Designing a cover

Despite the warning of the old saying, books are largely judged by their covers.

We’ve all done it. If a cover looks boring or we can’t tell what the book is about, we’ll skip over it. If a title is intriguing, it may help make up for a boring cover. While a title may determine whether we pick up a book for a longer look, a cover can determine whether we look inside, or even read the back. In short, the cover is an important element.

Obviously, the components to a cover change depending on the kind of book and the age range. Non-fiction is fairly simple–use pictures of the book’s topic. Fiction, however, has ample room for creativity.

If you’ve looked at many picture books, you’ve likely noticed that the cover, as a whole, tends to be one full picture stretching from the back cover and wrapping around to the front. Most of the time, it is an illustration from the book, perhaps one part of a picture magnified. For picture books, then, choosing a cover means choosing a good illustration to represent, and choosing a font and color that suits the content and complements the illustration.

The older the target age range, the more variation there is in covers. Throughout chapter books and young readers books, covers will often show the characters or represent a scene from the story. The age range determines the color schemes and the font used. For example, a maturing 12-year-old may be quickly moving past the bright purples and pinks that would immediately attract the attention of a seven- or eight-year-old. But using darker colors–black, grey, greens or blues– might convince a ten-year-old that the book doesn’t have enough energy and excitement, while for a teen audience, a darker scheme may hint at mystery, intrigue and danger.

It’s interesting to consider how we, as people, interpret colors and hues as we get older. For a young reader, bright colors may mean action, energy and, the right colors may even indicate danger. But for teens, bright colors may indicate childishness, or parties, romance and fun adventure. Within children’s books, darker colors would, to me, indicate a more serious story, perhaps history, or something sad or solemn. Where in books for teens and adults, darker colors would hint at suspense, thrills, danger, mystery and intrigue.

If module sixteen had anything thought provoking, it’s definitely this idea that colors not only matter, but they play a significant role in piquing the interest of the audience. The wrong choice could mean obscurity for an otherwise excellent work.

Another element is the illustrations used for the cover. For children’s books, as I said, it’s largely pieces taken from the books, or sketches of the main characters. For teens, there is more leeway to use photos or abstract illustrations to entice and intrigue. One example that comes to mind is Ruta Sepetys’ book, Between Shades of Grey. The front cover is a close-up shot of a closed eye, emphasizing the snowflakes on the eyelashes. For kids, this would not be a good choice. They’d likely put the book away and move on to the next title. Yet, for teens and adults, the cover prompts emotion. You can easily imagine, from the image and title, that it’s going to be a provoking and bittersweet tale. And that’s exactly what it is. The picture used for the cover could have been just as successfully used for a romance title as well, in my opinion. So in this instance, the choice of title paired with the artwork is what tips readers off as to the content of the book.

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