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Can you judge a book by its cover?

22nd August 2019

Can you judge a book by its cover?

The Office of Gardens and Ponds

We’ve come a long way in cover design – and the cover is nowadays probably the most important single element in the marketing of a book. We are being seduced by the cover’s visual appeal when we are browsing in a book shop or online. We pick a book with a jacket that attracts us – and then read the synopsis, or the review extracts, to determine whether the book is for us.

The Death of Baseball

The cover has to capture the essence of a book in a way that relates to its target readership. And it has to be culturally relevant… the UK and US editions of the same book, for example, often feature different covers to appeal in their respective markets. The crucial importance of the cover is very much recognised by book retailers. Whether they stock a new title, or give it a prominent display, is often driven by the jacket and their view of whether it will ‘sell’ the book effectively.

The Dragon Lady

I was told by an author a while back that book covers are essentially advertisements that need to serve as both consumer-facing and industry marketing; they’re the most expensive ad that a publisher will produce for many books. So, who gets involved in their design? Perhaps surprisingly, many authors ‘don’t want to know’. They feel they have delivered many thousands of words, and that is their role complete. Not at all sure that I agree… To my mind, the cover is sometimes the very essence of the book. Quite often we see completely inappropriate covers that do absolutely nothing for what is inside. Try this as an experiment. Take a hardback with an appealing cover and then remove that cover. I would guess the book just doesn’t feel the same… a good cover is part of the reading experience. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I’m not so keen on ebooks?

The Ice

Throughout this post we have included visuals of covers that have appealed to us and added to the reading experience. A brilliant example (a couple of years back now – but it has lost nothing with the passage of time) is the cover of hardback edition of The Ice by Laline Paull. The cover designer, Jo Walker, came up with the idea of a cut through…We were not only bowled over by the story but also by the cover on the hardback version, a piece of artwork in its own right. The dust jacket is a stunning blue with a ragged hole that leads into a cave, embossed on the book itself. Jo said ‘As a jacket designer, I like to think covers are integral to the commercial success of a book. The jacket is the first port of call – if something shouts at you from the shelf, you’re bound to take interest and then take it further. I’m not going to pretend an incredible jacket will sell a terrible book or an incredible book will suffer if it has a terrible jacket, although we can try and influence people’. I’m absolutely sure she’s right (and, yes, Laline was heavily involved…).

Tony for the TripFiction team

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