“Why, it’s one o’ the books I bought at Partridge’s sale. They was all bound alike — it’s a good binding, you see — and I thought they’d be all good books. . . . but they’ve all got the same covers, and I thought they were all o’ one sample, as you may say. But it seems one musn’t judge by th’ outside. This is a puzzling world.”
–George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss
Marin here, and today I’m thinking about the puzzling world of book covers. Recently I worked with a cover artist–the very talented Rae Monet–to create the cover for my third book.
A cover’s primary purpose, of course, is to convince the reader to buy the book behind it. A great cover not only entices the reader, but captures the story in some way. Cover artist Peter Mendelsund says “his job is ‘finding that unique textual detail that…can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.’” But beyond that, a cover needs to represent the book. The mood of the cover should match that of the book–a couple in a clinch for a romance, something dark and eerie for a paranormal, an illustration for a children’s book. Even things like font matter–you see the font that was used on the Harry Potter books, and you recognize it immediately. The cover, according to Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, should be a promise to the reader. A promise that the book is as professional as its cover, that it is of the genre depicted by the cover, and that you will enjoy reading it.
There are plenty of sites out there which discuss the elements that make a great cover, and I list a few of them below. But as one of them points out, what really makes a great cover is what makes you purchase the book. I tend to like covers that are more abstract, that hint at the character of the book without revealing too much. Here are some of my favorites (click on the covers to visit the book’s Goodreads entry):
Deanna Raybourn was new to me, and I picked up her book in the library almost entirely because of the cover. The others are authors I know and like and would have read anyway. All of these covers evoke their stories and the genre. I think Julia Quinn’s cover must have worked quite well, because she has used a variation of it at least twice since then…
I asked my fellow Passionate Critters what they like, and don’t like, in a cover:
“I tend to gravitate toward books with real people on the covers. I tend to like couples too. I like feet/legs too–or just bodies with no heads–so I can get the gist of the romance while leaving something to my imagination.”
“I like illustrated covers, too, if they’re well done and not drawn by the author themselves. Actually…it’s easier to say what DOESN’T work. Go here to see some samples: http://lousybookcovers.com/.”
“I like a simple cover which conveys the mood or feel of the story that I’m buying.”
“I’ve always liked Kristan Higgins’ covers. You see a couple but not too much of their faces.”
“I’m the opposite of the others, I love faces. At least the guy’s face, I’m OK with the back of the girl’s head. Clinch covers work for me as well. I want a sense of the time period, what the characters look like, and the overall mood of the book. From the cover I should easily be able to tell if it’s a romance, sci-fi, fantasy, etc, as well as what era it’s set in, and a decent idea of what the main character, or characters, look like. I also like to get a sense of who the characters are, is it a brooding alpha male? Throw him in a tux and make him look angry….or heated…or both. Character looks are huge for me, especially for the male, and nothing irks me more than grabbing a good book and then having the guy be described as someone I don’t find even remotely attractive. It kills the whole thing for me.”
“I don’t honestly know. Some are clearly just bad or rather lousy, but they don’t count.
But of good, well-done covers, where there’s nothing actually wrong with them…hmmm. There’s no type that appeals to me – some just look…right.
I think it’s sort of subjective to a degree – flowers and a wedding dress would put me off, because it screams sweet and I don’t particularly like sweet.
My favorite sort of covers are UF [urban fantasy], which always seem to be very distinctive of the genre, usually a beautiful background, a strong character (all of them, they never seem to have their heads chopped off) often a woman, and a few swirly bits to pretty them up.
I think it’s an arty thing (which is why I struggle) just getting the proportions and colors right and pleasing to the eye.”
“I like real people, faces, and even a bit of setting. I like to see the story. I don’t like the drawn covers–like chick lit has. And don’t get me started on the computer graphics that….are just…not real looking. LOL But that’s just me.
I don’t like chopped off heads or flowers or wedding dresses or babies. I don’t know what that says about me.
Oh, I also don’t like floating heads…over cities and stuff.”
Clearly, we all like different things, which only goes to show that you’ll never please everyone, no matter how brilliant your cover may be. What stands out for you in a book cover? Share your favorite!
Some other takes on what makes a great book cover: