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View Full Version : what determines the quality of a book cover?



Roly
11-07-2010, 04:54 AM
Is it the imprint? The imprint's personal connections to cover artists? Or the amount of money they decide to spend on the project (or are all those things connected).

I'd love if anyone can give an in depth run through of how it all works. I guess I'm just curious...

suki
11-07-2010, 04:58 AM
Is it the imprint? The imprint's personal connections to cover artists? Or the amount of money they decide to spend on the project (or are all those things connected).

I'd love if anyone can give an in depth run through of how it all works. I guess I'm just curious...


"Quality" seems really subjective.

if you are talking objectively - ie, quality of paper, quality of saturation of print, original art v. stock art, extras like raised letters, foil, wrap around, etc. - well, money, money and how much attention the book is getting internally.

But if you mean quality as in effectiveness, well, that is really, really subjective. And really comes down to too many factors to classify.

~suki

leahzero
11-07-2010, 08:31 AM
It's ultimately put together by a graphic designer whose skill will determine its overall quality, but what goes into choosing the art, look, and feel involves, as suki said, a confluence of factors ranging from marketing input to author input (sometimes) etc.

This video gives you an idea of what the graphic design process involves:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoDCiTsS7dU

In this case, the graphic designer has free reign over art direction, which is not always the case.

triceretops
11-07-2010, 09:08 AM
All I know is that for the first time since I've been involved in getting books published, I've had two out of seven done by professional artists that cost a pretty penny. My latest was very expensive and done by a pro artist, rendered on a huge canvas, done in oils. I also had 26 interior chapter illustrations commissioned by another artist. And this was for a small press POD outfit.

I guess it all depends on the impression the publisher wants to present to the public. I can't stand most of the clipart I see today, and many of my books have done this way.

Tri

MissMacchiato
11-07-2010, 03:49 PM
interesting links and comments, thanks.

I've always wanted a cover like this:

http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/n50/n251759.jpg

I've heard that in chic lit, flowery covers are seen as a coup, as opposed to ones with fabioesque men on the front, but I don't know how true that is. I like the kind of art above, whatever that's called, because often when there is a real (photo) model on the front, she or he (or they) don't look anything like the characters in the book at all, which as a reader I find frustrating.

Jamesaritchie
11-07-2010, 06:17 PM
A quality book cover is nothing more and nothing less than whether it makes potential buyers pick up the book. It doesn't matter why they pick it up, as long as they do. "Ugly" book covers often do a better job than "pretty" covers. It's all about marketing.

The book cover's purpose is to make a potential reader pick up the, then the jacket copy is designed to make the read think the book is worth opening. Then the first page is supposed to hook the reader, make the reader want to read the rest of the story.

Ken
11-07-2010, 06:40 PM
... care and concern, perhaps. Some imprints just seem to put a lot of resources into making their covers high quality. They probably have good art departments and a willingness to invest. Tastes vary though and a good cover to me may well be one that would another reader to sleep.

KTC
11-07-2010, 09:09 PM
quality is something that cannot be defined. at times i choose books based on the cover. yes...i judge books by their covers. it has, at times, burnt the ass right off of me...but i can't help myself. i see a pretty cover...i want the book. when shopping for a book, the last thing i consider is the publisher. i don't care what the imprint is. (of course, i would never even condescend to LOOK at a PA book)

Miss Plum
11-07-2010, 10:23 PM
cool vid, leahzero.

adarkfox
11-07-2010, 11:36 PM
As someone walking all sides of the fence (graphic designer by education & trade, writer by night, and designer of book covers for a small publishing company)..... It's a tangled web.

I think it all comes down to the designer, but the designer is dependent on the imprint & the author input - it's hard to make something great if all you get to work with is crap. Not impossible, but hard.

If you have an imprint that is cheap, then getting the resources to make a good cover is hard (time which they typically are paying for by the hour, photo or illustration resources). Given the opportunity to use all the resources effectively it would be impossible for any graphic designer worth their weight to make a bad cover.

If the imprint (or the author, depending on how involved they are in the process) that restricts and micromanages every thing it's hard to get quality anything. Check out this comic---> http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell)

And sometimes there's the case where the imprint/author fails to provide any direction whatsoever on the book... in which case the designer is shooting in the dark with the only thing to go on is the book's title and a guesstimate on what it's about.

ANNNNND then we have the sad case of where everything in the book cover creation environment is perfect for book cover awesomeness... and the designer behind the wheel sucks.

To wrap up my long-winded reply, what makes a quality book cover?

Everything going right :D

Ken
11-08-2010, 02:13 AM
And sometimes there's the case where the imprint/author fails to provide any direction whatsoever on the book... in which case the designer is shooting in the dark with the only thing to go on is the book's title and a guesstimate on what it's about.

... ah ha!
That would explain some covers I espy that are totally out of sync with the stories. Interesting to know.

