For the past couple of weeks, the Tuesday blogposts have been devoted to good-looking logos and other visual branding. I’ve enjoyed batting ideas around with you, getting your feedback on why some things work and others don’t.
This week, still keeping a critical eye out for what makes a good design, I decided to browse the shelves of the Southern Writers Bookstore to find some covers I thought you’d find especially appealing. These stand out as great examples we can draw inspiration from.
Using photos on a book cover can be an iffy proposition, because more often than not it looks amateurish. The photography must either be magnificent, or must be complemented by design that keeps it from looking like something that was merely pulled out of a photo album.
Devon O’Day is a familiar face to her fans, so appearing on the cover of My Angels Wear Fur cuddling her canine comrades was barking up the right tree. The little girl on the cover of Mary DeMuth’s memoir Thin Places not only speaks volumes by hiding her face as she stands in front of barbed wire, but the subtly colorized B&W photo implies, correctly, that this book dwells in the past.
John Koblas’ Old West tribute The Outlaw Billy Stiles sports a vintage headshot in an antique frame, accompanied by an equally old background and a western star motif and typestyle. (Imagine that same cover if it had just been the photo of Billy Stiles with some plain text.) A similar treatment graces Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife by Karen Cecil Smith, and benefits from the lush green coloring. An eery blue tint, meanwhile, lends the right atmosphere to the photos on Kala Ambrose’s Ghosthunting in North Carolina.
A LITTLE ROMANCE
These love stories by Allison Chase, Jennifer Hudson Taylor, Tamera Alexander, Rita Gerlach and Lena Nelson Dooley have the classic romance novel look without being smarmy or over the top with heaving bodices. Each is a beautiful painting so realistic you could almost see the heroine stepping right off the cover. This particular guy has never read a romance novel, but if he did, he would be tempted to start with one of the above.
From the desolate blueness of Robert Whitlow’s Water’s Edge to the cleverly shaped cinnamon sprinkles on Sandra Balzo’s Brewed, Crude and Tattooed, you know there’s intrigue ahead. Jonna Turner’s New Pictures of an Old Murder depicts blood red film, and Pentecost by Joanna Penn suggests a church wall in a particularly fiery moment. Note that Ally Carter’s Out of Sight, Out of Mind doesn’t have the traditional look of these other thrill rides, but it is modern, girly and absolutely perfect for the Young Adult market Ally targets.
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
You gotta love a cover that makes you want to read the book even if you didn’t know its title. Cowboy boots on a Japanese girl is a brilliant way to say “Southern Fried Sushi” by Jennifer Rogers Spinola. Before even learning who The Strangers on Montagu Street are, the interesting house with the light in the upstairs window makes me want to find out. (It doesn’t hurt that there’s a building that I pass every day that looks a great deal like this house. Every time I see it, I think of Karen White’s book cover.)
The photo on Micca Campbell’s An Untroubled Heart is so masterful and emotional it could be a museum piece. The heart-shaped snowball held by mittened hands shouts hope that lasts till next Christmas. Meanwhile, all the humor of Sandra D. Bricker takes the cake on Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride. Finally, Emily P. Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl features a bird who’s been freed from her cage and enjoys her freedom so much she can be comfortable still hanging around.
Hats off to all these authors and their graphic designers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other examples of fine book design amongst the 100+ authors who’ve appeared in the first five issues of Southern Writers, and if you browse the bookstore you’ll discover countless more there wasn’t room for here.
One last thing. You’ll notice in almost every case that while the book title is often in a creative font, the author’s name is in a pretty standard one; always nice but rarely fancy. Observe too that there are cases when the size of the author’s name rivals or even surpasses that of the title. When you have many successful books under your belt and develop a following, you get away with that.
I hope to see your name in big letters very soon.