Several times over the past months we have written blog entries about book jacket art and design—what we like, what we don’t, and why. But because this is such an important part of the publishing process I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss the thinking behind the cover of your book.
Contrary to what most authors think, the main purpose of a book’s cover is to sell the book. It should undoubtedly reflect the book’s contents as much as possible but, more than anything else, it has to attract a buyer very quickly. In fact, it is common knowledge that when a consumer walks into a bookstore he or she views each title for no more than five seconds, so it’s the cover’s job to make the consumer want to pick up the book.
If the book is on a serious topic, the cover might be all type with an attractive background color. Or, for general non-reference non-fiction and fiction, pieces of well known (public domain) art might be used, or a photograph or illustration that is not only reflective of the book’s content but also seductive to the book buyer.
The author almost always should have “consultation” on the book cover. This means varying things to various publishing houses. Sometimes, the publisher makes significant changes when an author objects to what they have originally suggested. This happens a lot when the agent gets involved, as it did recently with my client Mary Ann Esposito’s new book Ciao Italia Family Classics—we are very excited to see the new cover for this book. Sometimes, unfortunately, publishers do not take the term “consultation” very seriously and simply show the author the cover after it is virtually a done deal and nothing can be done to change it. This is really unfortunate because by giving the author serious consultation (authors almost never gets “approval”), the author and the publisher become partners—and publication process is much more congenial.
Once the publisher has a cover that everyone likes, they show it to the account buyers—especially at the bigger accounts—if these folks don’t like the cover and the publisher is unwilling to change it, the account will order fewer books, so publishers generally listen to book buyers very carefully.
Over the years, even though I have had some “unusual” experiences with the process of cover creation, generally my clients have achieved what they wanted and this has made the publishing experience much more enjoyable all around.
I would love to hear what your experiences have been with the development of your book covers so please tell us your feelings about covers you’ve especially loved (or hated).