If these were the books in front of you, which one would you choose? Uh — you’d have to read a few pages or the back cover copy if there was any. What happens when you can’t judge a book by its cover? Because you know we all do. Today Carole Howard tells us her own cover story and about covers old and new.
Please share some of your favorite covers in the comments!
A Plain Ol’ Cover Story
In a recent nightmare, I was wandering around a bookstore. I wanted to get some idea of the kind of covers I’m drawn to, since I was going to be working with a designer on the cover of my upcoming Best Seller. (I said it was a dream, didn’t I?) Plus I wanted a couple of books for summer reading.
I wandered over to the “Staff Picks” table because that’s where I’d found some treasures in the past, probably because the owner/staff were women and we seemed to have similar tastes. But…..wait a second! All the books looked the same.
There must have been 60 or so books on that table, some old favorites like “Bel Canto” and “The Color Purple,” and some unknown nuggets. They all had cream colored covers with black Times Roman titles and authors. No pictures, no colors, nothing to indicate genre. Talk about a blank slate!
Time to wake up and be glad it was a dream.
And yet, in France, covers used to be just that way. Cream covers. Simple titles, though not always black, not always Times Roman. Elegant. Luscious, even. And while most of their covers are now just like the ones we’re used to, a French friend told me those old-fashioned plain-vanilla covers are coming back. Curious, that.
I don’t think the authors would want it that way. Don’t you want the cover of your book to lure potential readers like the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the next room? That’s what I want, to invite potential readers in by giving them some idea of what they’ll find.
I can only imagine the publishers (or the Academie Francaise, the on-high guardians of everything French) thought it was a way to discourage readers from judging a book by its cover. It’s a worthy goal, I guess, like school uniforms preventing kids from judging others by their clothes.
Mais, non, I say to the Academie. It’s not about judging a book by its cover. It’s about
persuading someone to take your book off the shelf, knowing from the cover that it’s about someone just like her, flip through it a bit before deciding whether to take it home to read. Then she can judge it.
It’s not surprising that I dreamed about book covers, since I was in the throes of re-designing the cover of my first novel, ABOUT FACE. The original cover was beautiful, stark, dramatic. But it didn’t give the reader enough of an idea of what she’d find. I wanted the cover to show some of the story, a bit of the atmosphere. Working with a designer was an intense exercise in deciding exactly what part of the story I wanted to portray. (Thank goodness it wasn’t not my job to figure out how to portray it.)
In a previous life, I taught business writing. If someone’s thoughts needed clarifying because their writing was contorted, confused, and complicated, I’d ask: “If you had to boil your message down to one sentence, what would it be?” The question often resulted in a whole lotta squirming; working with the book designer felt like those students’ revenge.
“Well, there’s the whole ‘doing well vs doing good’ aspect of the story.”
“Or, wait, it’s also about the power of women’s friendships.”
“How about middle-aged identity crises?”
“Got it: Corporate executive on the outside, Peace Corps Volunteer hollering to get out. Yes, that’s it.”
While it would have made my life oh-so-much easier if my cover were the default cream color with elegant title and author, in the end, I wouldn’t have been satisfied. I wanted my cover to say to browsers, like kids at a swimming pool to their mothers, “Look at me, look at me, look at me.” And, of course, “Buy me, read me.”
So, do you?
Read more about Carole and her books on her website.