Saturday, 11 June 2011

Book Covers

This wasn't the post I intended to write.

Originally I wanted to post my top 10 album covers and extol the art. But I couldn't come up with 10. I stopped buying LPs what ten, twelve years ago? CD covers being much smaller didn't quite cut it and now downloads don't even require covers if you don't opt for the thumbnail.

I'm just in the process of commissioning two different book covers and some modern-day majuscule calligraphy. The majuscules won't be able to be replicated online in any useful way, so that's destined for a print only project. The other two are book covers for kindle books I aim to have out soon.

But do I need covers for kindle editions, other than a thumbnail for online browsing? When you download, you get a poorly contrasted black and white washed out version of your original coloured design, which does no favours to any conception you might have had. There is of course no need for spine or back cover artwork either. Of course one could go to other e-service providers and maybe retain the integrity of the cover design. But what would be the point?

In the same way, perhaps more so, that I couldn't come up with 10 album covers, classical book covers also turn out to be less than precious. Kafka, Burroughs, Camus, anyone you care to mention are forever being reissued in new editions with different covers each time. My Penguin Classic Camus, all have covers bearing artwork not commissioned for the book, paintings by Magritte, Picasso and Masson merely offering some tangential relationship to the title. All my Salinger paperbacks were in an edition from 30 years ago, where the covers were just plain silver-grey, unadorned by anything but title and author name. My "Catcher In The Rye" recently fell apart from old age, so I replaced it and the cover is now some red and white combo, with a black strip for the calligraphy. It really doesn't matter a jot.

Book covers may once have mattered when browsing in a bookshop, but now? Kindle certainly places no value on them. And yet I would be loath to stop working with book designers and graphic artists and give them my commissions, because to me the cover is part of the book qua artefact. I love what the designers bring to the table. Exactly what is being eroded by the trend towards e-versions. Maybe one day my modern-day majuscules can be read on an e-reader. But until then, I will continue to strive to place part of the book's conception and creativity upon its cover(s).

Just for the record, here is my facvourite album cover of all time. But it would have made for a dull article as a chart of one.

The Cure - "Three Imaginary Boys"


Tony Noland said...

For the anthology I published at Samshwords recently, one of the big things they listed as criteria for being in the Premium catalog was professional quality artwork. Given that everything would be reduced to a thumbnail, it seemed a bit of a carryover.

Why did I make a solid cover? Because the publisher required it.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Tony. That shrinkage to a thumbnail seems to me to present certain problems in the design. I have certain compound designs for 2 of my books that may be compromised out of existence in a thumbnail. I don't know yet....

Sessha Batto said...

As a cover designer I'd like to think the role of a good cover is even more critical now - as a way of sticking out from the pack, if nothing else, with hundreds of new e-books released everyday ;) Of course, I often design my covers before I even write the book, they set a tone I strive to match.

Sulci Collective said...

But Sessha, if the cover is shrunk down to a thumbnail, doesn't it make it all the harder to stand out from the rest?

Mari said...

In my view, the presence of a cover gives, at the very least, a sense of completeness to the book. Without it, it feels that you're reading the manuscript your friend asked you to critique.

Of course the reading experience depends primarily on the quality of writing, but we are used to have an image to associate to the book, and to come back to the image after the book is read to see its connections with the story.

Besides, it's undeniable that the book cover is a great influence in the purchase process for the great majority of people. (I actually tend to believe that those who deny such influence are either lying or unaware of it.)

So, even with only thumbnail, I'd go for a killer cover, and I find it very wise that you consider the thumbnail problem for your cover design. One must adapt to "modern times".

Paul Tobin said...

I suppose how you respond to the jacket of a book depends upon your learning style and the point in your life at which you come into contact with that particular book. For some people it is of no consequence, for others there will be a permanent link between that cover and the book. Perhaps in the future it will not matter, I am reminded of my children’s response when they looked through my vinyl, what I saw as a cool, stand alone, work of art cover they regarded as “weird.” This was Undercurrent by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. You need to see the lp not the postage stamp cd version.
I download a talking book a month from Audible and the miniature cover does not bother me, though I do not use talking books as I would an actual book, where I would dip in and out. I tend to simply listen to it, usually as I am cooking then, when listened to; remove it from my i-pod. In the end it is simply different ways of accessing the information, and some means offer a richer experience.

Sulci Collective said...

Many thanks for the comment Paul

Carrie Clevenger said...

I think we should continue to provide professional-standard book covers. After all, it is usually the only piece of exterior personalization that the story can offer to a roving eye. As kids we loved illustrations to help us see what was occurring in the story. I'd like to think this is still somewhat true. A pro cover also offers a reassurance that the writing will also have a polished touch.

There's a saying about about attractive people versus those with 'personality': You can't see personality from across the room .

I'd say the same thing applies here. The thumbnails can still be expanded into a larger image. And image is everything.

Vix Phillips said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Vix. I wasn't aware that you guys could ditch the copy! I can see how that could be a real boon to the designer. Thanks for the input.


Dan Holloway said...

You can ditch the copy on Kindle (as I've done with Razorblades, leaving Cody's gorgeous self-portrait to stand for itself) but not smashwords, who won't enter you for the premium catalogue without name and title. I would say it but I love all my covers on Kindle - I think they draw the reader's eye in the right way. I do see your point though, which is why I would never ditch the idea of zines and chapbooks where you can go to such glorious excess with the covers.

Liras said...

Book covers are the pretty and yummy wrappers for the delicious candy of the book our brains will consume. We need to be visually 'caught', as it were, by a hint of the goodness hiding underneath the protective layer.

Please, keep constructing the wrappers for your goodies!

Allan said...

Loved the book Kindle cases. They keep the devices away from stalkers. :)