Judging Books By Its Cover

During our production module in second semester, the class were given the task of analysing book covers from a variety of genres. Each week, we are to tackle one book cover, each one being different from the last. So, for example, one week I might be analysing a picture book; the next, a cookery book. This is good practice for when it comes to designing our own book cover for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’, particularly when thinking about why we chose our designs.

Picture Book Cover Analysis

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‘Superworm’ is illustrated by Axel Scheffler whose work here is littered with strong, bright, colourful images which will appeal to a child, so too parents looking to inspire their children with colour and getting used to animals. It gives nature an exciting twist as the imagination is allowed to bloom and so the visual representation to do this here is very strong. The worm and other animals look friendly too and this will help to engage a child’s connection with the characters.
Due to the front cover being packed with detail, the title for the book is appropriately short so that the picturesque nature of the book cover is not ruined or the text get in the way of the pictures. To this end, it is clever to have the title in the space for the sky, even more so to use the title as an extension to the picture as seen with the spider hanging off from the title. This is a great use of the space and the effect works well overall. The font is bold and easy to read which is good as this makes it easier for young children to associate themselves with the alphabet.
Potentially, there are too many characters introduced in the cover. Although the child will be able to distinguish which character is ‘Superworm’ the other characters may divert attention away from the worm, who is the main character. It may lead to confusion as to why only the worm is ‘super’. Introducing the other characters could be argued to be better placed in the story only, and not on the cover. However, the inclusion of all the characters together displays a kind of friendship – something the book may be striving to convey as its moral. Personally though, I think the Superworm stands out well. If it had been a worm lying flat on the ground it wouldn’t have given the same effect. As it is, the worm looks super, whereby even the other animals are looking up to the Superworm. In all, I think it is a very well laid out picture book. However, I would question the colour choice for the back cover as it does not seem to fit with the colour scheme. I would probably suggest a normal matte finish considering the price of printing and the selling price being limited with it being a picture book. Extra, unnecessary costs would be unjustified.

Young Fiction Cover Spread

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David Walliams’ book ‘Gangsta Granny’ is well suited to young fiction below the teenage category. The very idea of a granny being a ‘gangsta’ makes this a humourous and engaging read for this age group. Fittingly, the front cover depicts a gran on the prowl looking for jewels to steal and this allows the young reader to pick up the book and know exactly what to expect in the book. For this reading age, such a cover is needed since anything less will result in the visual appeal of the book being lost and therefore put back on the shelf. The added imagery of jewels covering the spread of the book is a clever technique too as it brings alive what would otherwise be an ordinary spread. On this front, Tony Ross has done well to maximise the capturing of imagination through his illustrations. The simplicity of it is also very effective; the granny and grandson with some jewellery is arguably all this cover spread needs and that is what it got. There is a risk of overdoing the illustrations for this book but I think Ross has done a good job of getting it just right and it complements the typography too. I would probably suggest a glossy laminate with embossed letters.

Teenage/Young Adult Fiction

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Influenced by true events, this book is an adventure about love, rebellion, and danger. The front cover is therefore quite dark with an element of uneasiness mixed in. The overall effect is one of surrealism and a strong sense of mystery. The blurred out, yet still distinguishable life ring which runs onto the back cover of the book adds intrigue and coincides well with the blue, watery design which hints to the danger within the book. Despite this clue, the plot is not given away in the front cover; the imagery here is strong enough for it to be minimal. Even from the cover, it is clear that this novel is not aimed at a pre-adolescent reader whilst simultaneously determining its target audience: teenagers. The typical themes of Young Adult Fiction runs throughout the book and this is mirrored by the cover. Therefore, it can be inferred that this is a strong YA cover design. There is a strong potential for crossover with YA and the same applies for this book. The cover demonstrates the serious nature to the story and makes it clear to adults that this is a book which would appeal to them also since there is something very adult in the design, far away from being too childish. Overall, I feel that the cover is very effective since it has a significant visual appeal which will mystify readers and capture attention. Although potentially, I feel there is room to improve upon the effectiveness of the font: to me, it is rather ordinary and does not necessarily contribute in making an impression upon a reader looking for a book to grab them. It is the imagery which carries the cover. A glossy laminate finish would be the appropriate cover approach, I think.

