For the past month I’ve been working with designers at Pen-L Publishing to create a cover for my novel Surface and Shadow. Trying to envision how my first published novel will look in readers’ hands is fun and exciting, but it’s also challenging. I spent years writing the novel, and now that it’s time to put a face on it, not just any face will do. It has to be the best face possible. So what is that?
To learn more about book covers, I studied some of my favorites. An eye-catching cover that I see every day because it’s at the top my to-be-read pile graces the front of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The boldness of the title type and the mystery of the art behind it pull me in every time. I want to know what’s going on in that strange dark city beneath those ominous clouds. I know this book is excellent, but even if I didn’t, I would probably read it anyway because of the clever title and the appealing cover design.
Another cover I like a lot was created for The Lost Saints of Tennessee. I like this design because it has life and energy and gives the reader a hint of what the book is about. In an interview soon after Lost Saints was published, author Amy Franklin-Willis talked about how important the cover was to her and how she wanted it to show the relationship between Zeke, one of the novel’s narrators, and his twin brother, Carter. I think this cover nails the relationship in a single image.
For simplicity, my favorite design is the cover of Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz. A single strand of dark green ivy crossing two tar-black pillars to form the letter “A” becomes a startling symbol of more than one of the novel’s important themes. Plus, the contrast of the dark image against a pale yellow background makes the cover stand out.
So, I asked myself, what do these covers have in common? Why do I like them all? First and foremost, I’d say, they get the reader’s attention. They’re intriguing, interesting, or startling.
Also, through the lines of the art or the contrast of the colors, they direct my attention to the title of the book. If you look carefully at the boy on the left on the cover of The Lost Saints of Tennessee, his hand points directly toward the title. On the cover of All the Light We Cannot See, the church steeple points to the title. The typography on each of the covers makes the title easy to read, so the cleverness of the words isn’t lost in trying to decipher them.
Each cover says something about the novel, and each is simple enough to look good in both large and small sizes.
Fortuntately, the cover for Surface and Shadow is coming along well. The Pen-L designers have lots of good ideas, and they’re patient with me while accepting my input. I have no doubt we will find the best cover for my work, and that makes me happy. Book covers are important. We all say we don’t choose to read books because of their covers, but we do. I do. Unless I’ve read a review or gotten a recommendation from a friend, my first impression of a book comes from its cover. And if the cover doesn’t get me to open the book and begin to read, then all the writer’s work is for naught.
What do you think makes a good book cover? What are some of your favorite covers?