I can’t be the only one attached to my favorite book’s original cover—so why does it seem to change so often?
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.
In 2008, J. K. Rowling refused to allow a Finnish publisher, Tammi, to print Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because the paper they used was not Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Although Tammi printed the Harry Potter series on recycled paper, Rowling wanted even more environmentally friendly paper at that time.
The saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but the truth is, we all do—and we’re actually supposed to. Someone designed that cover with specific intentions for you, the reader, to pull the book off the shelf and take a closer look. If I think about it too hard, I realize how shallow and materialistic I am as a reader and how hard a cover has to work just to get me to pick it up. My recent interest in cover design has to do with a challenge I’m undertaking this year to read at least thirty books with a main character who would be classified as a minority in America. Finding books that show this diversity on the cover is actually a lot more difficult than I expected.
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.
The design department in a publishing press is absolutely one of the most important aspects in the publication process. Design furthers the production of a book by working on its interior as well as its exterior—the book’s cover or, in some cases, a jacket. The cover is the very first thing readers will see as they browse their favorite bookstores in search of their next binge. Although no one should judge a book by its cover, it’s okay (and completely human) to be guilty of this at one point or another. Unfortunately, this can make a designer’s job a little more strenuous as they want to ensure the book’s success and maximum potential—not only for the author, but also for the press. In order for the designers to create a successful exterior, they will need to take into account various characteristics of the written piece.