Thought-Provoking Thursdays: On Judging A Book By Its Cover

Ahh, the old adage. I don’t even have to repeat it to you, and you wanna know why? Because so freaking many people say it.

It’s just another one of those things that make independent publishers like yours truly lose sleep at night and go into mania. And, y’know? That doesn’t leave much time for obtaining sustenance, being a person, functioning in society, writing back your penpals (I think I owe some people an apology)… things of that nature.

I mean, really. I actually remembered to have breakfast every morning for… I think the past week, and you know what? I actually thought of that as an accomplishment. Sure, I also worked with a notary and sent in the paperwork for my imprint, but breakfast. Both were pretty monumental accomplishments for me, but I’ll let you decide which one is higher-up.

One of the weeks of this month (I don’t exactly remember which one it was, ASK ME WHY) was spent coming up with a cover design for my upcoming debut novella. Yes, I’ve been trying to come up with something for longer than a week, but then there was the week I was actually successful. I was surprised I was able to come up with it, because I honestly wasn’t sure if I had it in me. But I’m pretty damn happy with it, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep it too.Front Cover Only--Forget Me, Chelsea VanderbeekJust so nobody gets confused, this is the story I’ve been talking about since January and trying to get published. I changed the name from Here For A Reason to Forget Me, because I think the latter is a better fit for the tone and story. Just another one of those ideas that decided to come to me when it was almost too late…

I didn’t get to that cover design right away. It took lots of trial and error. I created a Pinterest board with other book covers that inspired me and had the feel I wanted mine to have, sketched out ideas (many of which didn’t work), and stayed up waaaaay too late several nights trying to come up with something that didn’t suck. I even seriously considered hiring a professional, even though it wasn’t exactly in the budget. I ended up downloading a free trial of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to get the effects and stuff I was looking for. They were very complicated programs to try and learn so quickly (the trial was only a week, so I had to move), but I didn’t need to learn everything. Google was a lifesaver.

My point? To all you writers out there: good cover designs don’t come out of nowhere. They don’t drop out of the sky and flatten you against the pavement like a meteor. It’s a lot like writing, actually: you don’t get it right the first time, and you’re not really supposed to anyway. Seriously, don’t give up on doing it yourself completely because the first design you come up with sucks. It takes a few tries to figure out what doesn’t work, and it takes persistence to get to what does.

And to readers: You only see a book’s cover for the five seconds you take it off the shelf, hold it in your hands and wonder if it’s worth reading. You make your decision by A) Reading the blurb on the back cover and B) Looking at the cover, and this is fair. No really, this is good. But it might be worth taking a leap of faith once in awhile. I can even give an example: the first book by William Sleator that I ever read was The Duplicate. I picked up the hardback version in the library and, well? The cover design didn’t look like something I’d normally read. I’m just being honest here, it wasn’t the best. But I read it anyway, and guess what? He’s one of my favorite authors now. Not only did I read the story again, I also went out and bought more of his books. The Duplicate is still a favorite to this day.

I mean, because the writing is what really matters, right? Yes, there are some absolutely beautiful book covers out there, but what do they really matter if the stories behind them are lifeless? If the words don’t move you, grab ahold and don’t let go, make you think and do something to your heart, then what difference does a pretty book cover make? It’s like getting a gift: if you wrap a pair of socks in the prettiest paper and give it the biggest bow you have, it’s still just a pair of socks. It doesn’t change what’s inside.

I would even go as far as to say that a sucky story with a beautiful cover is just as bad (if not worse) than a brilliant book with a sub-par cover. Because what are you buying it for, so you have something attractive to display on your coffee table? I don’t know about you, but the reason I read and write is to feel something, something that matters. I hope you feel the same, or else you might not like my stories.

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the people with the most loyalty and the biggest hearts aren’t the most outwardly attractive. Sometimes cozy blankets and diamond rings get wrapped in newspaper because it’s the only wrapping in the house. And yes, it’s not always bad to judge a book by its cover; a book with the title Into The Night could have an illustration with the moon and stars, or it could have blood and murder and creepy people hiding in bushes. Covers are good for context, I’ll give you that. But just remember this: in the end, it’s not about the cover (at least, I don’t think it should be). If you always judge what’s inside by what you see outside, you might just miss out on some things.

Because not all writers are graphic designers. We do our best with what we have 😉

 

Thanks for reading! Do you agree? I’m not so sure that this is a black-and-white issue.

And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for my forthcoming debut novella, Forget Me!

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