Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Book and Its Cover

Pic courtesy Morris Bookshop
One of the hardest thing for an author to do is think like a designer. In essence, creating verbally and visually are two very different tasks. They both require hard work, but it comes from different sides of the brain, perhaps... and certainly different parts of the soul. And different parts of a person's training and experience.

When an author writes a book, the mind's eye comes into the equation, and there are scenes and faces, artifacts and props that seem obvious. But will they be imagined in exactly the same way by a reader? Rarely. Ask six readers to describe a written scene, and you will have six different versions: "Oh - I saw the woman as slim and mean-looking!"
"Oh, no - she struck me as tall, over-powering, but essentially warm."

Even places and things can be 'felt' differently by readers: "The notebook was big, I think - one of those hard cover jobs in sleek black or blue."
"No - I kept imagining this dented, much-used spiral notebook!"
Or: "That place gave me the creeps: it echoed and smelled musty."
"Really? The inside of the church was the epitome of grandeur, and the smell of incence made me feel the gravity of the moment."

If readers of the same thing can feel so differently, the same can be said for the person who wrote the book, and the person assigned the task of designing the cover. Some startling surprises can happen. Seeing how a designer interprets a book, a blurb, or a description can be a lesson in visual significance. The writer wonders: is that how my book can be seen? Felt? Considered? Liked? ... Bought?

No matter how artistic the author, they are not an expert on what catches a book-buyer's eye. Designers know all about warmth, depth, sentiment, attraction... items that intrigue, and the ineffable qualities that make a person pick up one book rather than another, from the very same shelf.

A reader can only read the blurb and description, or critics' praise printed on the back... or the first few pages of the story, if they actually pick up the book or click on the cover. They absolutely need to be attracted by the cover first. Rather than a judgement (which it cannot be yet, at such an early stage) it is a choice. And it is an emotional choice, a visceral choice. No one knows more about visual art and emotion, choices and selections and how a picture can trigger an action, than book designers.

So authors put themselves in the hands of someone whose art comes from a totally different place, someone who might very well ensure their words are read. Someone who cleverly attracts a reader to an image that represents something undefinable in words. A few seconds that make a world of difference.
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  1. You know, Rosanne, you make me want to go back to writing fiction. i'm so carried away with the travel writing and the concept of the glamour grannies that I have put the book ideas on the back burner. Of course, the cover gets you readers and when you finally see it, it sends a tingle down your spine. Very inspiring post.

  2. Thank you Inka - I'm tingling right now. But I still love to visit your travel blog!

  3. Well said. Well said. Oddly, will driving yesterday I listened to an hour long talk on good vs. bad covers. Bottom line, good covers make you pick up the book. Period. Mistakes don't matter, unless they are gross-marketing mistakes. Because once someone picks up the book, if it represents the right genre, the cover has then done its job. If the hair color is wrong or the heroine is too young, the reader will not be upset. I guess the cover needs to be true to story: contemporary vs. historical, thriller vs. romance... but if the feel matches the feel of the book, that is all the reader cares about. Well said.

  4. Quite right, Matt! It's about 'feel'. I have enjoyed a lot of books I picked up on the strength of the cover giving me a feeling of curiosity, intrigue, belonging, recognition... but it was a mere instant. Then I read the blurb.

  5. I'll be the first to say it- "You can't judge a book by it's cover!"

    Yes, it's the cover that catches the eye. Once you've gotten past it though it the first two pages that hook you. If the cover gets someone to those first two pages, it's effective.

  6. "You can't judge a book by it's cover!", perhaps, but that is what is happening all the time. The cover is important because the decision to pick up the book and read the back cover is made in an instant, by a quick look at the front cover. It should carry the message "I wonder what this is about".

  7. Yes, Paul. Indeed, Hugo. It should also be rather clear and not busy, since it needs to look good as a thumbnail on a book retailing site. So consideration to whether it still looks good when tiny is very important.