I refuse to believe we can’t move past the paperback designs of the past with their jumble of chunky fonts, strange color palettes, and, dare I say, unappealing illustrations of aliens.
We’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but let’s be honest—everybody does. While the cover design on a book doesn’t necessarily make-or-break the sales of every individual book, it is the first thing a reader notices. Before reading the back-cover blurb or looking up reviews online, the reader’s first instinct comes from their impressions of the cover design.
Regardless of whether Wolff’s book is libel or an accurate portrait of Trump’s White House (my guess is we won’t know for a while), by expediting the pub-date and moving forward with Fire and Fury, Henry Holt was able to do something that’s becoming harder and harder these days—something that the American Association of Publishers holds in high regard: exercising and protecting our First Amendment rights, the backbone of US democracy. And so what if the driving reason behind publishing was to capitalize on a money-making trend? Henry Holt isn’t alone.
Before I dive into the complex world of book covers, I should confess that my rudimentary and frankly half-hearted initial search quickly turned into a passionate and intense hunt for cultural trends, typography, and design. It turns out that book covers are fascinating and not altogether unlike clothing fashion. Just as I wear styles first adopted by fashion icons who convince me of their chic-cool factor (I’m looking at you, overalls and turtlenecks), there are design bandwagoners for book covers as well.
I had the privilege of sitting down with John Henley, a well-known appraiser of rare books in the Pacific Northwest. He has also been an adjunct of the PSU Book Publishing Program since its inception, teaching the survey course titled The Popular Book in the United States. We talked about his job as appraiser, his Oolie aspirations, and how his love of books—inspired early on by his mother—led him to a career of buying and selling them for Powell’s and The Great Northwest Bookstore.
Writers will often see a trend they like and try to emulate it, sure that if they capitalize on something that is currently popular or has been recently well-received, a publisher is sure to pick it up. This isn’t always the case.