Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Cover is a Promise

It’s no secret that beautiful covers drive purchases. Book lovers love to browse. They impulse buy. An eye-catching cover followed by a compelling blurb makes the sale. Heck, I’ve bought second and third copies of classic literature I own because the covers were so “pretty” or unique. And I cannot walk through a bookstore without purchasing something that’s grabbed my attention.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about book covers. For me, good covers combine art and text into an overall concept that evokes an intellectual/emotional response. Together, the cover elements create a theme while the individual components hint at important details. A good cover draws the reader in with the promise of a certain type of story and entices him/her to read the descriptive blurb.
What makes a good cover good?
A good cover sets an expectation. It indicates to the reader what kind of story he/she will encounter: simple, complex, vibrant, romantic, secretive, paranormal, edgy, contemporary, historical, fantasy, etc. It conveys what settings and concepts will be encountered.
A good cover sets a mood. Is it dark? Light? Playful? Angsty? Sweet? Mysterious? Bereft? Stark? Powerful? Scary? Spiritual?
A good cover is a riddle. A good cover makes the reader ask himself/herself questions: Who are these people and why are they so happy? What’s the secret he’s keeping? Why is she so sad? What’s so important about the object on the cover? What does the symbolism stand for?
A good cover entices the reader to action: It makes them want more information about the story. They have questions that need to be answered and hopes that the story will deliver on its promise. They have to turn the book over and read what it’s about.
A good cover is the reader’s first opportunity to bond with your story. Author endorsements, bestselling claims, and stylistic designs are intended to appeal to a certain type of reader. These elements build trust with the reader before they’ve even opened the book.
Here are some of my favorite covers:

Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones: Who is this hot guy existing in Technicolor above the world we know? Oooh, Holly Black likes it—it must be good! Other thoughts: fantasy elements, complex world building, urban, gritty and beautiful.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: (we’ll skip the movie tie-in version and go to the original cover). Whimsical with an air of mystery. Vibrant. To me the boots covey power and an element of being untouchable but the story centers around someone watching from the outside. I’m intrigued. Love the curve of the word “ELEPHANTS.” It feels more majestic than the rest of the text, like a beast with a mind of its own. The NY Times bestseller claim reassures me the story will be worth reading.

Lisa McMann’s Wake: Dark. Cold. Distorted. Disturbed. Nightmares. Stark.The reflection of the text makes me think the bad dreams bleed over into waking. I want to know who’s having the nightmares and why.

Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely: the beauty of the flowers contrasted by the distorted beauty of the holder. Darkness lurks around the edges. The font is lovely (for me, this sets expectations for beautiful prose—and Melissa delivers).

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Militaristic. Austere. Symbols hint at sci-fi/futuristic. The bird is important—why? The unique block font makes me think rigid, asymmetric, unfamiliar—maybe dystopian.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles: Dark love story. Edgy. Definitely contemporary. Title font makes me think blurring social lines—shaking things up a bit.
Conclusion: If I am self-publishing, I need a top-notch cover design that conveys my book’s theme and makes promises my story will deliver.
Mood: Excited about tomorrow’s big cover reveal—and kind of sickish about it, too!
Your Turn: What are some of your favorite covers and why?


Erin said...

So true about covers! You've already listed two of my favorite covers: City of Bones and Wicked Lovely. The rest of the covers in both series are also intriguing.

Other covers that peaked my attention: "Witch and Wizard" by James Patterson. That flaming W just begs the reader to find out what's going on (and they aren't disappointed).

"Evermore" by Alyson Noel. The cover has a girl smelling 2 red tulips. The colors are distorted and in shades of purple. The tulips stand out prominently. The girl's eyes are closed. It makes me wonder what happened to her, why the tulips are important and who the girl is to begin with.

Those are just two. I have 2 book cases full of books I love, a lot of them bought for the cover alone.

Carey_Corp said...

@ Erin Those are great examples and I agree! I am a total sucker for a beautiful cover.

Lorie Langdon said...

Totally agree with you - a great cover will suck me in every time! City of Bones and Clockwork Angel are two of my favorites as well. One that I also love is Maria V. Snyder's POISON STUDY. Something about the girl in the red cloak easing up the stone staircase speaks of mystery and compels you to follow her into her adventures…it’s also a great read, by the way.
Great post, Carey. :)

LizbethSelvig said...

Wonderful cover, Carey. To analyze yours: I think totally young and contemporary with the Bieber-esque hair. But the light shining from above into the darkness tells me something very big is going to happen around this young man. And his self-assured look promises me he'll take care of everything. :-) Love it.

Carey_Corp said...

@ LizbethSelvig Thanks. I like your analysis. I love the light, penetrating the darkness aspect too.

Anonymous said...

Great blog on book covers, Carey! I really liked the covers you chose to analyze and your interpretations of them are just as beautiful as the covers.