Cookery Book

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What I like about this spread is that everything about it is consistent in its theme. It is distinctly Japanese from the imagery and typography without being over the top, and this would be an appeal for a potential customer looking to buy a cookery book on Japanese cuisine. The back cover is interesting in that the designer has decided to square off pictures of some inside recipes, allowing room for a description of the book as well as the barcode and publisher logo. Collectively, it makes for a nice looking book although I would argue that more pictures could be included in this back cover in the remaining square-size spaces that have been left. This would not interfere with the written part of the cover in my opinion. The spine is also quite noticeable with its use of capitalisation so that on a bookshelf, it is visible even from a bit of a distance. Uniquely, the front cover works without pictures of recipes since the design holds strong and is culturally distinctive on its own; in fact, inclusion of pictures would probably take away from the effect. Overall, this is a nicely laid out cover spread and would not detract sales nor put off potential buyers of this book. I would expect this to be a hardback, with either a matte or gloss dust jacket.

Academic Book

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Academic publishing, as I have discussed in this blog, is very different to general trade publishing. Usually, there is a limited market, most often being targeted at academics and university libraries instead of targeting a specific audience in bookshops as is the case for fiction books. In the last decade or so, academic publishers have focussed more on the design of their publications. In the past, it was not uncommon to see only text on the front cover spread but as the above spread demonstrates, much can be said for the advancement of design in academic publications. This book ‘Massive Neutrinos in Physics and Astrophysics’ even rivals good fiction book cover spreads as the design closely correlates to the subject matter, which makes the book much more attractive and making this book more tempting to buy for the target market. Even for a niche market such as this, a good cover will draw the attention of academics and libraries more than the blank looking covers of similar, competing titles. It may even be enough to secure a sale. Also, the fact that this book is a third edition suggests that the book is well respected within the academic sphere, meaning that this edition needs to stand out in some way in order to convince a potential customer/consumer to buy it. In this case, arguably the cover helps as well as any added and updated material in its content. Both the front and back cover are visually impressive, even to those not interested in the actual subject matter; potentially an anomaly of non-academic buyers and consumers could arise too just from the cover, particularly those people buying books for egotistical reasons such as buying books to create the impression of them being well-read and educated.And there is no reason why anything other than a matte finish would be needed for this cover since there is a limited market for this book and the extra price in a fancy cover finish would not justify the cost, nor would it be appropriate for this type of book.  In all, a very impressive academic book cover!

Crime/Thriller/Mystery

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Having read Misery in the past, this cover is a very clever one. The setting for this book is firmly centralised inside the house of Annie Wilkes, a former nurse and obsessive ‘number one fan’ of Paul Sheldon’s books, particularly his ‘Misery’ series. Paul is first victim to the treacherous weather whilst driving in the mountains, crashing his car into a snow bank. Annie saves his life. But it is she who keeps the injured Paul hostage, whilst his mangled legs are treated. To write the ‘Misery’ sequel Annie demands of Paul, he uses an old typewriter. This typewriter is missing an ‘n’, meaning he has to add ‘n’ to the manuscript by hand. This feature is seen on this cover by Hodder & Stoughton as the ‘n’s’ in ‘Stephen King’ are made to look handwritten on the front cover. This, to me, is a clever and very subtle detail which has been added to the cover and is effective as a result. The typography in general is well chosen due to the similarity of the print produced by a typewriter. The imagery, too, is effective since the only inclusion of imagery are the buttons on the typewriter; the author’s name is above to replicate the printed words being typed onto the paper that sits above the keys. Therefore, there is a strong connection to the novel in general without giving anything away about the plot. The matt finish would be sufficient for this book, perhaps making the keys from the typewriter slightly rise from the cover so as to have a bumpy, embossed feel. If anything could be improved, I would suggest a restructuring for the back cover as it looks a little plain. That said, King is such a prolific writer that the appearance of the blurb is not essential due to the massive fan base he has managed to attract for his books. People who read his books will be attracted by his work and trust the books content rather than relying on the attractiveness of the blurb. However, in order to establish a new wave of readers from younger age groups, this may be something that is needed. On the whole though, this is a strong cover design.

