Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Judging a Book by Its Cover; or, Cover Conundrum

Ramblings by Jeanne

I’ve always been fascinated by book covers. So much planning goes into them: designing the images, the type-face, and the colors. The results can be quite mixed. There are books which accurately reflect content, yet others in which one has to wonder if the artist had any clue as to the contents of the book. Some seem to be rather generic covers, as if the artist has been told “this is a Southern murder book” and so produces a picture of a big ol’ plate of fried chicken or a big ol’ watermelon with a big ol’ dangerous looking knife, setting both on a homey looking checkered tablecloth. Never mind that neither knives nor fried chicken play a noticeable role in the book: it’s just a sort of visual shorthand to say “Hey! Reader! Southern mystery here!” A cozy mystery will have a cat and some other comforting accouterment: a quilt or a china tea cup or flowers and then something vaguely menacing, such as a bottle with a skull on it.

Romance books? I don’t need to describe those! Handsome man, handsome women, either in an embrace (it’s going to be passionate!) or studying each other warily (they hate each other on sight, so naturally they’ll fall in love.)

Other books have covers that reveal little about the contents but intrigue the viewer: what could this book be about?

In many cases, the authors do NOT have any input into what the cover looks like. I often wonder exactly how some choices are made. Obviously, someone believes that this cover will “sell” the book to a specific audience. Recently, I’ve noticed an interesting instance of this with Catalyst: A Tale of the Barque Cats by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. The story is set in the future, when cats are used to protect spaceships from vermin and serve as valued members of the crew.

This is the first cover for hardback edition of Catalyst.

However, apparently the publisher decided to go with a different designer, so the cover for the sequel, Catacombs, had a very different look as you can see.

The cover of the paperback version of the first book now resembles the second.

What do you think?  Which cover do you like best and why?  I'll explain my choice in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the first cover better. It reflects the content more accurately: the Barque cats are supposed to be long-haired, robust Maine Coon type cats. Secondly, I looked at that book and knew it was going to be science fiction or fantasy. The second paperback cover is more eye-catching, with arresting colors but all it says to me is that this is a book with a cat. It IS very pretty, but it doesn't make me want to pick up the book to read further.

    My opinion of the second cover is the same: striking but not enticing. However, I really think the publisher missed a bet there: if you've read my review, you know the book is about an Egyptian type world. I think a book cover reflecting that would have been much more of a draw, especially since this book is aimed at YAs. Some of you may be aware of Rick Riordan's wildly popular children's/YA series about Percy Jackson, which is infused with Greek mythology. That series finished, his next one features two young protagonists and Egyptian mythology. It would seem to me that an Egyptian cover would have drawn readers from the one series to another.

    That's my two cents, anyway!