Contents and Covers
Posted on June 30, 2011
by Catherine Austen
I do it. You probably do it. Most people I know do it.
We judge books by their covers. (And more than books, of course, but that’s a topic I’m not getting into here.)
After all the work that goes into writing and editing a book, whether someone will pass it by or pick it up depends an awful lot on the lesser-known work that goes into its design.
Consider a few outstanding children’s books that have been issued in different covers:
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
I loved this book, loved Elijah, loved his voice, loved his story, loved it all. But I might never have read the book on the left. The one on the right really took my fancy.
A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer:
I ordered this book from the library, and received the cover on the right. It is at the top of my to-read pile. If I had the version on the left, it might be closer to the bottom.
(Although I must say, the left cover is similar to the right Elijah cover, which I preferred. Hmm. Judging covers is as irrational as it is superficial, at least in my case.)
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson:
I read the version on the right with my son. It’s his favourite Ibbotson novel, but I don’t think he’d have taken to the one on the left quite so quickly. (There is something about a harpy that just calls out to boys.)
Whittington by Alan Armstrong:
I read the one on the left. I loved it, but I might have loved the one on the right just as much. Hard to say. The cat is certainly cute.
In all these cases of alternative casings, each cover captures something essential to the book — the mood or setting or character or plot — but each captures a different bit of the book’s essence. So two equally well-designed versions might appeal to different readers.
Book designers have vital but thankless jobs. The writer’s acknowledgment copy is due months before we see the design, so we never acknowledge the designer. And even much later, designers often remain anonymous. “Our designer did a fabulous job,” an editor will write. “Please thank your designer for the incredible cover,” a writer will reply.
Who are these talented never-named people? I still don’t know. But I owe them a great deal of thanks. Because just look at the covers for my two books coming out this fall!
Thank-you, awesome anonymous designers at James Lorimer & Company, for capturing the bold fun at the heart of my eleven-year-old heroine of 26 Tips for Surviving Grade Six.
And thank-you, incredible anonymous designers at Orca Book Publishers, for capturing the scratch-the-surface creepiness of my dystopian teen novel, All Good Children.
How happy I am that we judge books by their covers, at least in these cases. (Although the contents aren’t half-bad, either – but these covers will ensure that someone gives the contents a chance. Thanks!)
BTW, as always, though these links lead to Amazon, you can order any of these titles from your local independent bookstore. Happy reading.
Fascinating and absolutely true.