BY Vani IN Book Reviews, For Writers, Guest post
What Makes a Brilliant Book Cover? Designers Spill Some Secrets
Vani via Quint
Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say – and I might have taken that quite literally to not give any inputs when my former publisher* sent me the artwork for my rom com, The Recession Groom. While the book received rave reviews from bloggers and national media alike, it’s cover – not quiet!
Trashing my book cover, Alejandro Saenz, top book blogger and reviewer from Costa Rica wrote: “…if you aren’t looking for a specific novel and just trying to find an appealing cover, well, at least from my personal heterosexual male POV, I’d never choose this novel based on its cover. The book is about the struggles of a man between work and love, with a lot of humour in it. In fact, it could make an interesting romantic comedy film, but you wouldn’t have a clue about it, due to the misleading cover. I don’t know what the publishers were trying to accomplish here, since heterosexual male readers would be alienated, and fans of erotic novels would be fooled.” (Source: Goodreads)
My rather unpleasant experience prompted me to look beyond cheap book covers created by photoshopping stock images to some of those truly iconic ones – and find out how much time, effort and resources go into creating a successful book cover.
“A book cover is one of the primary marketing materials for an author to attract his/her target audience,” bestselling author, Amish Tripathi tells me over the phone. For one whose mythological novels have sold four million copies till date and are known as much for their content as for their striking book covers – it is of paramount importance to create covers that are “attractive, symbolic and have a deeper message hidden inside them”. “For me, a book cover represents my philosophy, the reason why I ensure my cover design team reads my book – even though this is not a common practice in India. The process takes about one-two months as the team works with real models and props rather than buying photos off the internet.” That must cost a bomb, I ask him – and pat comes Tripathi’s reply: “Of course, but it is worth the effort, especially as most readers appreciate a good book cover and hard core aficionados even discuss these on social media platforms which is very rewarding.”
Tripathi’s assertion reminds me of another book cover that attracted a lot of attention from readers in India – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – and celebrated designer, Rodrigo Corral, head of the Rodrigo Corral Design tells me how he came up with its concept. “Often there is a struggle where authors/publishers would like the cover to be more literal or similar to something else they’ve seen before. Fortunately, John Green is different in the fact he truly understands what will resonate with his readers because he is deeply and directly connected with his fans,” Corral tells me in an email. “The final cover was more conceptual, addressing both the light and darkness of life. (And) from my perspective it seemed that John Green recognized the power of this visual. He saw that the image could be iconic as an identity for FIOS, while giving room to readers to make it their own. (However) it isn’t always this easy.” – and that last sentence was enough to fuel my intrigue.
Since Corral has worked with world renowned authors, including and not all – Junot Diaz, Chuck Palahniuk, Jeffrey Eugenides, I ask him if it takes a lot of time to create a book cover. Apparently, it does. “Sometimes we have several people in the studio reading the book simultaneously,” he tells me. “We then conceptualize ideas that visualize the tone, mood, or concept of the book. Next we think through the mediums (photography, illustration, typographic etc.) and finally start creating different options. Sometimes it’s done in one round, sometimes we have to go back several times,” he says, enumerating how there are times when they have to start again from a scratch and reread the book entirely. “You can see our #rejectfriday posts on Instagram for rejected work @rodrigocorrral_. (And) often the rejects are the best concepts.” Interesting! – But how does a designer (or the art team) know whether something is going to click with the readers.
“At this point in my career,” says Corral, “I walk the line pretty well between what will resonate with potential readers and what is beautiful design. A successful book cover isn’t really formulaic. It truly depends on the story, genre, marketing, the history of the author etc. That said, for me some of my most successful covers are clear, iconic and own-able for the author.”
And while many authors do not realise the importance of a book cover (I didn’t) – “they end up creating covers that do not differentiate their books from others on the shelf and are rather loud and shocking in their effect,” says freelance illustrator, Farzana Cooper. Emphasising on the need for authors (especially newbies) to work harder on their covers is Aditi Saha, one of the top book bloggers of India. “I firmly believe that a book cover is a window to the story that lies behind that cover and helps to pull readers,” – but there’s a caveat – “a book cover is not all,” she adds, “as most readers read the blurb as well, at least the ‘careful’ ones do.”
It’s the complete package that matters, I guess – what do you think about it?
*The publisher and I terminated the contract in 2016
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