Judge a Book

Books that sell well usually have covers designed with thought and craftsmanship. The cover, whether you judge a book by it or not, is the first thing you see in a bookstore. It is what says, “This book is for me!” Or not.

A book jacket is a sales tool telling the reader as much about what they will find inside as possible. In “A Book By Its Cover—About Book Jackets” Valerie Peterson at About Money says, “Generally, the book’s editor, the editorial director and the publisher will weigh in on the different concepts and narrow the choices. If you are an author being published by a traditional publishing house, don’t count on having a lot of say on your book cover. You might be consulted at some point, but this is only a courtesy.”

Autumn House Press has a different vision. They are including me in the book cover process! My book cover designer is Esther Harder. She begins reading the book and thinking about the design. I send her an email and in one of those extreme quirks of fate, she emails back. She is a Minnesotan who worked in Uganda and Rwanda for six years. And she knows Anna-Marie Ball who is in my acknowledgements page! We have a mutual friend who works in Uganda. How bizzaro is that?

So, anyway. It’s time to study up on book design.

According to PETER MENDELSUND, over at PBS, there are two things that make a great book cover. “One is a cover that really does a great job of representing that particular story, but, of course, a great cover is also a cover that sells a book well.”

99 Designs has a brilliant post on “9 Authors’ Tips for a Brilliant Book Cover Design” which includes the following:
Think like a reader, not a writer.
Think of your cover as a key piece of a puzzle
Nail Your Audience
Avoid Clichés
Stick to your Key Message
Make Your Readers Feel Something

K.M. Weiland, at Helping Writers Become Authors, says, “It’s not the ‘pretty’ book cover design that wins the day, but the right one.”

To begin with, I was sent six pictures. They were pictures from various African nations: girls carrying water jugs, a Masai Woman striding across a plain, a broken down bus with an advertisement saying ‘Success’ plaster across the back door. A couple of the photos were easy to say no to. Wrong country. Too sarcastic. Poor photography.

The choice came down to three. A wall of bricks with shards of broken glass on top. Three little girls carrying dull brown plastic jugs on a sandy road. A school girl in green carrying water on her head. The designer made three mock-up covers and we all agreed on which one we liked best.

After that, the cover has gone back and forth about six times to consider the font, the font color, the font size. Where to put the blurbs. What author bio to use. Can there be a synopsis on back? Can the spine have the AHP logo on it? Where should the ISBN number go? (YES! I have an ISBN number: 978-1-938769-02-3 ! Library of Congress here I come!!) Should the photo be wrapped around to the back? What color do you want the spine to be?

Many thanks to Christine Stroud at Autumn House Press for her patience and intelligent conversation. Many thanks also to designer Esther Harder who is doing a fantastic job. Can’t wait to see the final cover!
So. Here’s a sneak peek at the photo which will be used on the cover.

PHOTO CREDITS go to Conrad Erb. (Thanks, Conrad! I love the colors in this picture. And the light. It’s gonna be a great cover!) 

Jill Kandel
  • Gianna
    Posted at 11:43h, 10 November Reply

    This is the part where I start feeling super special, cuz I got to see the cover previews before they were up here.


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