Book covers. Judging a book by its cover.

Book covers have been discussed in other people’s blogs. Usually they poke fun at ridiculous designs. On Google images, you can find pictures of the 10 worst book covers of all time etc. Some of them are so bad they’re hilarious. Mostly they are genre fiction of the kind of inexpensive reads you used to find on a market stall. Self-published books are notorious for having poor quality covers. But what about book cover design on recent highly-rated books from mainstream publishers?

I don’t like some current fashions in book covers. There, I’ve said it. Can’t be plainer than that. Some book cover designs are so awful I wonder what their authors thought about the packaging of their precious months of hard work. Self-published books have some kind of an excuse for having terrible covers, but where mainstream publishers put out our favourite authors’ latest novels in covers that scream second-rate, I get annoyed.

Here are examples of some of the books I’ve read:

bad book cover

What?

What were they thinking putting that cheap red title in letters that look like worn road markings? If I didn’t know Mr Coben’s work I wouldn’t have bought this book. It looks as if it’s about some pervy paedo with a taste for little boys. Yuk!

I have no qualification in design so you’re entitled to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’m entitled to my opinion and it’s this: current trends in book cover designs can be misleading.

In some cases, very misleading . . .

bad book cover

great story – terrible cover

Oh, Kate I loved this novel, but the cover? It cheapens your plot and characters. It looks like a quasi-erotic historical romance. It is based on historical events, of course, and there is a story of love woven within it, but the novel is so much more. This cover design neglects the hardships endured by your primary female characters. Anyone would think the whole book was about a Russian princess in her red satin gowns waiting for Prince Charming to arrive.

Misleading book covers

Why do they do it? Why do they want to make novels look as if they’re about something else? Here’s more –

misleading book cover

deserves something better than this tired image

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding is contemporary literary fiction. It rips your heart out. I think somebody must have briefed the designer with ‘It’s a haunting tale of  . . .’ and the designer stopped listening, didn’t bother to read the book and came up with a book cover that looks like it ought to be a ghost story. Ooh- er – something nasty in the attic, eh? And what is Mrs Danvers doing climbing the steps in this version of a burnt out Manderley?

Speaking of Rebecca, look what they did to a reprint of du Maurier’s classic story.

bad book cover design

tasteless book cover

It’s no better than a card from Moonpig or the Dog’s Doodahs or Funky Pigeon. And what’s with all this red, satin stuff again? Is this another case where the cover designer never read the book?

Won’t readers new to the author be disappointed when they discover the story hasn’t got any red satin glamour about it at all?

Won’t that same disappointment prevent them from buying books by that author ever again?

What is the point of misleading prospective purchasers?

Here’s another classic novel with a badly updated cover.

bad book cover

dire book cover

 

Everything about this cover is SO wrong. They couldn’t even choose a font that encapsulates the era of the narrative.

 

I don’t like book covers where they use a scene from the film, either.

bad book cover

how could you tell what kind of a book this is?

This was a good book before they made a film out of it. Why put famous actors’ faces on the cover? To attract a different body of readers? Misleading again?

It seems to me publishers are afraid of what they choose to call literary fiction.

So, stop calling it that then.

A good read is a good read whatever genre you want to put it in.

Here’s a cheap and nasty looking book cover where the story is about cheap and nasty characters.

bad book cover

should have been a cult read . . .

Layer Cake was given me by friends returning to England. I’d never heard of it and didn’t know it was also a film. The characters are such villains and probably a little stereotypical, but it doesn’t matter because this is one entertaining read. You can’t help rooting for the protagonist. It belongs with other cult reads but with a cover like this it’s only ever going to find its way into the second-hand shop, in my opinion. I get the car and the iron, but what’s with the Humpty Dumpty colours and the primary school layout?

It looks like a Haynes car manual. With an iron. How to repair those small dents in your bodywork . . .

book cover

mixed feelings about this one

One Day I can look at the cover of One Day and see the faces. On other days I see a wobbly candlestick. But then, when the original Batman film poster first appeared I wondered why it had on it an open mouth with strange golden teeth.

Do you remember the one I mean?

two ways of seeing it?

Can you see the teeth? Ah, well.

So it might be just me.

What do I know?

Sometimes book covers are spot on even if they are still misleading. Here’s an example of one I think works well.

book cover

designed to arouse curiosity

The cover for 50 Shades does its job well, in my opinion. It makes you wonder about what’s inside. The cover is actually classier than the narrative and that’s where it’s misleading, but the lady made a packet so she must be right.

I like the lone figure in the landscape appearance of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Not only are they appropriate for the storyline but they are instantly recognisable as another Jack Reacher walking into trouble novel. You know you’re not going to be disappointed. There’s no misleading.

The lone figure image worked well for Carlos Ruiz Zafòn’s   Shadow of the Wind. Great book; great cover.

book cover

mouth-watering cover, full of promise

I loved this book. The lone figure is not a Jack Reacher type, standing tall (all 6ft. 5 of him ) ready to get his fists out and sort the problem. The shadowy figure here has his head down; his shoulders slightly stoop. You know you’re going to feel sorry for him or worry about him at some point.

There’s mystery in that fog.

There’s danger in those dark buildings.

book cover

a paler version

 

The cover is enticing.

The lone figure emblem didn’t work so well second time around.

Or, maybe it did. Maybe it was truthful. It was a paler image for a paler story. I think it was a mistake to stick with the same kind of imagery as the first book.

Do you get disappointed by book covers? Do they sometimes put you off buying a book?

How important do you think book covers really are?

I’d love to read your opinions. Drop me a line and share your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Book covers. Judging a book by its cover.

  1. Celia, a great post, written with thought, and I have to say I agree with you on pretty much all of them!

    I, too, loved Shadow of the Wind (once I got into it) and the cover is spot on. The updated cover for Rebecca is … um? Well, to see such a great book in outer clothing so lacking in the subtlety of the storyline is really quite sad!

    1. Hello Joanna, sorry I only just picked up your comment on book covers. I’ve had a lot going on in my life since February.Pretty bad stuff. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope to meet you again. Regards, Celia

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