Guidelines for More Powerful Covers

April 2004
by David Cole

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While most people are happy to repeat the adage that you can’t tell a book by its cover, there is no doubt in the minds of most publishers that people do in fact buy books because of their covers. Knowing that fact, however, still leaves open the question of what an effective cover is. Having participated in innumerable cover discussions where people expressed directly opposing points of view, I’m well aware of the subjectivity that goes into a cover choice. I also know that styles and tastes change regularly, so that what works for one season may soon be outmoded.

Still, there are some practical guidelines publishers should keep in mind when working with cover designers.

Make it all legible. Having spent a fair amount of time writing copy for dust jackets, direct-mail projects, and other kinds of packaging, I’ve engaged in the tug of war that seems inevitable between writers and designers. Writers want more copy. Designers want more space, more visual drama, and more, in a word, design. Often, the publisher or marketer must mediate.

Beyond the issue of words versus space lies a more important consideration: legibility. If the title and subtitle of a book are hard to read, whether on the front or the spine, the cover has failed in its basic purpose. Effective design aids the reader. When considering a cover, I always take a few steps back to see what it looks like from five or 10 feet away. If I can still read the title and subtitle…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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