Back of the Book

The back of a book is like an expanse of desert, where you (as the reader) don’t have much to expect. Sometimes you can find an oasis amidst the quotes, the bar-codes; sometimes you can’t. It all depends on the book.

For something like All the King’s Men, there is a little summary on the back of the book, but it seems mostly literal, describing the length of the novel with a few sentences, which could be summarized as a book that follows the political career of a country boy, Willie Stark. It’s very dry, focused on the book’s accomplishments like its Pulitzer Prize, won in 1947.

For a book like Beggars in Spain, there’s a lot of world building to preface the description of the book while including the initial setup of the main character – the “beautiful, extraordinarily intelligent…and one of an ever-growing number of human beings who have been genetically modified to never require sleep” (Kress back cover).

And then, there’s Wool, which has experienced such amazing sales, doesn’t need much more than a poetic curiosity of the world and plot:

What would you do
if the world outside was deadly,
and the air you breathed could kill?

And you lived in a place
where every birth required a death
and the choices you made could save lives – or destroy them.

This is Jule’s story. (Howey back cover)

Even though these three book have different back cover summaries, all three have the same expectation for the reader: they expect you to buy it, but each of these books achieve this through different manners.

With the first book, All the King’s Men, because it is a famous novel, it already has a popularity that will continue to push sales throughout the years. This is a book that can be continuously reformatted, reprinted, and people will still buy it.

Same with Beggars in Spain. Even though it has not won a prize, because it is generally accepted as a famous novel, it does not have to try as hard to rope in potential readers, which is why although it gives an interesting, curious description for the novel, it does not try to engage the reader too much. The most thought-provoking line – besides that of the world with characters who don’t have to sleep – is that the protagonist will remain on Earth where she may experience “a devastating conspiracy of freedom…and revenge” (back cover).

These are completely unlike Wool, which although still pretty famous, tries hard to engage the potential reader in thought-provoking curiosity. This whole poem is phrased from the second perspective, meant to engage you in rhetorical discussion. ‘What would you do?’ It starts off the discourse immediately, asking you how would you respond if the air could kill. Would you choose to save a life or destroy it? And then breaks the discourse with a single line, “This is Jule’s story.” Not you.

Engaging, isn’t it? Maybe this is something self-published authors can take away from these summaries or when writing query letters.

The main success of a back-cover summary is to engage the reader in thought-provoking curiosity, in order for them to buy the book. You can do this through asking the reader questions, using second perspective, but I’m sure there are other methods – this was just one.

Happy reading!

Howey, Hugh. Wool. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012. Print.

Kress, Nancy. Beggars in Spain. New York, NY: Eos, 2004. Print.

Warren, Robert. All the King’s Men. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1996. Print.

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Designing Covers: Part 2

Yesterday we discussed the different components of covers and how they all have one goal – to attract a reader to buy the book. Hopefully to read it, although we can all admit to letting a book sit too long on our bookshelf. I won’t admit this will be a perfect dissection, but let’s look at an example. I just bought this book, and I really like its cover design.

“Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (New York Times, “The Best Book Covers of 2014”)

What drew me initially to this cover?

It was simplistic. It abandoned the normal conventions that defined a book cover – it got rid of the title, the author. Everything but this one image. I had no idea what it meant besides a cross through a feather.

And, this is one thing I admire about covers. If I got to design all of them, I would choose something simple, either metaphorical or definitive – I would still focus on a few simple constructions, nothing as complex as a drawing or a photograph. Because what I would hope is that through cover design, we can ask the reader to think. And, that’s exactly what this cover did.

What did I think?

Well, if I blur my eyes or zoom out, I see an ‘X’. ‘X’ usually is found on a pirate’s map as buried treasure, and it can also be interpreted as a location that is either unknown or off limits. We usually seen these on road signs that say something along the lines of ‘keep out.’

Orange is usually also connotative of hazardous. Brings you back to think of the x in terms of ‘keep out’ instead of buried treasure. (The vibrancy of the orange would have something to do with it. Remember to keep in mind different hues will evoke different memories or feelings, which is why some colors on cars will always be reminiscent of puke.)

Now, where does the feather come in? Is it a feather? Or, does it resemble a fern more? Initially I thought it was a feather, which would make sense since the main character is a biologist. But, if it’s a fern, this would also make sense since Area X is an off limits area that is described as a mish mash of different ecologys, specifically their habitats.

But then why do the feather fall? Why are the leaves falling off a plant? Whenever we see this in nature, it usually means something is dying. But, who’s dying? I know nothing of the characters yet. All I did was pick of the book!

(If you could look at me now, I’d be smiling. I’m already a few pages in, and I can tell you who died. Spoiler alert: me.)

Cover Design

What’s makes a good cover? Scratch that. Before I go there, let’s first look at what makes a cover.

Cover Content: 

  • Title
  • Author
  • Picture/Design
  • Publisher Insignia
  • Back Blurb
  • Barcode
  • Optional: Reviews
  • Optional: Author Bio

Now that we’ve summarized what’s on a book. Let me ask you this. When you are standing in a book store, perusing books, why do you pick one up? Because this is a book cover’s goal – to be picked up. Let me explain.

Title: Summarizes your story

I feel like a lot of times this can be abstract, but they can be literal. I read a book a while back, called The Chronology of Water. It was accurately named because throughout the story, she referred back to how her life was similar to the title, her overarching thematic metaphor. But, not all titles have to be like this. As long as they summarize your story.

Author: Attract your attention

If you’re popular, you have a following. If you’re not, the publishers are trying to start your following. The idea is to associate your name with a type of work, a style of work, a sense of quality. Try looking up ghost writing. A lot of famous authors will use this and don’t actually write as many books as you think. This was disappointing for me to hear, but it explained why they put out so many a year or why quality seemed below average.

Picture/Design: Attract your attention/Emotize the story

There’s no set rule for cover designs, but the ultimate goal is to attract you. It’s supposed to reflect the plot of the book, show its emotion or genre. But, the thing to remember is that they all will want to look pretty. They’re going to appeal to your eyes and there’s numerous tricks on how they can do that.

*Emotize, it’ll become a thing. Definition: Evoke an emotion

Publisher Insignia: Attract your attention

These insignia are similar to a publisher’s icon or logo, usually representing their imprint, and publishing houses usually have multiple, which are simply different names for different genres that they print, each with their own customer base. This means that they believe the readers will come to recognize their imprint with a level of quality and type of books. One example is Pelican Books, an imprint by Penguin that is used to educate the reader.

Back Blurb: Attract your attention

The goal of every blurb is to excite you. It’s basically the equivalent of a fish hook dangling the most tempting bait they can create, but converted into words. If they can’t catch you here, you probably won’t buy the book.

This is the main purpose of a cover: to attract your attention. There’s no simpler way to put it. Every book is a pretty, nicely written piece of paper whose goal is for you to purchase it. Every publisher and every author would celebrate with the spirit hands, spirit fingers, however, if you simply spent money on their book.

Keep this in mind when looking at books. Why did it attract you? Who does that type of cover attract? They’re all targeting different audiences, and if you don’t believe me, go to the young adult aisle and count how many books have pretty faces on their covers. It’s almost as bad as looking at magazines.