Weekly Musing: Take a Look at This

Book covers are a big deal. It’s what we, the reader, see first and if it’s attractive enough, prompts us to pick up the book. In addition to the basics like the author and title, we spend a lot of our time looking at the cover art.  After all it’s supposed to tell us what kind of book is in our hands. Is it an adventure novel with a ship tossed about in a violent storm? Is it a bodice-ripper with half naked people in awkward positions? Is it a YA book with an emotional teen on the cover? So much information is conveyed just by looking at the book cover, if anything, more than the blurb does.  At least nowadays with everyone having the attention span of a gnat.

With this in mind, I began thinking what personally draws my eye to a book. To be honest, I can’t recall what the covers of my favorite books look like because well, books go through cover changes. When I examine the covers in my own library, I notice what I appreciate most are simple covers. For example, I love these covers for my editions of the Outlander series, Pillars of the Earth, and A Song of Ice and Fire because it’s just a solid color background with an item meant to represent something about the novel’s world. Understated perfect for such sweeping epics. No need to clutter up the front with noise.

And I don’t think this pared down approach to book cover design is strictly for epics, I’m noticing it a bit more on some sci-fi books. The Humans by Matt Haig has an oddly wonderful cover. A human nose against a white background. Intriguing, what in the world is this about? It’s only when you read the book does the cover make a lot of sense. Or Lock In by John Scalzi. Again, very simple design with what appear to be white and red plastic figures. Why are some of them red? Only by reading the book does that cover make a lot more sense.

That’s the brilliance of a well-designed book cover. Don’t crowd it with lots of images or colors. Focus on one thing for the reader’s mind to linger over long enough to grab them. Of course publishing is a business which means they have marketing departments who do their homework analyzing what sells, what doesn’t, what is trendy, etc. when designing a cover. Each genre has it tropes and there are even gender biases in place to supposedly help us readers. Yet when covers stray from the expectation, I think that energizes a reader and cast the net out to a wider audience.

This is something to keep in the back of my mind as I hope to move forward in my writing career. When I get to point where I have a book(s) published, I’d like to see the covers of my book have the simplicity I admire. I don’t want them to fit into the trendy tropes of the time, why should I? If a book is to be hugely successful, its cover should strive to appeal to the general public rather than a specific group.

Simplicity in cover book art also creates this notion of timelessness. How many books have we picked up at a book store or yard sale or at the library with covers from previous decades? Nine times out of ten they look cheesy and dated. Admittedly some have some wonderful artwork and style a niche group appreciates today. However, most look so bad you may stay away from it as a reader. Shallow as it may sound, we humans are a visual bunch and we do judge a book by its cover so let’s keep it simple.


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