Life Between the Pages: Start at the Cover

A book cover is a reader’s first introduction to a book. Usually. It’s important as it’s supposed to grab a reader’s attention, but I often forget about it since I mostly read on my Kindle. But, when I’m browsing, the cover holds a lot of power.

The Image Says a Lot

Genres tend to have their own overarching style. It’s easy to tell if it’s fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, women’s fiction, etc. They all have a certain look. Beyond that, it also offers a glimpse into the book itself. There has to be congruency between the cover and the story, otherwise why bother?

I always think of the cover as showing a small slice of what’s inside. Not only does it tell me what genre it is, but it also tells me what I can expect. So, if there’s a cat on the cover, there had better be a cat in the book. But I like when it shows the most important elements, something that tells the reader this is what the book is about, these are things they should be reading about, and it’s what the book should be centered on. So, if there’s a cat on the cover, there had better be a cat in the book, and it should feature prominently. Otherwise I’m disappointed and feel misled. Don’t do that.

What I Like

I like cover art that’s descriptive. I love when it features a scene directly from the book and get so excited when I get to that scene and can gaze at the cover and know the context. I also love seeing some kind of action. It tells me the story moves, it’s going somewhere, something is going to happen. It’s going to be exciting. But I don’t like overly complex images. My favorite cover is still The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. It’s a simple scene of a bunch of people riding somewhere (the image wraps around to the back, where there is a whole line of people). Action. No complexity. And, boy, did I love discovering who was who.

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I also like covers that are more symbolic. These don’t have people, but key items that the story revolves around. I see a lot of fantasy books with a crown on the cover, so I expect it should be about royalty in some way or revolve around a struggle for a crown. I’m not actually sure because I haven’t read any of them. I’m not drawn to books about queens and kings right now. But I love the cover for The Eight by Katherine Neville. It’s a simple chess piece and, wow, does chess feature prominently!

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I really love covers that simply have some color. I don’t doubt that covers with only a few colors are just as exciting, and I’ve probably enjoyed a few of them, but all the colors really capture my imagination. I go into the story knowing there’s going to be a lot of vibrancy. A cover with only two or three colors feels bland to me.

Most of all, I love being able to look at a cover and remember what the book was about. To me, that says the best thing about the cover. If I look at a book and can’t for the life of me remember anything, I can’t help but think the cover is pretty, but completely useless to me. I want to be able to stare at it and relive reading the book.

What I Don’t Like

I don’t love covers that have a single character and nothing else, especially if the character is only standing there. I feel like they’re staring me down and it’s kind of unnerving. The fact that they’re also doing nothing is a little creepy. I stare at the cover and some immobile person is staring back at me, usually with an intense look in their eyes. I do own a number of books with a single character staring out, but they’re usually set in a scene or surrounded by other things like animals. I don’t mind covers where there’s a character doing something; I mind the ones where the character is simply there.

I also really hate covers that end up having very little in common with the story. Seriously, what’s the point? It’s misleading and I’m left feeling cheated whenever I look at the cover. Take the cover of Time Burrito by Aaron Frale for example. There’s a cat riding a burrito. Yes, there is a great deal of talk about burritos. But we don’t meet the cat until closer to the end and it has very little to do with the story. Needless to say, I really didn’t care for the book (though it was also a bad story).

Fonts

I don’t have too much to say about the actual title. As a writer myself, I really feel for authors, especially self-published ones. It’s hard coming up with a good title that also says something about the story. Take the story I’m currently posting here, Raven. Sure, my main character is called Raven and it’s mostly about her, but, honestly, I think that title sucks. But another one hasn’t jumped out at me yet, and I’ve been waiting years.

Instead, I’ll carp on about the font. I mean, the title and author’s name have to be in one font or another, so I think it’s kind of important.

First and foremost, it’s got to be readable. Have you ever picked up a book and gone to look at the title and found it was so loopy and squiggly and artistic and trying so hard to be elegant that you could not for the life of you read it? Is the story going to read the same way, too? Illegible, fancy fonts are pretty, but far from easy on the eyes. If I have a hard time making out the words, I’ll pass on the book.

What really bothers me is when the author’s name is bigger than the title. I have often mistaken the author’s name as the title of the book, and it was rather puzzling. I have no problem with established authors having their name taking up half the cover. After all, they’re established and people will pick up the book simply because they wrote it. But, little known or new authors? Nope. I’m sorry, but I’m only looking at the book because the story description or cover drew me in. I literally have no interest in who you are until I’ve read the book and come to my own conclusion of whether it was good or not. I’m not going to buy or read it because of who you are because I have no clue who you are. Nor do I care.

Lastly, cover art that’s obscured by the title and/or author is unappealing. Why bother having art if it can’t be seen or seen well? I prefer a nice balance where I can read the title, the author’s name, and see the cover art. That way I have a better idea of what the book is about.

 

The cover is an important part of any book. These are my preferences, even though I sometimes stray from them, especially if the title sounds particularly intriguing. There are a few things I can forgive, but, in general, this is what I like and dislike. What about you?

9 Comments

  • mothertherealist

    You’ve hit all my points, too. I remember, as a child, looking at the cover art and thinking, “Did they even READ the book??” Now I know the answer is, “no.” Disappointing to a child.

    And I’m confused by indie authors picking ugly-looking covers. Maybe they aren’t willing to pay, but I feel one ought to just go with solid color and a good font if one can’t fork over for a professional-looking one.

    • kat

      They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I’d argue most readers pick books based on the cover. Designing a great cover is as important as writing the novel, and it makes me so sad when authors don’t seem to care. I, too, remember madly flipping through a book just to figure out where the cover came from and the disappointment of not finding it is crushing.

      • mothertherealist

        🙂 I can picture your flipping. Yes; cover is very important. That’s another point I failed to make: I assume a book is not good if the cover looks cheap. I’m even often disappointed if the book was bad and it had a good cover. 😀

      • kat

        I hate to say I passed on a lot of books that people eventually raved about because the cover was bad, but it’s always worse when the cover is better than the book. I can’t help wondering what went wrong.

  • jennifermzeiger

    Ah covers! They’re so hard to get right. I’ve spent quite some time in a book store simply analyzing why one book attracts my attention and another does not. I definitely have things I’ll do differently on my next book. It’s great to hear what another person thinks. Thanks for sharing! =)

    • kat

      I’m sometimes embarrassed to admit I used to pick books based on the cover, but that just goes to show how important they are. At the same time, it’s so hard to get them right and nearly impossible to tell if it might interest a reader.

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