Christine N.
11-08-2010, 03:27 AM
Oftentimes, in that area, it really is what a publisher thinks will sell. Hence the seemingly endless supply of 'whitewashed' covers that publishers have been putting out, including Jackie Dolamore's "Magic Under Glass" (which was a gorgeous cover with a shadowed, ambiguous model that people said was too white. The new one wasn't as elaborate but had a darker skinned model in full light.), Cindy Pon's "Silver Phoenix" (where the cover was again, GORGEOUS, but the publisher felt it did not sell enough copies, and replaced it for the softcover with another more ambiguous cover - I was irate about that because a chain bookstore refused to buy the book to sell in-store because there was a Chinese girl on the cover. It was an awesome cover!), and one I'm reading now called "Ruined", about a New Orleans ghost who is black and poor and has an obviously white debutante ghost on the cover. There are white debutantes in the book, but they are all alive. Well, mostly. There is a curse, but none of those dead individuals are characters in the book. At all.

In many cases, then, sometimes it's all marketing that gets to decide. And sometimes they're doin it wrong.

Jamesaritchie
11-08-2010, 07:32 PM
As someone walking all sides of the fence (graphic designer by education & trade, writer by night, and designer of book covers for a small publishing company)..... It's a tangled web.

I think it all comes down to the designer, but the designer is dependent on the imprint & the author input - it's hard to make something great if all you get to work with is crap. Not impossible, but hard.

If you have an imprint that is cheap, then getting the resources to make a good cover is hard (time which they typically are paying for by the hour, photo or illustration resources). Given the opportunity to use all the resources effectively it would be impossible for any graphic designer worth their weight to make a bad cover.

If the imprint (or the author, depending on how involved they are in the process) that restricts and micromanages every thing it's hard to get quality anything. Check out this comic---> http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell)

And sometimes there's the case where the imprint/author fails to provide any direction whatsoever on the book... in which case the designer is shooting in the dark with the only thing to go on is the book's title and a guesstimate on what it's about.

ANNNNND then we have the sad case of where everything in the book cover creation environment is perfect for book cover awesomeness... and the designer behind the wheel sucks.

To wrap up my long-winded reply, what makes a quality book cover?

Everything going right :D

There's a big difference between very small publishers and very large ones. And the imprint darned well better micromanage everything. When you're after sales, the designer usually doesn't have a clue. Most designers/artists think cover quality is about "art", about how "beautiful" the cover is. Most writers think the same thing. It just isn't so.

Where sales are concerned, a great book cover is about marketing, not art, and the marketing department has more experience with waht actually makes potential readers pick up books that any hundred writers or artists.

Even if you're designing your own book cover for a self-published book, it's wise to delve deeply into marketing and learn why some book cover sell while other, prettier ones, do not.

adarkfox
11-08-2010, 10:54 PM
When you're after sales, the designer usually doesn't have a clue. Most designers/artists think cover quality is about "art", about how "beautiful" the cover is. Most writers think the same thing. It just isn't so.


There's a difference between "artist" and "designer"... an artist is going to want something artistic and beautiful.. a "designer" knows what looks visually appealing and what goes where for balance and harmony in layouts.

For some reason a lot of designers get the artsy-fartsy stereotype slapped on them (although some of them are artsy-fartsy, don't get me wrong)... but any graphic designer worth its weight has some education in marketing, but most importantly they are educated to know WHY a particular design is selling.



Even if you're designing your own book cover for a self-published book, it's wise to delve deeply into marketing and learn why some book cover sell while other, prettier ones, do not.

Two more cents... if you're self-publishing, save yourself the time/money/headache and FIND A GRAPHIC DESIGNER!

A lot of us work for reasonable rates, and I know quite a few poor college design students that work for food ;)

Jack Parker
11-15-2010, 07:29 AM
I'm drawn to simplicity, like this...

http://i939.photobucket.com/albums/ad240/SimpleLiving/boo-250.jpg

SueLahna
11-16-2010, 08:24 PM
My ex-fiance was interning at a graphic design agency and spent hours upon hours making a book cover for one freaking author. Who liked what I decided was crap.
Still, the author meets with a company and looks at a ton of thumbnails. They pick what they like, the designer goes back and reworks it to the authors specifications.
However, at the end of the process, it still needs the publisher's approval, as it is there money going into the printing of the damned thing.
It's all about how good you think you are. If the publisher thinks they're your last hope, they get more control, obviously. If you think you're good enough that you can get any publishing company you want, you can vie for more control of the cover-art.
Good luck and I hope this helps!

DeadlyAccurate
11-16-2010, 10:30 PM
I'm drawn to simplicity, like this...

http://i939.photobucket.com/albums/ad240/SimpleLiving/boo-250.jpg

That shows how subjective it all is, because that cover wouldn't even convince me to pick the book up to check it out. Whereas this (http://www.amazon.com/Replacement-Brenna-Yovanoff/dp/1595143378/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289932204&sr=8-1) cover would have caused me to pick the book up even if I hadn't gone into the store planning to buy it.