Fantasy/Science-Fiction

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What first struck me when looking at this cover design was the dominance of the typography in the front cover and, of course, the demon-like face which immediately gives the onlooker an idea of the themes of this book. It is clear this is a science-fiction novel. Which is a clear sign that the front cover has done well to attract the reader. However, on second glance and further scrutiny of the cover, I do think that the ‘of’ in ‘Edge of Shadows’ looks misplaced, as if the designer has been forced to make the text smaller here in order to fit in the title in this way. Alternatively, I would suggest making the text size small enough to evenly distribute the title and not make it look obvious that a compromise has been made on the text. If it read ‘Edge Of’ on the same line, it would look much. It would also mean that the potent image of the demon face is not obstructed by text.
I am also not convinced by the choice of font for the blurb. It is written in capital letters, which would be okay if the blurb itself was not as lengthy as it is and the text not so small, but it makes it rather hard to read. I had to zoom in several times to comfortably read it on the screen and there was quite a lot of reading for what should be a brief, but telling description of the book. To me, it is too long and would perhaps be enough to deter someone from reading it. Maybe it is the fact that it is all capitalised that makes it look like there is more to read than there actually is; I would argue that lower case would be a wiser choice.
There is room for improvement with this cover, but it is still one I like. It still captures interest, which is certainly half the battle with book covers, but with further consideration to its design the book would look even more appealing, in my view. In terms of its finish, I think a foil cover would be a good way in which to really make the imagery and typography stand out; the shimmery effect that drifts over the cover is something which I think would look great with a foil.

Romance/Chick-Lit

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This cover adheres to the stereotypical romance/chick-lit novel. It follows the same go-to approach of a couple clearly attracted to one another whilst employing fonts and colours which will appeal most to its female audience. It even highlights trigger words and phrases which will appeal to women such as ‘escape’ and ‘dangerous boy’ as if to invite the reader to escape and read about this ‘dangerous’ boy. As a cover, I think it works well even though it is one that is predictable and like most others of its kind. The Photoshop effects which have been applied to the cover do make it stand out so I can understand a woman’s appeal for this book as it does convey a certain degree of mystery and intrigue. I would say this may also be something to do with the Gothic touch that has been introduced through these Photoshop effects.
The blurb itself is concise and sets the scene quite clearly. The sentences are short and to the point. This is done to sustain interest for the potential consumer; it is supposed to be punchy and this blurb is reflective of this. I think a matte laminate finish would be good for this design as it would highlight the effects of the book that I have mentioned without going over the top and potentially make it look less effective with anything shinier.

Travel Guide

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What I like about this travel guide design is that it gets to the point of its purpose. Images of Hong Kong as well as the outline of the book and index information on the flaps gives it a professional look. It also appears to be comprehensive and worthy of purchase if you are looking to have a travel guide for Hong Kong. Unlike other kinds of books, a travel books function is to be practical, informative and easy to navigate. This cover is suggestive to the fact that this book is those things and that is what makes the cover so strong. It even has a symbolic flower in the title that is associated with Hong Kong, and this gives the cover a sense of identity, in some respects. The image on the front cover is placed inside an exclamation mark to make it even clearer that Hong Kong is the focus for the book. If I was to give any feedback I would say that the information on the back cover could be shorter – a bullet list of what the reader will find in the book may work better, but the various areas are made clear by the capitalisation and different text colour so this is not a necessary change. It is a book that gets to the point and for a travel book that is much more important than its appearance. For this reason, I think it is a decent cover design. A matte or gloss laminate finish is all that is required here.

Graphic Novel

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I’m not a reader of graphic novels but this is a great front cover design. It is powerful and immediately grabs your attention. From the blurb it is made clear that the protagonist is an android/artificial person and the front cover’s similarity to Michelangelo’s painting ‘The Creation of Adam’ is perhaps playing on this idea of the creation of man-made people. The obvious violence contained in the novel is told in the cover, a device probably used for dramatic effect. Unlike normal fiction novels, the graphic novel is driven through its graphics and animations, better known as comic-strips. Therefore, it makes sense that the cover spread is driven by imagery too. The style of comic strips is replicated in the back cover as the animations are squared off in a comic-strip-like way. Perhaps an emboss finish may be appropriate but this depends on if it is in typical paperback; if it is printed in a comic magazine style then a matte finish alone would suffice.

