Occasionally I make the mistake of complimenting authors on the covers of their books. I mean no harm. It’s usually done with a feeling of kindly envy. I love looking at book covers. However the author usually had nothing to do with the cover. He or she wrote the book, so the compliment is somewhat misplaced and could be seen as a slight to authors who see their own work judged by work they had nothing to do with.
Unfortunately in terms of time, the mind’s eye can take in cover art at a thousand to one ratio over its wordy content. And sadly the two (cover art and story) are not necessarily related – though they should be. In my next life, should I have the choice, I’ll be a visual artist. Meanwhile, I’ll try to hold my tongue unless I’ve read the book or I’m talking to the artist.
I like the idea that the book cover reflects the content of the book in mood and subject, but that is not the designer’s only concern. The designer, employed by the publisher, must also look to sales. What, in the sea of images will get potential readers’ attention and what will hook them into buying?
This is a challenge. If you think about the tables and shelves in the bookstores and all the competing art and type and color, what stands out? They are all screaming, “look at me, look at me!” You pick one, and look closer. Still interesting? Can the cover art get you to the inside cover (flap) copy? Beyond the cover design is the interior design. Does it invite you to read a couple of sentences? Does it make for a comfortable read? Typeface and leading (spacing) are important. Some readers and writers are unaware of all of this. But a book is an object of art — in its totality, which is why many of us consider books more than just a good read, but also sacred keepsakes.
As much as we like to deny it, a book is also a product. As a commercial enterprise, the design of a book has requirements similar to other products – a box of detergent, the label on a wine bottle (the bottle itself), or as Warhol knew, a can of soup. For best selling authors, their names are brands. Stephen King is Wheaties. And because of that, the cover design is secondary to the author’s name, which is likely to be the dominant graphic component.
Of the 18 books of mine that have been published, I have my favorite covers, as well as my favorite books. They are not necessarily the same. One of my favorite covers appeared on an Italian translation. A couple of times I was allowed to pick the cover art.
But I’ve pushed my own books enough lately. I’d like to show some of the many book covers that have made me kindly envious. A sampling of those covers are scattered about in this post.
For more, the blog “Rap Sheet” annually highlights the best in mystery covers in an on-line competition. I look forward to their 2015 posts. Also, Rap Sheet founder and editor J. Kingston Pierce hosts a separateblog featuring many older pulp covers as well – a comprehensive graphic history definitely worth checking out
Severn House will release Killing Frost in trade paperback November 1. I hope bookstores will take notice. Audible Books has just released Death in Pacific Heights on Audio. And finally, The Blue Dragon novella is now available as an E-book for 4.99. Not about me: Two great mystery conferences happen this fall. I’ve attended both in the past and highly recommend them.
October 30-November 1, 2015
The Columbia Club - Indianapolis, Indiana
This is a wonderful, intimate gathering of writers and readers. Attendees are able to interact with authors, publishers and agents in this low-key, high-quality event. Among the talented mystery writers in attendance are this year’s special guests, William Kent Krueger and Simon Brett.
October 8-11, 2015
Raleigh, North Carolina
This is big – the biggest crime fiction convention of the year. Thousands show up for hundreds of events and panel discussions in a spirit of celebration. Many of the most popular crime writers as well as the most exciting emerging talents are on hand.