When I was a kid, I didn’t read James and the Giant Peach for years because it had a horrible cover. When I did eventually read it (or had it read to me by my ever-patient parents) I loved it. So, no clever metaphors here – I quite literally learned not to judge a book by its cover. Or did I?
At the end of the day we’re only human, and when you’re standing in a book shop, eyes assaulted by an array of books in your preferred genre, you have nothing to draw you to one shelf over another except the covers.
A recent example is Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. Every time I’m in a library or bookshop I am physically drawn to that most beautiful of covers. I even want to touch it. In a non-creepy way. If James and the Giant Peach had that cover, I wouldn’t have wasted so many years not knowing the fate of the Centipede, Earthworm and Glowworm.
My second novel, Levi’s Gift, was recently re-published and I was horrified to learn the cover was to change. The original cover (see left) contains an eerily accurate picture of the real-life place that inspired my fictional story, and I found the cover somehow as personal as the book. I was concerned the new cover, featuring a girl in a bright dress (above right), would be too “light” and somehow misrepresent the story.
But what sold it to me was the cobbled street on which she stands. Levi’s Gift is steeped in Italy – the music, the art, the architecture. For me, the new cover portrayed the character and history of the city, as well as the bumpy journey my characters experience.
Covers are important, even when they’re not. The picture on JK Rowling’s last Harry Potter book was surely irrelevant. It would have broken sales records even if it had the biting cover of Harry’s Monster Book of Monsters. But effort was put into the outside jacket. The industry recognised that Harry Potter is adored by both children and adults, and so there was a choice between a cover for kids and one for adults.
One of the hardest decisions of my life. I nearly bought two! Why?
Because the cover is the face of your story. It is the first thing you notice when you buy a book. You see it again every time you pick it up to continue reading and every time you shut it closed again, including at the end. The cover, whether you like it or not, defines a book. So it will always be judged.
I’d suggest watching this Ted Talk on book covers to see just how important they are considered in the industry:
(c) Jennifer Burke
If you are starting to write, check out Jennifer’s previous articles for Writing.ie:
Read Margaret Bonass-Madden’s interview with Jennifer here – ‘On Being a Winner’