Health Book

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The bold typography on the front cover tells the potential reader exactly what the book is about without having to turn to the blurb on the back cover. A simple point, but essential. Perlot holding a chunk of watermelon reinforces what kind of book it is. But if the book is only visible by its spine whilst on a shelf, is it as noticeable? Not quite. The title is big enough to jump out at you on the spine but I would have tried including a relevant picture in the spine too in order to make it more discoverable.
Describing healthy food as ‘Nature’s Candy’ is rather distinguishable on the back cover and it is the kind of phrase that is memorable. It portrays the notion that fruit and vegetables can be as tasty as candy, which has probably been added to appeal to the subconscious of the person holding the book. The inclusion of an informative passage about Merlot’s fight against obesity makes him a more reliable source in which to seek advice. The design is very similar to many other health-related books so the design may be forgettable if on a shelf full of books discussing the same topic. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this but it is arguably safe. When competing against other big celebrity names, such as Jamie Oliver’s good food books and titles from other chefs and dieticians, this book may struggle to attract the attention it probably would have otherwise received. In a saturated market, I worry if it being too safe makes it susceptible to lack of sales. In terms of its finish, either paperback or hardback would work depending on the print run and a matte finish would be enough, I think.

Source

Raw-Food-Health. http://www.raw-food-health.net/about-the-author.html [accessed: 14 April 2016].

Coffee table/Art Book

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This is a really sophisticated design, even if it does not have much in the way of actual art. The modernist style gives a true sense of what kind of book is inside; the back cover confirms that it does focus on the 1920’s and 30’s. It is an ideal book to have at a coffee table or waiting room as there is nothing too heavy in its contents, and focusing on imagery rather than text. I would expect this book to be in hardback so as to preserve its quality, and maybe have a gloss or matt finish too. Usually I would say that more artwork itself should feature on the cover, but given the style of the design, I think artwork would actually ruin the effect. It looks very classy visually and that alone would entice someone to at least give the book a flick through. With the additions of the barcode, publisher information and such like, I don’t think much else is needed.

Historical Book

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A lot is going on in this cover but the war themed imagery does work for this design. The different sizes of the text has been done well, whereby the most important words are most dominant. ‘High Point’ could suggest that this book is part of a ‘High Point’ series of history books and if so, it is wise to have that emboldened. I think there might be potential to have this cover embossed over the title; this may be a nice little touch. What may deter people from the book though is the thickness of it. For the range in history being explored, 1754 – 1945, the width of the spine doesn’t suggest that much detail has gone into each area of history between these dates. This is a book for a limited market; those interested in history and those studying American history. Such a lack in detail may result in the potential consumer and customer putting the book down again. However, the length and contents of the book is something out of the control of the designer so this would not be the fault of the designer. The designer has done a reasonably good job of making this book look appealing for its target audience as the imagery is interesting and the typography is clear and informative. I think a hardback, gloss finish would suit this book design.

Classic Book

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For a lot of books, this barely legible font choice would be very unwise, but for the famous Lord of the Flies, it actually makes the design. Although fairly basic, the typography and image of a pig’s head on a stick is all the cover needs for the design to be effective. The typography gives the cover a tribal feel, but more morbidly, the red colour signifies the text been written in blood. And that is no accident. The boys who are stranded on the island gradually become increasingly savage, democracy making way for savagery. Children literally are murdered by other children. Considering the content of the book, this is a very dark design to go with a even darker, bleaker story. Having the blurb solely being a compilation of quotes within the book is a very effective way of making this book stand out. It needs no introduction or summary; the quotes written in blood tells its own summary. The pigs head is a symbol within the book for the breakdown of rational thinking and morals, and is the lord of the flies the more it decays. Having a reflection of palm trees in the blood shining off the pigs head is also very clever since it portrays the blood being fresh.
In terms of the finish, I would be tempted to have a foil cover with an emboss over the text and pigs head or maybe spot UV. The book is popular enough for a fancy finish being worth the cost, I think and it would impact the cover’s effect no end. A great, relevant cover!

 

Series

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the seventh book in the Harry Potter series. This is the children’s edition of the book and the picture depicts a Harry, Ron, and Hermione breaking into Belatrix Lestrange’s vault in Gringots in search for one of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes. The typography adhere’s to the initial series edition of the Harry Potter books and completes the collection of these Bloomsbury-published books. I think this is a nice cover for the book but in my opinion it is too bright considering the seriousness of the plot. However, I dislike the back cover. I don’t think it blends well with the spine and front cover at all and doesn’t add any effect to the book. To me, the combination of colours looks a bit odd. Much more could be done with the back cover. The matt finish of the books is sufficient, particularly considering the six books prior to the Deathly Hallows were matt finished; to do something different with the last instalment would have been strange. Even though it is a children’s edition, a slightly darker take on the cover design would have made this more effective in my view. With the bright colours, it does look quite similar to the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Overall, it isn’t a bad cover, but I think a lot more could have been done with it and I question the choice of colour and back cover.

 

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