Beneath the Covers
by Sheila O’Flanagan
If I only judged a book by its cover I’d never have read so many Penguin books when I was younger. Those classic orange and white designs gave nothing about the contents of the book away. You read the blurb and took your chances. Sometimes you discovered a gem, sometimes a rotten apple, but the cover was always the same.
These days cover design is part of the entire publishing process. Publishers have in-house design teams working to produce covers that allow the reader to become emotionally attracted to the book by virtue of the design. Given that over 100,000 books are published in the UK every year, it makes sense to give each one a unique look. Of course if a new design or a new typeface seems particularly successful it starts to be copied until someone comes up with something distinctive all over again.
Various styles tend to suit different genres. Crime novels invariably have gritty-looking covers, literary books tend towards subtle imagery, while fantasy books often come with intricate designs.
When the term chick lit for women’s fiction became common, the idea of silhouettes or cartoon-ish characters took hold. It’s a design that remains very popular although some authors feel that it categorises their books as light and frothy even when they might have a darker side.
For me what’s between the covers is far more important than the cover itself but I like to feel that the cover adds to the overall package. Sometimes, when I’m reading a book, I stop and look at the cover, realising why particular images have been chosen and feeling that they’re exactly right for the story. On the flip side of that, I was once enjoying a book only to read that the heroine was dark eyed and dark haired. The cover showed a smiling, blue-eyed blonde. I was so irritated that it totally ruined the book for me.
I like my books to look good on my bookshelves and so cover design does matter to me. When my publishers decided to change the imagery on my most recent books they sat down with me and discussed the ideas they had. They wanted to use images that gave a certain sense of the book without being an integral part of the story. So my latest paperback, Stand By Me, shows a very glamorous bed with a handbag hanging from the door leading to the bedroom. It does reference a part in the story where the heroine, Domino, is sitting in a bedroom, making some very hard decisions and I like that aspect of it very much.
Most authors get a say in how the cover looks but I don’t throw a strop about it even when I’m not crazy about a design. I’m the writer, after all, and that’s my area of expertise. I hope the designers are experts in what they do!
Lovely covers are nice. But a great book will sell anyway. Just think of all those orange and white Penguin classics.
Sheila O’Flanagan is the author of more than 15 books since 1999. Her latest book, Stand By Me, was out in paperback in April. Her next novel, All For You, is released in July. She used to work in financial services and has always lived in Dublin.