Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Monday, August 6, 2012


Several months back I used Lulu.com to pull together some reader copies of The Jesuit Letter that I could distribute to people and get feedback on the book.

Aside from discovering that no matter how much editing I do, I still manage to find additional typos right after having 10 copies printed....I found myself noticing and attending more carefully to the role of book covers.  The cover I pulled together for The Jesuit Letter was literally just that - pulled together from a couple of off-hand images I had and dropped onto the Lulu template...but this was a for a set of personal reader copies, not for sale or appeal to a wider audience, so I spent very little time considering what to incorporate.  Not being a designer and using a very limited Lulu template, the cover is alright for the use for which it was intended.

But it certainly doesn't do the job it should.

The saying "you can't judge a book by its cover" might be nominally true but I suspect much of the time you can and do judge a book by its cover.  A powerful, interesting or evocative cover can catch the eye and set the tone for the book.  It is, I suspect, an essential component in determining if someone browsing in a bookstore, library, or online, decides that this particular volume merits a closer look.

Certain book covers tend to stick in the mind and help build a compelling and intriguing picture of the book and the story for the reader.  So what works in a good cover? 

It is fundamentally subjective to the reader but there are a number of key elements that are oft cited on design sites.  The basic rules of cover design seem to boil down to the following:

Clarity - A cover should reflect the identifying points of the genre - for example, a reader should be able to easily distinguish between a western vs. a romance or a horror novel (although there may be overlap if the story has elements from multiple genres or crosses genres).  Recognizable identifying points provide context for the reader and help them distinguish the type of books that they are looking for.  They will recognize and cue on the key cover elements.  Romance novels would be nowhere without the pair of entangled lovers to instantly cue in the reader to the torrid promise of the story inside.

Visual integrity - The colours, font, images layout and style need to be an integrated design.  A lack of visual integrity results in a design that may be discordant or incoherent, lacking the strength of message and recognition that you want the book cover to convey to readers.

Expression & Information - A cover needs to express what the book is about or unique and important elements of the story.  This may be the setting, the characters, plot, motvivaton or critical event (i.e. a murder, a prizefight, a fishing trip etc).

Differentiation and Emotion - The cover needs to strike a balance between the recognizable cover elements that readers are familiar with, and provide an emotional appealling point of differentiation - something that makes that particular cover stand-out from the twenty others surrounding it on the bookshelf.

Ideally all of the above elements are integrated into your design to ceate a compelling and interesting whole that readers will find impossible to resist.

So what covers work?  As noted, everyone's tastes are very subjective.  Here's  short sampling of several that stuck in my memory:

Looking for more insight or info on what type of covers work?  Five minutes on Google uncovered a vertiable cornicopia of book cover information.  For starters, visit The Book Cover Archive for a terrific compilation of exceptional book design covers.

For a self-publishing writer, the best approach would be to examine and analyze covers from your genre, ideally bestsellers or similar books that generated buzz, and see what elements of their covers worked for you.  Breakdown what elements worked for you and why, and try to see how the cover designs attracted your interest or attention (i.e. colour, typeface etc.).  Once you have an idea of what approaches seem to generate the more positive response, you can start to think about what your cover needs to reflect.

Then tell your designer.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog and a great resource (The Book Cover Archive). I am an industrial designer by profession and book designer by necessity. To me, it's more than just the cover, but the interior, too--the whole reader experience. For example, the typographic play on the cover of The Rosen Singularity (www.amazon.com/dp/0984377247/) is continued on the folio inside, communicating the notion of singularity/discontinuity.

    --Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)