Book Cover Design

All “best” lists are opinions and open to argument. I saw this Best Book Covers of 2020 list and it reminded me of a design assignment I used to use with my students.

My eye went to the one book on the list I actually own and have read which is Jane Hirshfield’s poetry collection, Ledger.

My first journal when I was 12 years old was done in a ledger that my father has lightly used and I found on a shelf. It had odd lines and was clearly meant to put some order to the contents – though not meant to order a seventh-grader’s thoughts on life.

I like the book-on-book design. I like that the ledger’s lines look like a chart and almost like a topographic map (which I also love and have collected). Does the cover tell us anything about the poems inside? It makes sense after you read them but not really before you open the book.

Looking at that site, you see a wide variety of styles. In my assignment, I asked students to consider all the elements of design we had studied (line, color, composition, typeface etc.) but I did ask that the cover tells us something visually about the book’s plot, characters, or theme. Of course, outside the classroom, a key element is to catch your eye and the content of the pages within often seem irrelevant. Did the designer even read the book? Not a requirement.

The list comes from a survey of 29 professional book cover designers. The three best that this group chose for 2020 are Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station; cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer, Joyce Carol Oates’ Night, Sleep, Death, the Stars; cover design by Jamie Keenan and Lidia Yuknavitch’s, Verge; with a cover design by Rachel Willey.

Those three didn’t particularly grab me and they probably weren’t following all of my assignment parameters. I did like the True Love cover below because it is simple and also uncomfortable. I like all the “white” space which allows for clean areas for the text.

I looked up this book to see what it is about and according to the Amazon blurb it “captures the confused state of modern romance and the egos that inflate it in a dark comedy about a woman’s search for acceptance, identity, and financial security in the rise of Trump.”  The cover seems to appropriately warn that this love ain’t so true.

 

I like this cover for A Children’s Bible for some of its rule-breaking – the way the deer blocks some text,; that the birds – though blocked by text – seem to also be sitting on the words; the uneven right edge; the menace of the fire and burnt edge that the animals are looking at or heading into.

It’s a busy cover and not improved when the publisher puts on an award sticker which usually seems to be placed rather randomly. Yes, I know that it’s all about the marketing but it’s another reason why I like white space in a design.

I also like the

cover

Mary South, You Will Never Be Forgotten; cover design by Jamie Keenan (Picador, August)

 

coverThe cover image benefits from being viewed at a distance, as this smaller image shows the face clearer.

I also looked this book up on Amazon and was surprised to find a completely different cover. That often happens with books published outside the U.S. But the author, Mary South, is American and the image used on her own website is this one with three emoticons.

The book is a collection of stories so it may not have one tone or theme. Do the three emoticons fit that content better than the overly enlarged pixels of the woman’s face cover?

alt cover

Author Websites and Self-Promotion

Dickens poster

Charles Dickens was a big self-promoter and if he were writing today would definitely have a website and be on social media!

 

I have built websites for several authors and their needs are generally similar. (A few samples are here.) If someone just typed your name in the search bar, what would we find? Chances are they are looking to find out About You (biography), your Publications, any Events you might be involved in (readings, workshops) some samples of your writing, and a way to Contact you. And those topics make up a reasonable starting place for a website menu.

For a business, if you don’t have a website you don’t exist, and for a published (or hoping to be published) author that is also true. In 2020, a website is a mark of validity. (That is unfortunately also true for conspiracies, scams, and questionable groups.) Every writer should have a website as a way to market and promote yourself and your writing and build your audience.

I have worked on designing sites for a number of writers who were actually told by their publisher that having a site was a requirement for being published. The bigger publishers often will host a page for your book with a few of those elements but a lot of the marketing of writers (especially novices) falls on the author. Self-promotion is important.

That self-promotion online has a lot to do with having a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. It can also be having a blog as part of your website so that fresh material is out there about you. If the only update to an author site is when they have a new book (which might be a year or years apart), people are not going to return to your pages.

Every writer I have worked with or just talked with about websites has wanted to know how to get their site to be the top result when someone searches for their name. That’s a whole other topic but in general, your “page rank” from Google and other search engines largely results from how many other sites link to you and how important those sending sites rank themselves. A link to your website from The New York Times is going to move you up a lot more than a link from your friend’s blog – though both are important to have.

Here’s a quick set of tips to help writers increase their search results, and I’ll write more about search engine optimization (SEO) in other posts – including the scams involved in paying to get higher results.