Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Covers are a Big Deal

I may not be anywhere near having to consider a book cover design yet, but I have begun to notice them more and more. When I browse book shelves I look at the cover for a while before reading the back of the book, the book jacket, or the blurbs. I want to see what the image evokes in me. Humans are such a visual species, so I have started taking time to allow myself to feel something for the book as a whole, not just the words. Slowing down has also helped me notice the book layout. Some books have extra elements meant to create a whole experience. For example, some books, particularly books involving magical worlds, include maps to help readers orient themselves. Books with lots of characters will sometimes include a family tree or list of characters and their relationships to one another so readers can keep them all straight. These tools add an extra layer to the book, and involve not just the writer, but a designer as well.

Designers play a significant role in creating another level of interaction that happens as the reader is transported into the author's words. This is different than an illustrator. They too have a critical role in books, but that's a whole other topic. What I have been noticing is how most books have more than just the words to entice readers to get inside. Sometimes books have chapter headings that are especially designed to clue the reader into what's coming up in that chapter. Aside from a chapter title, they might have a small illustration, varied font, or a quote.

Those may or may not have been the idea of the writer. As I've said in other posts, there are many people involved in publishing a book. The designers have to get to know the book so they can form the visual layout. That includes anything that supplements the words. Perhaps there is a letter in the story. Rather than come out and state what's written in the letter, the letter could be drawn out so the reader feels like they are experiencing the letter along with the characters. There could be lists, notes, underlying themes, etc. that can be shown visually, making the book that much more engaging.
But before the reader even gets to those chapter headings or realizes they are reading an epistolary novel, they interact with the cover. I'm the first to admit that for most of my life, I never spent much time looking at book covers. I often knew what I wanted to read and looked for titles and authors and jumped right to the content. I'm trying not to do that anymore because I've learned how much work goes into the cover. Aside from trying to sell the book, the cover also serves as the first connection between the reader and the story. Just by looking at the cover the readers can form opinions about the book, the characters or the author before reading the first line. I think this is especially true in children's books.

Most younger kids I  know choose a book by the cover nearly 100% of the time. In seconds they take one look at the cover, evaluate their feelings about what they think the book is about, and either keep looking or pull it out. Even adults tend to do that with childrens' books. How many of us haven't looked at the cover of a picture book and without knowing what it's about, chose it for our child because it looked like something she would like? I know I've done it. One thing I've noticed is that I'm drawn to books with characters on the cover. In particular, books with children of color, or showing some cultural element have caught my eye lately. As I've posted before, there is a push to get more diverse books in the hands of kids of all ages. Perhaps that is what has made me conscious of children of color on book covers.

I also find it fascinating to see how book covers change over time, especially books I love. Here is an example that makes me smile:

          Original Cover                                  Revised Cover
Hopefully one day, I'll be working with designers to create an integrated experience for my readers that goes beyond the printed word. If I'm lucky, I may even get a say in my books' cover designs.

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