What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part One

Dating an artist has its ups and downs. Sometimes she’ll drag you to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit, which is great. Other times she’ll make you watch the Next Great Artist reality programme. But I actually got sucked into that big time because they asked the artists to design a book cover.

And I was left very confused.

I’ll say it plain: I don’t like John Parot’s cover for The Time Machine. I can’t see that it’s got anything to do with the book. It’s a colour pattern. Yet it won where others, more relevant and less colourful efforts were left by the wayside. The reasoning seemed to be that you could see the cover across the book shop.

Is that the only criteria for a good book cover these days?

Consider this sampling of covers.

The cover for Children of Dune shows beautiful desert with a green tint, a free young woman and a darker, brooding man.The cover for Assassin's Quest is rich, green, fantastical, ornate and intimate.The cover for Dying Inside is dark, morbid but with a hint of light and hope.

These are some of my favourite covers. None of them leap screaming off the shelf in a multi-coloured assault on the eyeball. Are they bad covers? I don’t think so. I think they’re arresting images, beautiful even, that tie into the book and give you an idea of what you’ll find on the pages.

My initial reaction to Parot’s cover is that it’s a Shiny Thing tactic: it’s only meant to draw the attention. But should a book cover be more than that? Is it part and parcel of the whole reading experience? Or is just pretty packaging?

Personally I think it’s the former. But perhaps I’m just a rank amateur. What do you think? What makes a book cover a good book cover?

3 thoughts on “What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part One

  1. Vanna Smythe

    Frankly, I prefer the three examples you gave as better covers to the winning Wells example. The latter screams new age self help book to me, which (if I’m not mistaken) is not what “The Time Machine” is all about.

    Though I’m afraid that nowadays covers are primarily what sells book, and the red and pink blob against a white background is clearly visible across a crowded room ;)

    1. James

      Hi Vanna, thanks for your comment; it’s good to know I’m not alone in thinking that cover is completely inappropriate. I think you’re right though. Covers do need to stand out and look interesting enough to encourage the refer to pick it up. But can’t a good piece of art do that?

  2. Pingback: What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part Two | James T Kelly

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