If the old proverb is to be believed, you should never judge a book by its cover.
Except where, well, books are concerned, ironically!
When I go into a bookshop, like most people I see there, I tend to browse the tables, rather than the shelves, because this is where you tend to find new books, or popular books that have been chosen because they fit with a themed display. I generally only go to the shelves if
I’m looking for something specific.
When it comes to browsing the displays, it’s a very visual process, at least to start with. A book catches my eye, and I look at the cover and make a judgement about what sort of book I think it might be. And this is an instinctive judgement, not a reasoned one. Certain styles of book lend themselves to certain assumptions. There are conventions within different genres, and we, as readers, recognize them, even if we don’t realise what it is that we are responding to.
Once I’ve clocked a striking cover – and made that initial judgment as to whether it is likely to be something of interest to me – then I’ll turn it over and read the blurb. Having spoken to various readers, I know some people skip the blurb and go straight to the front page, but I think that for the majority of book buyers the blurb is the next step.
Of course, when I’m wandering around Waterstones, I’m not thinking consciously about any of these stages in the book-buying process. If I have any internal monologue going, it’s probably fairly basic.
Ooh! Look! Shiny cover! Pretty pattern!
What is it what is it?
Have shiny new book. Yay!
Maybe not quite that basic, but you get the general idea.
So looking at the cover design process from the other side has been a bit of an eye-opener. Apparently, cover designers don’t sit around thinking ‘Ooh! Shiny!’ This was news to me, given that I was involved in the cover selection for the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA anthology. Design students submitted different interpretations of the title, and then the anthology committee pretty much went on like children in a sweet shop, oohing and aahing over the beautiful presentations. But the difference between the Bath Spa anthology and a commercial publication is that we weren’t competing with other books on a display. The anthology was sent straight to agents and editors who already knew what they were expecting. So we had, to a great extent, a free reign. It had to look professional, and we wanted it to look beautiful, but we weren’t constrained by sales and marketing issues.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I had a fairly major attack of the OOH SHINYs, when first my US cover, and then my UK cover, were emailed through for my comments. Obviously I took this entirely in my stride, and behaved like a professional. And at no point did I run around squealing, before printing the covers out and sticking them to the front of an appropriately hued hardback off the bookshelf in order to see what the finished product would look like. And I definitely did not take pictures and apply arty Instagram filters, before emailing the resulting pictures to my agent with a message that was pretty much one big OOOOOOOOOOOOH SHIIIIIIIIINY!
None of that happened. But if it had, the pictures would probably look something like…
Once I had calmed down (from all of that stuff that didn’t happen) there were some small points to thrash out. For the US cover there were some discussions about a small aspect of the design, and a tweak was made. For the UK cover, a strapline was changed. All in all, it was a very smooth and simple process, bearing in mind how important an issue it is.
I asked both the UK and US teams if they could give some insight into the design process – it’s not something I’d ever really heard discussed in any detail. I’d heard the odd horror story about writers getting into acrimonious cover-design stand-offs with their publishers, or absolutely hating the finished cover, but the actual process is one of those things that tends to stay behind the Great Wall of Publishing Mysteries.
Bella also blogged about the process here.
So that’s a little insight into the cover-design process.
And, of course, once there’s a cover, there’s an Amazon pre-order page.
All together now, OOOOOOOOOH SHINY!