is surprising the number of poetry books that have no art whatsoever; take Faber & Faber’s books. I’ll be very interested to see what yours looks like when it’s ready.

I get attached to covers, Brady. The copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four I currently own is not the one I first read. I bought it to fill a gap in my library and I kinda wish I’d hung out for the one I really wanted. The same goes for the Silverberg that I mentioned in the article. If I’m buying a used book online I will check out the different covers. I’ve just put a book on my wish list and I chose an older edition simply because I preferred the cover.

Art Durkee said...

One of the reasons I got into the Moon Knight comic book was precisely because Bill Sienkiewicz did the art. Brilliant stuff. There is one cover I would frame, actually. All black except for the glowing eyes and fangs of a wolf dripping blood over one of Moon Knight's crescent-moon-shaped shuriken. Talk about a symbolic and archetypal cover! Wow!

So I'm glad you mentioned Sienkiewicz, among the rest of that artistic renaissance in comics from the eighties. Other artists who emerged at that time who I thought were terrific were Gene Day, Frank Miller (obviously), Dave McKean (I have two of his other art and photo books, and most of his other graphic novels), and a few others. I have the complete run of the original comics of Sandman, as well as the book anthologies. That's only one of the many great books that started to happen from that period. V for Vendetta. Etc.

I totally agree with you about all these folks being Artists.

Crafty Green Poet said...

excellent post! I r eally like the black and white covers for Iain Banks' books, they're well designed, eyecatching and complement each other.

I don't think I buy books based on cover design but I dod know that a good or intriguing cover makes me more likely to pick the book up and therefore more likely to buy it.

Like you I prefer minimalist cover designs.

Jim Murdoch said...

There are loads of authors who, when their books get reprinted, have them all done in a certain style, Crafty Green Poet, but what I liked about those early books by Banks – his non-science fiction ones at least – is that right from the off the publisher set the style and continued with it. I’ve already got the covers for my next three books designed and sitting on my wife’s computer. Not sure what I’m going to do with Left yet but it’ll be ages – years – before I’ll be worrying about it. I could do half an inkblot but it kinda loses something. So, for the moment at least, I’m stuck.

Dave King said...

We seem never to be too far apart. I too picked out Whit and The Crow Road. From the Uglies I chose Little Monsters, Plain Ugly and the Ugly Duckling.

Apart from thinking from time to time about never choosing a book... etc, I did wonder about the effect of the Book Sop itself and its displays. How they might affect customer choice.

An absorbing post, though, and one I shall go on thinking about for a bit.

Jim Murdoch said...

Oh, Dave, there’s a whole science to displaying goods. I remember a programme some years ago talking about how supermarkets kept changing where they put things and why. You think you mind’s your own until you watch a programme like that. I’m actually very good at not impulse buying. Actually I’m very good at not buying in general. Even when I had money to burn I could spend an hour in a bookstore or record shop and walk out with nothing. There have been a few things I’ve bought purely for the covers. I’ve talked about comics above but music too especially when LPs were still on the go. I mean you can do something with a cover 12" x 12". Much as I loved the convenience of tapes and then CDs the artwork was never quite the same. My favourite cover artist is Mark Wilkinson especially his Marillion covers.

Anonymous said...

I favour the minimalist too, probably because I am all too easily seduced by the beguiling design. Typeface in particular will have me trying to persuade myself that persuasive style is going to render up compelling content! For a long time I collected Penguin books from between the late '50s and late '70s, just because their absolutely minimal design brief led to such effective covers. And I still actively seek out the old Tauschnitz paperbacks for their plain white covers and period typeface.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’d never heard of Tauchnitz paperbacks, Dick. I like the plain covers but I don’t get why the covers were made out of the same paper as the pages. It makes them feel like magazines, things that get read and then tossed. I hate even throwing magazines out. I have two shelves full of SFX magazines that I never look at and yet I'd hate to part with.

Ash said...

As an artist, I'm very visual and the cover of a book is a big draw, or repellent, for me when it comes to browsing books. I look for art that conveys an emotion--if it seems dark and mysterious, I'm drawn to it. That just shows my genre preferences and that I base things on how it makes me feel. I was thinking as I was reading your post--is Jim a Virgo or Gemini? ;) You like clean, non-mussy/fussy cover art. When self-publishing, the cover art look/feel, I think, is a big deal and definitely needs to be a high consideration if an author wants to sell books with the glance test.
One of my pet peeves is romance book covers that only show the buff half-nude man and the sexy half-dressed female--that doesn't tell me that the story is about. Yet, I assume the "sexier" that genre's covers are, they better they sell? Very interesting stuff.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not sure what I look for in a cover, Ash, other than something different. There are too many science fiction novels and romance novels where the cover has nothing to do with what’s inside, they’re just there to say ‘this is a sci fi novel’ or ‘this is a bodice-ripper’ and that’s it. I agree that many self-published books do themselves no favours by sporting poorly-designed covers. The thing is you can do a lot with very little if you just use a little imagination. As far as sex selling, yes, of course it does in fact as the protagonist in my first two books is a mammaphile I did toy with the idea of having a pair of huge breasts in the cover but I would never have been able to live with myself.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

When I worked in academic libraries during my college years I was shocked to find they routinely removed the dust jackets - because the djs were too expensive to preserve? The public library had always put plastic over the dust jackets. It seemed remiss to me that academic libraries would discard the history of design displayed in dust jackets.

I've been around long enough now to see a variety of covers for older books. A new design does seem to create the impression that the interior is new somehow, too.

There are fads in design that are fresh at first - the printed cover that LOOKS aged or stained - I loved that the first time I saw it - but which get tired after awhile. Oh, I see, yes, this is another one of those covers designed to look tattered.

Jim Murdoch said...

As a kid, Glenn, I had a number of hard backed books where the cover art was a part of the book. The only book I can remember having a separate dust jacket was a thesaurus and it wasn’t exactly art so I took it to be purely functional. It was only years later I started to realise that dust jackets were not just wrapping. My local library was the same: no dust jackets. Personally I find them annoying and take them off to read a book and they are a bit flimsy and too easily damageable.

I do take your point about new covers making a work feel more modern than it is and I have been disappointed in the past when a book didn’t live up to its ‘modern’ cover; I’ve felt slightly conned.

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