Friday, 23 November 2007


Books and Their Covers

A while after Matt's post on the latest ebook technology yesterday, Will sent through the first draft of the cover for The Dog of the North. I can't share it yet, but it's enough for now to say that I'm thrilled with it. For Macmillan, covers clearly are important--and by extension, they're important to readers too. But that's only the case for physical books. An ebook may have a cover of sorts, but not in the way a casual browser would recognise.

The purist in me says that covers are in any event irrelevant to the content of the book, and that our work should stand or fall on the basis of the prose. In the longer run, that's true: but for that to be the case, someone has to read it first. And more people are likely to read--and with any luck enjoy--the book if the cover is eye-catching and engaging.

The non-purist in me (the reader rather than the writer, if you like) simply goggled in awe and amazement when I saw what Macmillan's cover people had come up with. As the proud parent, my responses will naturally be exaggerated, but I hope that when the cover is on the bookshelves next year, it induces browsers to pick up the book, read the blurb, then maybe open it and read the first few pages... and then I'm on my own.

It's part of the reason why, for me, ebooks will never be more than a minority interest: useful and practical for people on the move, but no substitute for a collection of books. Even a ratty old paperback, as long as the spine's intact, can be a thing of beauty. I'm all for ebooks--anything which makes reading easier and more convenient can only help writers. But I don't think I'll ever own one.

3 comments:

David Isaak said...

That's an interesting take on the topic, and one I hadn't really considered.

In music, the transition from vinyl to CD to download has damn near eliminated the whole iconic industry of album cover art. Oh, it still exists--but life was different when the artists had a canvas a foot square to work with...

emma darwin said...

It's hard to get a sense of what a book's like instantly, before you buy it. Theatre has photographs, movies have stills, art can be reproduced, but books can't easily offer a sample of themselves, and until recently, nor could music: is it any coincidence that the album cover and book jacket design have developed such a long way?

Yes, in the end your writing has to stand or fall on its merits, but the book cover is more than an advertisement: when publishers get it right it acts as a sample, a taster, a small but faithful hint - in visual more than verbal form - of what's inside.

No wonder there's more blood spilt and tears shed between authors and publishers over covers, than over anything else. And yes, the MNW covers are great...

Leigh Russell said...

Response to Tim Stretton - I agreed with everything you say. As for the cover, sadly it is the first impression most people will have of your book so it is important. I'd really love to be able to produce my own designs, but if I did that my books would probably only be picked up by people interested in the artwork of 4 year olds... I didn't actually see my proposed cover until it appeared on my publisher's website as they needed to have something ready for a book fair. It's a tough call between the demands of the book and the views of the booksellers as to what might sell.
Congratulations on getting published. It's great fun, and whoever said they celebrated too much - come on, life's short. You've got something to celebrate, so enjoy it!