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Judging a book by the cover
August 17, 2012 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Scent of a kitten: the 20 irrefutable theories of book cover design
posted by fearfulsymmetry (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
> Nothing draws a reader to a book like a picture of a fluffy kitten.

That's why I bought Atlas Shrugged, dammit!
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 9:48 AM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Who has time for the cover? The spine is where it happens for me. I browse the library shelves when I'm not looking for anything in particular and grab a book with an interesting spine. My success rate has got to be north of 70%, which I'd say is pretty good.

Also I can't stand Nick Hornby's books and resent being reminded that they exist.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:57 AM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


21. Miss Irrefutable and Mr. Theories should never date, let alone be married.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:57 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


22. Put a robotic king made out of people on the cover. Robokings always move product.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:59 AM on August 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


a big draw for a potential book buyer will be the familiarity of a face

I worked in a book store for a while and I was always wondered why fiction titles rarely had faces on the cover. Covers would frequently feature people, but they would depicted from behind, or the face would be otherwise obscured, or there would be just be an artistic closeup of a hand, or an arm, or shoes.

Maybe publishing companies know that readers want to construct their own mental image of what the characters look like. But that's just my completely uneducated guess.
posted by mcmile at 10:01 AM on August 17, 2012


The cute puppies on the cover made me buy this book.

(well, okay, they were a contributing factor)
posted by research monkey at 10:17 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why are UK softcover covers so much better than US editions?9 times out if 10 the UK edits will be brighter, livelier, more clever, and usually illustrated whereas US covers feel faint and drop dead if you put anything more than the title over some stock photography or a huge wall of text.
posted by The Whelk at 10:17 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think in this case "theories" is being used in a different sense than you might be otherwise used to, weapons-grade pandemonium.
posted by Jpfed at 10:18 AM on August 17, 2012


Atlas would make a kickass name for a kitten.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why are UK softcover covers so much better than US editions?

I think it's because in America, while we obviously buy books to read them, we also buy them to let other people know we're Serious Individuals. We buy nonfiction about Big Important Ideas and we buy fiction to gain Profound Insights into the Human Condition.

So the covers have to be Serious. Any book cover with a note of whimsy or vibrancy would call into question the Seriousness of our reading choices and maybe indicate that we're reading for more frivolous reasons, like for personal enjoyment or something silly like that.
posted by mcmile at 10:34 AM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's because in America, while we obviously buy books to read them, we also buy them to let other people know we're Serious Individuals. We buy nonfiction about Big Important Ideas and we buy fiction to gain Profound Insights into the Human Condition.

You must not have seen the numerous comparisons of American to British sci-fi covers if you're making this argument. American sci-fi covers tend to be embarassing to behold or be held.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


For fantasy books, kittens are dragons.
posted by bonehead at 10:53 AM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're a kitty!

Ahem.

The difference between British and American book covers could have something to do with the way publishing is conducted in the two countries. I've no idea really, but perhaps the American publishing is much more computerized, with direct feedback coming in from different markets and some algorithm that comes up with cover formats that are optimized for the broadest demographic spread. Meanwhile, the British publishing industry is still more about hiring artists to make the cover look nice.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:54 AM on August 17, 2012


23. The Flexible Theory. Write an article about twenty different, individual visual styles and only include five pictures in the article and link to the other fifteen to either get a kickback on the clickthroughs because you're an asshole, or because you're lazy dickhead in general. Or probably both. It's flexible like that.
posted by Zack_Replica at 10:56 AM on August 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


While we obviously buy books to read them, we also buy them to let other people know we're Serious Individuals.

Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we."
posted by busillis at 11:12 AM on August 17, 2012


Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we."

Ok. I thought the hyperbole was obvious and I didn't think anyone was going to take my comment as an attempt at a grand theory or something like that. But point taken.
posted by mcmile at 11:21 AM on August 17, 2012


I'm also one of these people who's into a nice spine, but I must say I don't care for the Penguin orange spines. I just don't have any need for orange in my life.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:23 AM on August 17, 2012


I think in this case "theories" is being used in a different sense than you might be otherwise used to, weapons-grade pandemonium.
Irksomely so. I can think of no decent reason for not just calling them 'strategies'.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:26 AM on August 17, 2012


22. Put a robotic king made out of people on the cover. Robokings always move product.

Hey, it worked for Stanisław Lem. (And Voltron!)

Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we."

Someone should tell the mathematicians, then. (And Voltron!)
posted by erniepan at 11:27 AM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's why I bought Atlas Shrugged Mein Kampf, dammit!
posted by acb at 11:29 AM on August 17, 2012


Actually, what sells better than some stuffy old Robokaiser is the cast of Transformers 4: 2 Fast 2 Transformius.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:52 AM on August 17, 2012


Latin American cover design is heaps better than either British or American stuff.
posted by dhruva at 12:05 PM on August 17, 2012



I worked in a book store for a while and I was always wondered why fiction titles rarely had faces on the cover. Covers would frequently feature people, but they would depicted from behind, or the face would be otherwise obscured, or there would be just be an artistic closeup of a hand, or an arm, or shoes.

Maybe publishing companies know that readers want to construct their own mental image of what the characters look like. But that's just my completely uneducated guess.


Covers work extremely well as a 2-second marketing pitch -- genre and audience. Associations spring up that start out somewhat arbitrary -- why do punks wear mohawks, why do preppy kids wear shirts with alligators on the front? -- but quickly become solidly codified. It's amazing how you can look at a book and decide, instantly, between high-brow science fiction and low-brow science fiction, literary fiction and the kind of books that are marketed at book clubs.

There are lots of fiction covers with faces, but many are young adult, especially realistic fiction marketed at girls (I'm having trouble pulling up examples now, but this was a HUGE trend about 2009-2010; I was telling my friends that I didn't care what was on the cover of my book as long as it wasn't a three-quarters portrait of a wistful girl. I think the trend has moved on already to more abstract covers!) I do think (and maybe this is just how long I've worked as a YA librarian) that a book with a face on the cover immediately looks YA-ish.

I'm sure that Stephenie Meyer's non-YA book, The Host, had a face cover to pull in YA readers.
posted by Jeanne at 2:11 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: a robotic king made out of people
posted by oulipian at 3:00 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


These irrefutable theories are practically axiomatic.
posted by whir at 3:07 PM on August 17, 2012


Wait a second, Whelk. Didn't we just have this conversation?
posted by redsparkler at 3:11 PM on August 17, 2012


No one can answer my question.
posted by The Whelk at 3:57 PM on August 17, 2012


The cute puppies on the cover made me buy this book.

(well, okay, they were a contributing factor)


For those strange people who don't like puppies, the author proposes a solution.

(I like puppies, but I like kittens more, so perhaps I will modify my copy of the book to have kittens.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:12 PM on August 17, 2012


My wife absolutely loves urban fantasy novels. I can't stand them (only "hard" scifi for me, thankyouverymuch). Unfortunately for my wife, she has a really hard time finding talented new authors.

She has taken to calling me the book whisperer because I can walk down an aisle at a bookstore and literally go "this one, this one, aaaaaaand... this one" and bat nearly 1000.

It's really simple. Most books are published to fill holes and the editors know it. As a result, they have some intern make a cover and write the back cover blurb.

When you see a cover that looks like someone spent time on it, it's because the editor truly *believes* in the book. Thinks it's special and deserves to be treated as such.

You *can* judge a book by its cover. Good books get good covers. Average books get cliches (that would be "photorealistic women staring intently at the reader" in urban fantasy). Shit books get photoshop horrors.
posted by bpm140 at 7:23 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really annoying that the article is about book covers and you have to click through to see more than half of them. Maybe it's a licensing thing but I didn't read half the article because of it.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:10 PM on August 17, 2012


Why are UK softcover covers so much better than US editions?

I just think UK is just better at all graphic design, period.
posted by Miko at 12:34 PM on August 18, 2012


I just think UK is just better at all graphic design, period.

Well I'm as patriotic as the next man as to the superiority in that area... but there has been the recent shameful effort for the Olympics (the font became just about okay with repeated exposure, but that logo was never anything but terrible)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:47 AM on August 19, 2012


Well, the Olympics isn't really a fair trial -- it's so full of stakeholders, so politicized, so bloviating. I doubt there's any way to get good design past that many committees.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on August 19, 2012


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