Judging a Book by its Cover

“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

perf5.000x8.000.inddMarin 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:

https://selfpublishingadvisor.com/2016/08/10/the-book-beautiful-the-cover/
https://springfieldwritersguild.org/2016/08/11/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover/
https://www.wired.com/2014/09/makes-brilliant-book-cover-master-explains
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/30/book-cover-design-indies_n_3354504.html
http://www.graphic-design.com/DTG/Design/book_covers/index.html
http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/designing-book-covers/
http://www.iuniverse.com/Resources/Publishing-Distribution/CoverDesignEssentials.aspx

 

 

About Marin McGinnis

About Marin McGinnis Clevelanders are tough, a bit cynical, and just a little crazy, and Marin McGinnis is no exception. When she’s not chasing after big dogs or watching tweens skate around hockey rinks, she is immersing herself in Victorian era romance. She lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband, son, and two standard poodles named Larry and Sneaky Pete. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Cover Design Guest Post — Fiona Jayde Media

We’re Passionate about our work at Through Heart-Shaped Glasses and lately, we’ve been wanting to share that work with you, our readers. So we’ve opened our blogging schedule to some of the people who make the book world an AWESOME place to be. Our first guest is Fiona Jayde of Fiona Jayde Media.

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1. What was the first book cover that made you want to create your own?

I won’t name names to protect the innocent, but before I was a cover artist, I was an author. My first publisher was amazing, but unfortunately, their book covers left a lot to be desired. I was releasing my fifth book with them and trying to convince them to use my own art – and created my first cover. It wasn’t great, but it got me hooked. That book is long out of print, but the love of creating book covers came from that situation.

2. What’s the first thing you notice about a photograph or image?

Crispness. Is it clear what the image or photograph is about or is it a jumble of various things? I like strong focal points without clutter, both in photographs and book covers (and art in general). Second thing I notice is details – I love deliberate details that really bring out the image. A small additional “curve” to a letter to make it pop, or texture of an object in the background – those aren’t seen at first glance, but they really make a difference to me. (Yes, I know my answers contradict each other!)

A great example of this is artist Jan van Eyck and this image here:  the image has a strong focal point, but if you zoom in on the smallmirror, you will see a very realistic reflection. I love details like these!

3. Do you ever pick up a camera and take your own photographs?
Does my iPhone count? I’m a terrible photographer, and I’m spoiled by my photoshop brushes. I think that I can take any picture I want and fix it up, when in truth, it’s impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I try to be realistic about how I spend my time (too many hobbies and a toddler!), and honestly, photography never been an interest to me save for what I can do with the images afterwards. Why spend time on something that’s not my passion? I’d rather purchase images taken by those who love what they do, and then work my magic.

4. Do you read the books/synopsis of the story before you begin work on the cover art?
I specifically make it a point not to read the book so not to get emotionally involved in the story or characters. My job is to pull out the most marketable aspects of the book – tropes, hooks, ideas, and visually communicate them to readers. If I fall in love with a character who isn’t the best marketing point for the book, I will not approach the cover with a clear head, doing my author client a dis-service.

I do absolutely read the synopsis and blurbs of books and often consult how to make them more interesting for readers. Before I had my daughter, I was a voracious romance reader picking up anything that remotely struck my interest. Now that I don’t have as much time, I need to know a book is going to hit my sweet spot (anyone got a duty vs love romance? One of the characters tasked to betray/destroy the other but falls in love with them instead? Link me! ). While a great cover will make a me click on a book, a great blurb is going to make me want to read more, and I need to know what the stakes are. It all becomes a circle of sorts – the cover flowing into the synopsis and back again– because they both work together to visually show the heart of the book and the reason a reader will want to dive in.

5. Who do you look up to as a role model in this industry?
Gene Mollica – the man is an amazing cover artist!
My mentors – Syneca Featherstone and April Martinez, both who have been in this business for a long time and have taught me so much over the years.
Luis Royo (who technically isn’t a cover artist per se, although a lot of his works ended up on book/magazine covers). His work has been an inspiration to me since art school.
Michael Whelan – an incredible fantasy artist (and my first exposure to a cover artist). I get a lot of inspiration from his use of color and light.

6. When you put together an incredible cover, do you get the urge to tell its story?

LOL not really, because I already know the story! Most if not all of my work is commissioned, so a cover already has a story. Oftentimes, I get covers where I absolutely have to read the book – and those are a real kick to purchase at Amazon and see my name on the credits. (A while back I did a cover about a homicide detective who falls for a murder suspect – duty vs love trope. Love those!)

A few Details:
7. What can an author expect when they contact you?
Authors can expect a prompt response, clear communication, suggestions as to what is pertinent in the market today, ideas/brainstorming for direction of their covers and general industry know-how and advice. I do not invoice for payment until both myself and the artist are clear about what we are doing so there’s no surprises.

8. How long from start to finish to get their cover art?
My general turn around time for the first concept is ten business days, and it can take another week for revisions depending on their complexity.

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HSG is excited about getting industry professionals on the blog to share their work and open doors for our readers. Thanks to Fiona for being a first!! And now, just for a fun, a quick meme that I think we’ll start giving all our guests to answer. 😀

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Just for fun
:
Leather or lace? Leather.

Black or red? For me to wear? Black. For things around me? Red.

Satin sheets or Egyptian cotton? Egyptian cotton. Satin sheets just make things slide around and you can’t get traction.

Ocean or mountains? Oceans! I’m an Aquarius and water is so my element!

City life or country life? Can I have country life with high speed internet and sexy cowboys to take care of the ranch? My bff made me milk a goat when I visited her family’s ranch, and while I don’t think I traumatized the goat too much, I did trip out when it was time to gather eggs. Do you KNOW where eggs come from???

Hunky heroes or average Joe? I’m vain. Hunky heroes. Although hunky can come in many forms, and confidence and a wicked sense of humor will overthrow a pretty but silent mug any day.

Party life or quiet dinner for two? Quiet dinner for two.

Dogs or cats? Both! I have an 80lb beast and two feline dictators. A toddler and a hubs. And a partridge in a pear tree.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

About Beth Rhodes

Beth jumps into life with both feet...or head first. Impulsive and spontaneous to a T, she joined Passionate Critters and never looked back. She loves writing and reading, which made this wonderful group of woman a perfect match for her.

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