Cover to cover Anatomy of the book


What is a book and what goes in making of a book? In this series of articles, GS Jolly will explain the attributes of a book and the insight into its production. This issue, he talks about the importance of book cover.

A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader sees and it can make a lasting impression. Our brains are wired to process images faster than words. When we see an image, it makes us feel something. A great cover can help the readers instantly recognize that this book is for them.

Different covers for the same title

Albums are sold across the world inside a universal sleeve, blockbuster films branded in a singular style. But novels, by a convention that nobody in the publishing industry seems fully able to explain, must be re-jacketed from territory to territory. The graphic designer of a book cover is trying to convey the essence of the book, and people in different parts of the world will perceive that message in diverse ways.

HM Ward is probably one of the most successful authors with over 13 million copies sold and 11 NY Times bestsellers in 2013. She wrote this post about changing her book cover– from arty to genre obvious – and says that: “covers are stop signs. They should quickly reveal as much info about your book to the reader as possible and this did not. As soon as I changed the covers to the current version, sales shot up. Don’t wait 9 months to change covers or descriptions on books that aren’t performing.”

Dust jacket

Dust jacket flap copy ranks right up there with a great cover design as a key marketing component for a book. Potential readers have to see and want to pick up the book first, but once they get to that point, it is usually the flap copy that convinces them to buy it. Cover or Jacket is an important part of the hard bound edition of a book. This is also called the dust cover as it protects the main book from dust and wearing off. Forget the critic’s proverb “don’t judge a book by cover.” In publishing, it is said that you can sell a book by cover alone. If the cover is attractive, the customer will show an eagerness to see the book.

Book cover in retrospect

Before the early nineteenth century, books were hand-bound, in the case of luxury medieval manuscripts using materials such as gold, silver and jewels. For hundreds of years, book bindings had functioned as a protective device for the expensively printed or hand-made pages, and as a decorative tribute to their cultural authority. Most books were published as bound sheets and were generally sold to customers in this form or in binding commissioned by the customer. Book owners used to fashion their own jackets out of various covering materials.

In Japan some books come with two jackets- a full size one, serving the same purpose of protecting the book binding and a thin cover called “belly band” which is generally disposed of.

Jackets as collectible items

Dust jackets from 1920s and later were often decorated in art deco style and are highly prized by collectors. The most famous example is the jacket on the first edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. Without jacket, the book brings $1,000 or so. With the jacket it can bring $20,000 or $30,000 or more, depending on condition. One copy in a near mint jacket was listed for sale in 2009 for half a million dollars. Examples of collector’s items are jackets of harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

What is a good cover?

It is important a book cover is clear in its message, easy to read and makes a connection to the story. How you do it is dependent on how seriously you take the importance of a book cover. It could be through unique font, awesome images or your brand logo. No matter how you do, it must be emotionally connect with your reader from the moment they see the cover until they read the last word of your book. And if you can maintain that emotional connection, you have created a great book cover.

Importance of a good book cover

Midwest Book Review which publishes 9 journals, selected 600 titles out of 2000 submitted. Why? Those titles that are immediately rejected – not for their subject matter; not for being written by a first time author; and not for their self-published, POD-published, or small press published status, but because they are poorly designed or defectively produced in terms of presenting sub-standard inadequate, or otherwise unattractive covers. They are rejected for having cover art that looked like the product of a high-school drawing class assignment for beginners. Cover art that looked cheap, felt cheap, and was cheap.

So, what makes a good book cover:

  1. Contrary to the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ it doesn’t really apply to actual books.
  2. Cover should be of high standard and eye catching.
  3. In the age of internet, you cannot browse the book, you can see the cover. If it is not interesting, the surfer will move on.
  4. A flat and boring cover will be skipped. Imagine a situation where there are two books on the same subject, one with unattractive and other with interesting cover design. Which one you choose to browse?

(Next issue, read about the parts of the book.)

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