Why Book Covers Matter
July 26, 2008 4 Comments
As a reader, I care about what books in my library look like. As an author, I care about what my books look like. Cover art has its own aesthetic. It should appeal. It should say something about what is between the covers, but without saying too much. And, if you’re a marketing director at a publishing firm, it should have what they call “pop”—it should get a prospective buyer (notice, I didn’t say reader) to turn the book over, to read the blurbs, to inspect the pages. With that sort of investment, there’s a better chance the book will sell (whether or not it’s read).
There’s more to the aesthetic of a book than its cover design. What does it feel like in the hand? How are the pages trimmed? Are they ragged, or clean? What about the paper itself? What is its quality? The font, the margins, the kerning. These all matter.
The cover is special. It’s the most noticed feature of the aesthetic of any book. And yet, for me at least, it isn’t always noticed. Countless times I have perused a book without noticing, much less examining, its cover. Not everyone is flawed in this way. I’m sure that what I don’t attend to directly still leaves an impression via its subliminal power. But when I do notice, this noticing is often the source of two different feelings, which may or may not concur. I’m either bewildered by the art or pleased by it, or both.
What I mean by bewildered is quite simple. I don’t get it. I can’t make heads or tails of it. I don’t understand it. And this is what is arresting about it. The design of the cover confuses me or strikes me as impertinent. I assume that the cover is designed. That is, there’s an explanation why this cover is attached to this book. But the explanation escapes me. This intrigues me, especially if the art is at the same time pleasing.
When I say I’m pleased by the cover art of a book, I mean that it gives me pleasure. This is more difficult to explain. And the pleasure induced by a particular cover may be diminished or it may be intensified by the effort to explain its special appeal. Explaining the appeal of a book cover must begin with a description of the experience induced. And this is remarkably variable.
At any rate, this experience of pleasure may be a selling point for me. I may wish to own a copy of the book as much for its cover design as for any other reason. I may feel this way even if I realize that the book holds this “limited” attraction for me. I may even buy the book. This could explain, at least in some cases, why I have purchased a book at a brick and mortar establishment, even if I could have saved a few dollars by ordering it online. It isn’t necessarily an indication of impatience. It may have to do with an attachment to this particular copy of the book I hold in my hands. It is this one that has provided the pleasure. I will zigzag through the columns of books, each shelved book beckoning hopelessly for my attention. I will stand in line, beholding the book with persistent wonder. I will step up to the cashier and hand over my credit card with satisfaction.
The physicality of this unified experience cannot be matched by a paypal order. I will leave the store “holding the bag,” feeling responsible for my purchase. I may pull the book out and place it on the passenger seat of my car, giving it occasional sidelong glances as I return home, and thus extending the experience of pleasure. The prolongation of the experience adds texture to the experience.
At home, I will leave the book out for awhile, so that the initial pleasure returns for brief instants as I tend to other business. I will wait to “process” the book, to assign its place in my collection. For now, its place is distinctive. It is not just one more book among many. It has a distinctive power over my attention.
To be sure, and thankfully, there won’t be many books like this. Man does not live, aesthetically or otherwise, by books alone. But the quality of life may be improved by the cover of a book.
A Book about Book Covers
Links about Book Covers
- Great Book Covers
- Samples from Smashing Magazine
- Judge a Book . . .
- Old-Timey Paperback Book Covers
- The Book Design Review
- The Pelican Project