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Judging a book by its cover

May 14, 2013

We say we don’t, but we do. It’s part of the purchasing experience – picking up the book in a store, feeling it, noting the quality of the paper, the heft of it and, most importantly, the cover design.

It tells us a lot, which is the point, of course. The publisher has generally spent a great deal of time deliberating over the look. Sometimes it’s intended to associate the book with others you might have read, to make that unconscious connection with former pleasure. These are copycat covers, so if you walk into Waterstones (if you can find one) and wandered into the erotica section (or, as it is now coyly known, ‘active romance’ section) you’d discover numerous variations of the Fifty Shades of Grey covers.

In the case of a classic, many of which people may have read before, or the broad story of which they may be familiar, the designer has a different brief. They can perhaps allude to the narrative in a more knowing way, a nod to the reader who already know what’s coming.(See these redesigns of Lolita, for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/shortcuts/2012/mar/14/new-nabokov-portray-lolita). 

catcher in the rye

Either way, if the cover design is strong enough, it will stick in your memory for years to come.

clockwork orange

In my case, I recall the classic cartoonish design of Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and the minimalist silver covers of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, as enigmatic and elusive as the author himself.)

So what of the cover of Time Will Tell? I’m lucky enough to have a very good friend who’s a designer. Not of book covers, he would hasten to say, but of movies. He very kindly drew up several rough drafts, each of them strong in their own way.The first was this:I’d sent him some pictures of medieval Tours, though he chose an image of Amiens (where some of the story is set).

cover 3The colour’s interesting; apparently more people will buy a book if it’s blue, though we weren’t aware of it at the time. The picture suggests history, of course, and the font and simple layout, classicism. Not classical music, though. That was addressed in another design. Again, my friend took his cue from some of the images I’d sent him, in this case medieval manuscript. I liked the square notation, and he came up with an idea which he attributed to an old Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark album on Factory records.

Again, a bold design, and the visual pun of the notation and electricity injects a little thriller-ish hint which the first design lacked.electricity But the image we went with ultimately was the one that graces the cover, a sheet of manuscript (from a Josquin mass) licked by flames. The connotations again are obvious. Music (from exactly the period the book describes), threat and, importantly as far as the designer was concerned, a lot of space. ‘Don’t be afraid of blank space,’ he said. In the end, some of that was filled with endorsements, but it’s still an arresting image and, without giving anything away, it offers a knowing nod.

There were others, but I’ll keep them for another time.

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