Book Cover Design

Your book's cover is its introduction to the reader. Before the decision to read a book is made, the cover catches the attention of the roving eye of a book browser, and this first step is often decisive. The reader, hooked by the book cover design, has just become your audience.

The style you choose, whether typographic, photographic or illustrative, is critical in cutting through the clutter of a retailer's bookshelf or an online website. Cover design today has found ample expression in every style option. Simplicity, whatever the style choice, is a wise guideline for a cover design to jump from the shelf.

Simple typographic design, and a canny sense of color, is currently a very popular choice. Dramatic examples of the success of this form of book cover design can be seen in David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, (Hamish Hamilton), Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore, (Vintage), and Mother California, by Kenneth Hartman, (Atlas). While this last book uses an illustrative cover design element (scratches through the type), all exemplify the sheer simple beauty of the printed word.

The addition of a simple design element, whether photographic or illustrative, is the common thread among a large number of popular books both on the stands, and on bestseller lists over the past few years. Smothered in Hugs, by Dennis Cooper, (Harper Perennial), An Ethics of Interrogation, by Michael Skerker, (University of Chicago Press), and The Crow's Vow by Susan Briscoe, (Vehicule Press), are outstanding examples of minimal cover design.

While on the subject of typography, the series of Cormac McCarthy's novels (Picador), as handled by book cover designer David Pearson, is a striking evocation of turn of the (20th) century broadside publications and posters, bold, and rich in texture.

The dynamic of a well-chosen or well-drawn piece of art or illustration, continues to find a place in contemporary design. A number of these stand out, notable among them: The Heretic's Daughter, by Kathleen Kent (Back Bay Books), Money by Martin Amis, (Penguin), and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, by Ilan Stevens (Palgrave Macmillan). While markedly different in style, the book cover designer of each bookmakes a powerful argument for illustration as a marketing tool.

As with illustration, photography in current book cover design is as diverse as the titles it illustrates. Pass Thru Fire, by Lou Reed (Bloomsbury Paperbacks), Undiscovered Gyrl, by Allison Burnett, (Vintage), and Faraway Places by Tom Spanbauer (Hawthorne Books), each use the photographic image in distinctive and powerful fashion.

If you are a book cover designer, you will no doubt find thought-provoking inspiration among the selections above. Regular exposure to the style and quality of other talented book cover designers is food for the creative soul. If you are an author, an awareness of the breadth of possibilities, as well as the importance of cover design, can only serve to help you as you shepherd your own literary creation through today's rapidly changing marketplace.