I was single and living in a Manhattan brownstone when I bought a paperback book because of its intriguing cover. I was not familiar with the author (who, at that time, had just one successful novel under his belt) and the title of his second novel didn’t grab me. But the 1976 Signet paperback with an embossed girl’s face, totally black except for one drop of bright red blood at the corner of the girl’s mouth, was unlike any I had ever seen. So I bought Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and read one of the scariest books ever.
How scared was I? During the day, I would immerse myself in the book. Every night, I would place the book outside my apartment and lock the door. The story was perfect gothic horror and the cover conveyed the spirit of the haunting tale.
After Salem’s Lot, I became more aware of book jacket designs. Some designs are iconic. They include the original covers for In Cold Blood ; The Godfather ; Catch-22 ; Brave New World ; Clockwork Orange ; The Great Gatsby ; The Grapes of Wrath and Psycho. Great covers don’t belong solely in the adult fiction realm; iconic covers for nonfiction include The Mind’s Eye ; We Must Love One Another or Die ; What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Visual Shock. Iconic covers for youth literature include The Cat in the Hat ; Goodnight Moon and Stuart Little.
EBooks also rely on eye-catching covers but that’s a topic for another Blog entry. About eBooks, I’ll simply quote famed book designer Chip Kidd: “Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.”
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is good analogous advice about how we view people. Of course, it also applies to books. However, especially in today’s marketplace where we are bombarded with choices, we often select a book by its cover. That makes the cover a critical component of a book’s ability to sell. Unless we are looking for a specific author or title, the book cover reaches our senses before anything else. It’s like any other kind of non-specific shopping: we have some idea of what we need or want, we go to the marketplace and, even before we start reading labels (or book jacket blurbs), we reach for the item that intrigues or pleases our visual sense.
Authors would be wise to pay as much attention to the design of their book cover as they are to their manuscript. And readers should take an extra moment to appreciate the creative cover art of the book they are reading.