What’s in a book cover? (Part 2): The Whole Damn Thing!

Some years ago I came to the full understanding of the realities of book covers.  The book was called Patient Power! The Smart Patient’s Guide to Health Care.  I had written it with my favorite (and only) co-author, my husband Art.  I lent the health science communication and writing chops to the collaboration; he lent the medical perspective and the credibility I might add.  We were pleased with the manuscript and the editing process; we had agreed on a book title.  Then we were faced with the cover issue.

With previous experience of this publisher, I was armed with all the arguments I could generate about the importance of a compelling cover that would draw potential readers into it – that would compel them to pick it up off the shelf in a bookstore (that was before most of us browsed the title online – but I’m fairly convinced that covers matter in cyber-shopping as well – although I’ll have to do some research on this to support my contention).  That previous experience was a result of them publishing my book with a cover that resembled the flag of some unknown nation, and that reflected not even in the remotest way what the book was about.  They were planning something similar.  I could feel it. I shouldn’t have been surprised though; the publisher was the University of Toronto Press and their experience with books for the general public (which this was) was minimal.  They were used to dealing with academic tomes.

Art & I flew to Toronto to meet with the art director because we had somehow convinced the editor-in-chief that a more personalized book, perhaps with the two of us on it, might be more appealing to people interested in their health and decisions about it.  We were in for a pleasant surprise.

We took a taxi to a studio in an old brownstone in the heart of the city.  From the outside, it didn’t look like much, but on the inside the place was an amazing photo studio.  But what was more amazing was the art director himself.

New to the position, he’d been with the press for only a few months.  As we chatted, it was clear that we were on the same page, as they say.  I knew this when he shared his opinion about a cover he had recently created for another of UTPs’ books.

“I could have photo-copied the book and sent copies to all twelve of the people who were likely to read it,” he said with some irony.

His disdain for obscure academic publications was clear, and I feared for the longevity of his career with this esteemed press, but was heartened nonetheless. Perhaps we’d get more than a few colored lines across a cover with a mundane typeface this time around.  We did.

The cover was dynamite and the blow-up of it looks fantastic on the high wall of my office at home.  But I learned lessons about the importance of the visual impact of covers.  This brings me back from the late 1990’s into the 21stcentury where I’m faced with the cover situation again.

The cover we loved

Two years ago when my memoir was in the process of being published, my publisher sent me a mock-up of the cover she was suggesting, as publishers do.  I guess I’m a bit picky now when it comes to my covers, but in my view the cover suggested didn’t even reflect what the book was about (What is wrong with publishers?  Perhaps we’ll explore that question in a future post.).  A story of my journey as the mother of an elite ballet dancer who happened to be a boy, the book begged for a cover reflecting something of a life of a boy in dance.  What she sent me was a photo of a ballerina’s foot – on pointe!  Did the cover designer not even know that boys don’t wear pointe shoes?? Or did the cover designer even have the slightest idea what the book was about?

Oh well, I asked my son who also happens to be a talented photographer, if he might consider a photo.  He did and it was a terrific cover.

Now I have in front of me a mock-up of a cover provided by my current publisher – and I hate it.  So, to any of you out there reading this, I’m presenting to you two covers.  Please vote on the one you like best (I know that you really don’t know what the book is about – so pretend that you’re seeing it on a bookshelf.  Which one would you pick up first?

Cover choice B
Cover choice A
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11 Comments

  1. Choice A. The chunkiness of B turns me off. Too much dark color on edges. Choice A also looks like alot of books I read when at King’s.

  2. Ha! Ha! I have to disagree with Janice. I like B more than A because 1) the typeface of A is old-fashioned but only 80s old-fashioned, and 2) the sub title begs clarification. I like the Penguin-esque classics style of B.

    I really enjoyed this post, Patty. Canadian quantitative studies done by Rowland Lorimer and Nancy Duxbury show that readers really do choose books by their covers. My own research shows that after friends and family, and favourite authors, readers select the books based on the cover AND the cover copy.

    My own book cover was designed by a friend who is a graphic designer. She actually read the book, which I think makes the difference. I paid her, and I think it was worth every penny. You can find her work at dandygraphics.ca

    I’m looking forward to your new book!

    1. Thanks, Janice & DeNel! This is an interesting (micromini) study in personal preference and aesthetics! I’m wondering, DeNel, if the Lorimer and Duxbury study was in bricks & mortar bookstores, or in cyber-shopping, or both?

  3. Hmmmm…. from purely an emotional place, I would say choice B. Simply because I like the picture more, and I like that it’s burning; it evokes the smell of incense for me, although I have no idea why. It says to me “Gregorian Chants”. What I don’t like about it however, is the two red bars breaking up the photograph. Is it at all possible to take the presentation of choice A (author’s name and location of the title) and juxtapose it with the graphic of choice B? I would also think about washing out the colour of the graphic in choice B as well to make it look a little more worn and ancient… I hope this helps!

  4. If either Cover A or Cover B had to be selected, I would choose Cover A. However, if I saw either on the shelf and did not know the authour or what the book was about I would not be drawn to pick it up and explore it’s content.

    On Cover A I found it hard to make a connection between the image and the title.

    On Cover B the subtitle, In Hildegard’s Shadow, based on my limited knowledge of her, I think of a visionary, chantress, her place in the history of the mid-evil church and music. This cover is to “flowery”, a bit to “romancey”

    This is just my two-cents worth. Keep us posted on which way things go.

  5. It’s pretty old. 1900s, I believe, and so it was the bricks & mortar style. I’ve looked at the covers again, and while I agree with Ian, I originally mixed up my choices. I am going with choice A.

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