Judging Book Covers

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, we’ve all heard it. I know when I read it, it comes out in a strange mocking sing-songy voice, since I used to say it that way when I was a kid. I don’t know why. I just did.

Anyway, we’ve all heard it but let’s be honest: every single one of us do just that. And it’s not a horrible crime that we should hang our heads in shame about; covers are there to pique our interest. To grab our attention. If it doesn’t, then it’s not doing its job.

In essence, covers are there to be judged. That doesn’t mean that if a book has a boring cover the writing is bad, but it does mean that cover designers put a lot of thought into what goes in a book cover and we can learn from them.

So. I thought it might be a fun exercise to look at what have been touted as the best book covers (according to the interwebz) and see what they have in common and how they reflect the book. I spent hours looking at book covers and choosing my personal favorites.

Here are two that caught my attention.

*All summaries and covers found on Goodreads*

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

“The football field is a battlefield.

There's an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on - and off - the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy - including the most innocent bystanders. 

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school's salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

Ok. So now let’s look at the cover. The sports theme is reflected in the lettering, which is very similar to the typeface you see for Varsity letters. The RAGE in LEVERAGE is in red while the rest are black—which suggests the violence and anger that the summary mentions. The overly-veiny arm hints at the steroid abuse, while it’s raised in a fist pump (GO TEAM) which goes with the sports theme.

The cover is simple, but effective, and reflects elements of the novel.

All in all a good cover. Let’s look at another one.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman 

"Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman's debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English-language newspaper as they struggle to keep it - and themselves - afloat.

Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff's personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor-in-chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by personal tragedy; Abbey, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way.

 Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family's quirky newspaper.

As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper's rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder's intentions.”

Now the cover!

I like to start with the typeface because that’s a really important decision that isn’t made lightly. In this case, the curvy, handwritten-like feel of the typeface fits with the less-than-perfect feel of not only the title, but the summary. The small stack of hand-bound newspapers is pretty obvious: the book is about a family newspaper trying to stay alive. The black backdrop is simple and draws attention to not only the title and the author’s name, but the focus of the cover (the newspapers) below it. It also suggests the “uncertain future” of the newspaper as you can’t see much its surroundings.

So I only did two in an effort to keep this short, but if it’s popular I might consider doing more in the future (yes? no?). That’ll be your call, my fair readers.

Regardless, I think these two are good examples of how every element should relate back to the book, and how even the simplest covers can draw attention.

What do you think? Would these covers catch your eye? Do you think they’re effective? What are some of your favorite book covers?


Jennie Bennett said...

The veins on the leverage book bug me, but I love the cover to the other one. Typeface is the elemental thing. Great post as always :)

Anonymous said...

The most important aspect about a cover, to me, is at it's relatively simple and easy to take in at a glance, while it is also striking and leaves an imprint on yout mind. I'm personally a fan of plain (blackor white) backgrounds with a picture/text that stands out against it. I also think that positioning of pictures (particularly in the case of portrYing pictures) is extremely important, because the character's depiction on the cover gives away a lot about their behavior. Both in pictures and in writing, character body language is crucial.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

So true! Both typeface as character body language is crucial and gives so much information about the book (when done correctly, anyway).

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

I actually ended up doing a post on my blog about my own blog because of this post. XP

James Garcia Jr said...

Hi, Ava. It bugs me that I judge books by their covers, but find that I can't do much about it. Neither of these covers bother me, so I might find myself reaching for both to see what they had to offer. I guess that's all that we can ask for, that our novels get a fighting chance to land in people's hands...


Bruno said...

It's interesting to notice that all classics or old books found in antics stores or old book stores have a plain, monochromatic, simple cover, just a big title and sometimes not even a review on the back.

So it makes me wonder: is it the cover what appeals to the reader, the title, the mystery of what's inside? I have read so many books where I have no idea of what's inside and the only thing I see is and interesting tittle.

The cover of a book is like the frame of a painting, you can like it of course, but if you chose a book by its cover or a painting for its beautiful frame, then you can't really read beyond

The best way, for me, to see if a book is appealing or not, it's to open it and read some pages at the book store. The words and writing are the important thing here not an image or letter type

Robin Red said...

Since we're on the topic of book covers, could you talk about gendered book covers? Check out this picture: http://janefriedman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/9-May-2013-book-covers-Thrones.jpg
I hope the link works, but I've been seeing a lot of these edits lately, and it's another reason why I want my gender/ethnicity to remain anonymous when I eventually get published until I'm so popular it becomes impossible (I can dream, can't I?)

Ava Jae said...

Hmmm. I'm honestly not sure what I think about gendered book covers. I'll add it to the list and take some time to consider it...

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