Book design & cover art

In a comment on my post last week about Katie Fforde’s new novel, Summer of Love, Galant mentioned the design of book covers & how important it is in enticing her to pick up a book in a bookshop or library. Galant picked up Katie Fforde’s first book, Living Dangerously, on the strength of the cover & I did exactly the same thing. You can see that original cover here at the top. I loved Katie’s Penguin covers, those lovely painterly interiors. I was not so impressed with the later chick lit pastel covers (the second cover above) but I was already a devoted fan so I kept reading the books no matter what the covers looked like. More recently there’s been another change to the third cover design which I like more than the stick figures but not as much as the early covers. I’ve read that Katie Fforde’s sales soared when the stick figure covers were released so it was obviously a good move from a sales perspective and what do I know anyway?

I recently reviewed Fanny Blake’s first novel, What Women Want, & I made a similar comment in my post that I wouldn’t have picked the book up in a bookshop if it hadn’t been sent to me for review as I felt the cover didn’t do justice to the contents. I had a lovely email from Fanny Blake’s editor asking me what I would like to see in a cover.

Now, I know that tastes & fashions in cover art change. We’ve been through the historical novel headless women & the bright pastel chick lit stick figures fashions & I’m not sure what’s next. Galant’s comments started me thinking again about the importance of first impressions (and I wonder if Pride & Prejudice would have been so loved & imitated if Jane Austen had stayed with her first title for the book, First Impressions?). I wonder if the increase of online shopping, e-books & the decline of browsing in bookshops is having any effect on our buying habits?

I also find it interesting that both Linda Gillard & Sue Hepworth in their posts here have written that the desire to have some control over the way their books looked that was one of the factors that led them to self-publish their latest titles.

I’m also interested in what we as readers think of as attractive design. There are some publishers who I think do a brilliant job of producing beautiful books. The look of the book is as important as the contents. Of course, it depends on the audience the publishers imagines for the book. Some publishers like Persephone & Virago in the early days, had very strong ideas about the look & design of their books. They had an audience in mind & they were very successful in marketing to that audience. The fact that these publishers have a loyal following of readers who love the design of the books & who lament the loss of the original VMC covers, is a testament that readers feel very strongly about books as physical objects.

Vintage Classics, Oxford University Press & NYRB classics are other imprints that have very distinctive looks. I love their elegant & witty designs. Posts I’ve written about book design & cover art in the past have always generated lots of comment. Here it was Penguin & OUP & here it was forthcoming reprints of Mary Stewart, Stella Gibbons & Winifred Holtby.

So, what do you like or dislike in book covers? Have you ever bought a book because of the cover art even if you have copies already (I know I’m guilty of that – here & here)? Favourite authors that you’re loyal to no matter what the cover looks like? Favourite publishers who have never let you down? If any publishers or designers are passing, I’d like to hear their perspective & they might be interested in the view of the common reader.

9 thoughts on “Book design & cover art

  1. I have definitely rejected particular editions in favor of others, simply because of publisher and cover art. One of my book groups was reading Daniel Deronda recently (still unfinished, sigh) and I checked out three different versions from the library until I find one I really liked! I do favor Modern Library if I can get them, the font is a nice size, the paper feels good, and they lie open without the spines cracking. Penguin classics are good but sometimes the print is too small.

    My new latest obsession is the P. G. Wodehouse books published by Overlook, they are lovely hardcovers with charming covers. I could easily get sucked in to buying the entire set of 70+ books!

    And of course I love Persephones and the beautiful green VMCs, but those are hard to come by here in the U.S.


  2. Cover art is so subjective that I don't think it is really possible for publishers to make all of the readers happy with the choices they make. Just looking at those Katie Fforde covers, I wouldn't really have been tempted to pick up any of those editions if I saw it sitting on the bookshelf, except that I already knew that I liked her writing. Which reminds me – it's been far too long since I read one of her books.


  3. Taste is subjective, that's true & fashions in cover art change. I can always be tempted to buy another copy of a favourite book if I love the cover or if there's a new introduction. After all, we're keeping publishers afloat!


  4. Topics like this make me wish we could all sit in a room with a piece of cake and a cup of tea for a nice chat!

    I can be seduced by gorgeous cover art far too easily and if a book comes with one of those lovely silk ribbons…I'm done for. Shallow but true.


  5. I have a feeling that my taste in book covers is very similar to yours. I have the early Katie Fforde edition which I recall picking up exactly because of the cover but I certainly wouldn't be enticed to pick up one of the pink chick-lit style books if I didn't already know the writer.
    I do love the green VMC's and the gorgeous cover designs for the reprints of Winifred Holtby's books make me wonder if Virago might be returning to that sort of style.
    I really don't like the new covers for the re-printed Mary Stewart novels though but in my case it is immaterial as I still have all my 70's editions with far superior cover art!


  6. I also bought the first Katie Fforde book on the strength of its cover!

    My favourite book covers are the painted seascape covers of the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin series.
    I have the whole series in pb and hb. I'd love to have them all in hb but it took me years to collect the ones I have as these covers went out of print some time ago.

    Then they were re-designed, obviously for a younger readership –
    I don't dislike these covers and I can see they'd appeal to male and female alike, but to my mind they have nothing of *the sea* about them – the excitement, the danger, the vastness.

    The newer covers seem to reduce the novels to the two protagonists. For me it's the difference between a buddy movie like BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID and a David Lean epic! And O'Brian's series is definitely epic.


  7. Darlene, I agree with you about lovely covers & a silk ribbon can be very enticing! Liz, I hope Virago is returning to a more classic cover style, it would give them more of a “look” than they've had in recent times. I remember those 70s Mary Stewart covers, I think I first read her books with those covers but I borrowed mine from the library & they've long gone. At least she's in print. Linda, I remember those older O'Brien covers from work although I haven't read any of the series. They're very evocative of the period. The newer covers are very much in the headless historical woman style, aren't they?


  8. My goodness, what have I started! Well, if not started, brought to mind again! I feel I should now go and peruse (good old word, that, peruse!) the fiction shelves here, both hardback and paperback, and see which appeal because of their cover art, and which I bought regardless because I was familiar with the writer's work. I do wish, though, that publishers would at least consider the content more. Sue Hepworth's delightful novel Zuzu's Petals has a chick-lit style cover and the book which features a middle-aged woman grieving for the death of her father whilst also trying to forge new relationships and new career if not late in life, then certainly not early in life, is anything but chick-lit. It was only through reading about the book that I decided to buy it – had I seen it in a bookshop I'd not even have bothered to pick it up.
    One set of covers I particularly like are the Black Swan (paperback) covers designed by Lynda Reiss for the Mapp & Lucia novels by E F Benson and published in 1984. They are deligthful, perfectly capturing the period and the characters.
    As for the blue ribbon – Joanna Trollope's novels, when published by Bloomsbury sported blue marker ribbons.
    I hope that publishers will heed what we purchasers have to say. But I doubt that very much.
    Margaret P


  9. Thank you for starting me off Galant, I've really enjoyed thinking about book covers & what I do & don't like in them. It's been interesting to read other people's responses too.


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