Judging books by their covers…

Do you judge books by their covers? We’re admonished not to, but I have to admit that’s the first thing that attracts my attention when I’m browsing for a new book to buy.

Certain covers instantly catch my attention in either a negative or positive way and I’ll either reach for it, or turn to something else. My hubby says this is true for him, too. Taste is dictated by personal ideals and I know what appeals to me doesn’t necessarily appeal to someone else, but I don’t really understand why. That’s probably the reason I could never make a career out of designing book covers.

Oh, but wait! I DID design one! Now if I could only figure out why I chose certain of its elements perhaps I might better understand why some covers appeal to me and others don’t.

Johnny_Front_CoverThe book, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICK, was the dream of my aunt, Norma McGuire who had collected the fanciful stories told by her late husband to their three boys, and decided it would be nice to make them available for others to read. I assisted with the editing and a year-long process of querying various Canadian agents and publishers, but then decided the uncertainty of obtaining traditional publication wasn’t worth the indefinite wait. With a son-in-law in the printing business, there was another option — self-publishing.

In this case, it became not-self-self-publishing because it was done by the family as a surprise Christmas gift — and what a surprise it was! — so I couldn’t consult with Norma about any of the decisions she normally would have made herself.

Formatting the interior pages was a straightforward task, but the cover…? All the book’s illustrations were paintings or sketches done by my aunt and there were any number of the story’s whimsical characters who could have been featured… but which to choose?  Copies of the book wouldn’t be on real shelves in bookstores for children to select, but would be available for ordering online or directly from Norma, so it seemed wise to also make the cover appealing to the adults who would buy the book for their children and grandchildren.

Since the stories were about a young boy and an old fisherman and mostly took place on a fishing boat, the fishing theme was a good place to start… except Norma hadn’t created any fishing illustrations that would fit the vertical cover format. That’s when I asked for assistance from my daughter, photographer and fellow writer Shari Green, who lives in an oceanside town. With camera in hand she visited a local marina and shot several photos, one of which instantly caught my attention and became the chosen background.

Photography by Shari Green

There was an island in the background, and an island also plays a prominent part in the stories. There were colourful elements that could be repeated to make the text child-friendly. Voila! A cover was born. Do I know why it appealled? No, but I trusted my eye and instinct.

Another fellow writer and graphic artist makes a business out of creating covers. One of her e-book covers just won first place in a cover design contest. Maybe I should ask Rachel Elizabeth Cole of Littera Designs for her opinion on what makes a good one.  I think that may be a subject for another post. 🙂

What elements of a book’s cover appeal most to you?

~  ~  ~


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

7 thoughts on “Judging books by their covers…

  1. Well now, there’s a familiar book cover! 😉

    I don’t really know why I like the covers I do, either, but unlike you, I don’t have an eye for creating such things. (I always call YOU when I need an “artistic eye”!) Mostly, I’ll stick to words, with the occasional bit of photography…

  2. I can tell you why the photo was perfect. It was, you know.

    First, it divided easily into thirds: upper, middle and lower.
    Second, the middle of the photo held the pertinent graphic elements: the fishing boat, the island and the water.
    Third, the dark clouds in the upper portion of the sky are a perfect background for title.
    Fourth, the open water in the foreground makes a perfect backdrop for the author attributions.
    Voila! You have a pertinent, appealing, uncluttered cover. Brava! You have good instincts.

  3. That is a great cover for the book! I am lucky because my publisher always does a terrific job of designing the covers of my books. Many authors are disappointed in the covers designed by their publishers. I do believe the cover can make a difference in whether people chose to read a book or not.

  4. I know what I DON’T like on a cover: huge capital letters of the author’s name, often in garish yellow with a black background or something like that. I love Shari’s in your post. That would make me pick it up in a store and see what the story is all about.

  5. Like Helga, I know what turns me off. I also know what covers attract me, but I can’t say why they do. There’s a future post coming… an interview with cover designer Rachel Cole that I’m hoping will bring enlightenment. 🙂

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