CheG
11-16-2010, 10:49 PM
I don't think that quality is THAT subjective. When it comes to covers there is a HUGE and spotable difference between professional packaging and the amature efforts seen at a lot of small POD publishers. I can spot a small press book 9 times out of 10.

As for the simplicity of the cover art- that isn't what the make or break is. It's the professionalism of the presentation. And yes cover art and it's attractiveness to the buyer is in the eye of the beholder.

But when you see small press work that is poor to mediocre Photoshop/3D software, amature photography or poorly manipulated clip art/royalty free photos it SHOWS. It shows poor judgement and a lack of experience on the publishers part and it shows that not a lot of money or consideration went into the final product.

OK, rant over.

artemis31386
11-16-2010, 10:57 PM
I'm with you Deadly, this cover would have made me pick it up.
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51YK5JMd-WL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

Toothpaste
11-16-2010, 10:57 PM
But when you see small press work that is poor to mediocre Photoshop/3D software, amature photography or poorly manipulated clip art/royalty free photos it SHOWS. It shows poor judgement and a lack of experience on the publishers part and it shows that not a lot of money or consideration went into the final product.



Agree (though I'm not sure if it's always a lack of consideration, or simply people without the requisite skill set working beyond their abilities). I also feel that font is everything. You can judge the talent, and money, behind any cover on the font they choose to use. Note to all, NEVER choose Papryus for anything, it is the ultimate mark of a font amateur :) .

Toothpaste
11-16-2010, 11:13 PM
Here's a blog post about the 5 fonts you shouldn't use in print design for those interested: http://modernl.com/article/5-terrible-fonts-that-you-should-not-use-in-print-design

colealpaugh
11-17-2010, 01:26 AM
I'm with you Deadly...


Subjectively speaking, I think they're similar and dig both.

Irysangel
11-17-2010, 01:33 AM
Most of the really big houses assign an art director and the editor discusses what they would like on the cover. From there, the art director hires the artist, who hires the model. Artist turns preliminary in to art director, who suggests changes. Artist then sends final to art director, who sends back to editor to see if any more last minute changes are needed.

At this point, your editor might ask you if you have any changes, but for the most part, it is already done at this point. Sometimes there are tweaks to be made (hair made longer to cover boobs, ribbons added to cover boobs, necklines lowered to expose boobs) but otherwise that's about it.

Most author contracts say that you have 'cover consultation' but all this means is that your editor will consider what you say if you scream that you hate it. And then they could just ignore it anyhow.

I've never known anyone that got to pick out their art or flip through photos. Maybe really big name authors, but not midlisters. :)

adarkfox
11-17-2010, 05:29 AM
http://www.cracked.com/funny-5647-fonts/ There's another good one.

I'm going to argue that both "Boo" and "Replacement' covers shown are both good covers - each have very different themes, but you can see that both are "quality" book covers.

DeadlyAccurate
11-18-2010, 12:58 AM
I'm going to argue that both "Boo" and "Replacement' covers shown are both good covers - each have very different themes, but you can see that both are "quality" book covers.

I'm not saying there's no quality to the Boo book cover or that it's not good. It simply isn't one that would entice me to pick up the book. The cover makes me think it's literary fiction (whether it is or not), and that's not a genre I'm interested in.

Jack Parker
11-18-2010, 05:35 AM
Originally Posted by adarkfox
I'm going to argue that both "Boo" and "Replacement' covers shown are both good covers - each have very different themes, but you can see that both are "quality" book covers.

I'm not saying there's no quality to the Boo book cover or that it's not good. It simply isn't one that would entice me to pick up the book. The cover makes me think it's literary fiction (whether it is or not), and that's not a genre I'm interested in.

I'm with both of you, adarkfox and DeadlyAccurate. Replacement is definitely a quality book cover. Like DeadlyAccurate's view of the Boo cover, it let's me know without picking it up that it's not the genre for me.

The Boo series (Boo, Boo Who?, Boo Hiss and Boo Humbug!) was like Harry Potter for me. Once I started, I couldn't put them down. Life in a quaint small town with quirky characters and mild-mannered mysteries. I love this type of book and it's what I enjoy writing but, in this day and age, I worry that there isn't much of a market for them anymore. They're too tame compared to everything else. But, I write them anyway because I have a great time doing so. I'll see if they attract agents and editors later.

CheG
11-18-2010, 07:42 AM
I'm not saying there's no quality to the Boo book cover or that it's not good. It simply isn't one that would entice me to pick up the book. The cover makes me think it's literary fiction (whether it is or not), and that's not a genre I'm interested in.

These books aren't shelved in the same area. Both accomplish the task of enticing the reader they are aimed at. Book publishers (big ones) have a good grasp of genre-audience- and marketing. The Replacement cover is close kin to 90% of the other YA paranormal/fantasy covers on the shelves right now and has succeeded in sucking in you- the genre reader.

The Boo cover from it's Amazon reviews would indeed be in the literary or Christian fiction section and will have appeal to readers of those genres.

All book covers are a marketing tool just like advertising. A lot of effort and marketing research has gone into them.