Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Judging by a cover? Experiments in the Bookstore

While browsing the YA section of the bookstore, as I often do for novel research purposes, I always take note of several things when observing the books on the self: placement, title, trends, and covers. Since this is the market I hope to publish in, scrutinizing the books has become an odd little hobby of mine. Personally, I DO judge books by their covers and its like a majority of the rest of us do as well, if we will admit it or not. While its not the sole determining factor if I will pick up a book or not, it’s probably a good 45% of the decision for me.

Simple fact, people enjoy aesthetically pleasing things. I am a very visual person myself and bright colors and interesting images catch my eye, and the same holds true for book covers. When I went to Borders last weekend, I walked with my eyes on the floor until I reached the YA section. Then, I looked up quickly and observed which books caught my eye right away:

The Witch and Wizard series by James Patterson
Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Matched Ally Condie
Torment by Lauren Kate
And unfortunately…
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

With the exception of “Wither” the books that I noticed first feature a single, center image on a solid dark or light background. The title is easily visible with the author’s name below it, in a smaller case. These books were located in various areas on the shelf (in the middle, on the ends, closer to the floor etc.) but they stood out to me because of the clarity of the design and the simplicity of the title (which will probably be discussed in another post).

Here is the Amazon link to it to see what I'm talking about: http://www.amazon.com/Wither-Chemical-Garden-Trilogy-DeStefano/dp/1442409053

I found that covers with groups of people or a face just sort of blended together in my mind and made no lasting impression. The same goes for fantasy novels with a bunch of characters in front of a dramatic background…does nothing for me at all except to make me think of 80’s video games. -shrug-

Anyway, upon closer inspection, it became obvious that graphic design is a heavy influence on book covers. Personally, I’m not fond of all the lines and geometric shapes that house the name of the title and author in random places on the cover. It looks too cluttered. Some good examples of this appear on the link below:


And Then There’s This by Bill Wasik for example, is an interesting cover, but I don’t care for all the shapes.

Once Before Time by Martin Bojowald is almost too bright and distracting. I have to really concentrate to read the title and if I’m browsing quickly that’s not something I want to take the time to do.

“Wither” is my exception to all of these things I don’t like. It features a photograph of a girl in an intricate dress on the left hand side. In front of her, and off to the right, is a bird cage with a bird inside of it. The cage rests on a stack of books. There is also a strong element of graphic design involved in the fact that a series of interconnected circles and squares highlight different, key elements in the picture- the girl’s face, her hand, the “W” in the title, and the bird in the cage.

I was puzzled as to why I was interested in this cover, as it features everything I’m not fond of, but then I remembered something that my boss told me at the newspaper, where I work: When designing a page for the paper, it is important to balance the text and pictures in a manner so that your eyes do a dance; meaning your attention is shifted back and forth as you scan the entirety of the page. “Wither” manages this quite excellently.

What types of book covers do you notice first in the book store?
Why draws you to them?
If your book was published, what would you like to see on the cover?


  1. I'm not sure what book covers I notice first. I do, however, know that I often find myself reading the back cover of books with dragons, swords and/or magicy looking things on the front cover.
    I really enjoy the covers of the Inkheart Trilogy (Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke. Those covers just look cool.
    As for your last question, I don't know what I want to see just what I don't want to see. I don't want to see pictures of real people, including me. I absolutely hate it when author's have their face on the back cover. When the picture is really little, just like a thumbnail, it's not too bad. However I prefer it when the little picture is on the back inside cover, along with a short bio of the author. [insert smiley face here.]

  2. Geek: There's a time and a place for the author to be visible. For example, someone like Stephen King, who's books sell on name, putting his name in multiple places on the cover (Including a micro-bio on the back.) just makes sense. In other cases, it just looks like ego.

    So I agree with you, within reason.

  3. I agree in the fact that I really don't like to see a huge picture of the author taking up the back cover. If you are to the point in your career that people would care about viewing pictures of you, chances are you have a nice website to put pictures on. Why on the back cover?

    However, I do love the small thumbnail image on the back inside flap. Putting a face to a name after reading their words is lovely.

    Also, Inkheart is super neat. The cover really drew me in as well.