Saturday, March 26, 2016

Writers Only: Cover Me

FRONT COVERS, or dust covers are something that make us want to read a book. They have to be good in order to catch the possible buyer at the book store, or in a strangely connected way, get someone to check it out at the library, which might make the library buy more titles, or maybe even make the person want to buy it at the book store, then request that their library buy it. Our world is funny like that. Everything depends everything.

Front covers are a strange thing, because you are told never to judge a book by it, but those who are distributing the book have already assumed you will.

Front Cover>Back Cover>$$$>Reading>Next in the series>$$$>etc.

As a writer, I should hate the necessity of book covers. They might possibly misrepresent my story. But I don’t, because I use them myself when deciding whether or not to read a book.

There are, however, some rules that should be followed. 

A book that has a character’s face on the cover is a no no. I think of the Leviathan Trilogy, and the edition I read. It did have characters on the covers. But the character also didn’t even look like how she was described in the book, and to make things worse, someone had illustrated the book, and his illustrations didn’t at all look like the person on the cover. Yes, this cover Goliath is in another language, but my sister has the exact same cover on her English edition.

Another example I have is the Wars of the Realm Trilogy, in which the three comprising books had characters on the cover. They really didn’t look like the way the characters were described in the books. I'm not the only one that thought this, by the way.

Moral? Don’t put characters on the front cover, especially real people. It is maybe okay to put a character on the cover if he or she is hand drawn by a real artist, or if he or she’s face is obscured somehow, especially if the book has illustrations, but other than that, it probably isn’t a good idea.

Another thing to watch out for is dark themes in the color grading. This maybe doesn’t seem like a problem, but trust me, this is simply a cliché that needs to end. I suppose the darkness is supposed to inspire mystery, making the book more intriguing in the hands of someone who hasn’t read it yet, but I think we shouldn’t appeal to people’s desire to be in the dark, but rather lead them to the light. Now when I say dark, I don’t necessarily mean overall dark covers. Sometimes colors are dark. What I mean is heavy incorporation of black and dark gray with muted colors in the mix. 

But I do not mean that all dark covers are bad. A bad dark cover is simply a lot of black and dark gray. If these are absent and replaced with muted color, that actually makes a cool looking front cover. Think every hardcover classic with the gold trim ever.

Here are some very tasteful front covers that I’ve come across.

What makes these covers great?

A) No characters close up.
B) No black or dark gray.
C) They use muted colors instead to give the same effect to the cover.
D) They use symbols or an interesting landscape instead of characters to sell the book.

It’s important to pay attention to these four points. The last one is the one that I think is most important. There has to be a subject in the book cover, unless it’s one of those old hardcover gold lettered books. The subject should be something that carries means something and is mentioned in the book, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge thing. This is what messes up the minds of people who make book covers. They think that the cover has to have a hugely important something on the cover, when that simply isn’t true. They believe this so much that they make that hugely important something a character from the story, and if that’s not enough they add in black inkblots to make things look messy, and dark gray and black.

Remember, cleanliness is good for the soul, and so is happiness. Unless you’re emo, darkness probably isn’t going to make you happy. Another thing, does the story have a happy ending? Most of them do. Make the cover reflect the ending. I would have to say that each of these covers do reflect the ending in a way.

I would like to conclude with the rule that you judge a book based on its story, not by the mistakes they made in the cover. I will say, however, that usually if a book has a cover that breaks the above guidelines, I won’t read it by my own prompting if I pull it off the shelf at the library. It’ll have to be recommended. Why? Not because I made up some guidelines, but because the book will make me feel weird every time I pick it up if it has a bad cover.

I hope you find this useful if you have gotten to the point where you want to self publish and need a good cover.

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