The perils of book cover design

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a Guardian post on the challenges of book cover design….

Book covers — for the same book — often differ in different countries. This makes sense because of differing values, cultural norms, current events and a host of other reasons. But sometimes the difference can be shocking.

Take, for example, the cover for Hillary Clinton’s 2017 book What Happened. Above left, you can see the US book cover design: bold, dramatic, single-focused. And that’s the UK book cover design, above right: it features a stock photo with a boring colour background and generic type for the text. Maybe we should be asking UK book designers what happened to them?

An insightful post on the Guardian website explores this very question and provides some intriguing speculation. Here is part of what they said:

One jacket designer, Stuart Bache, says the gulf between British and US design has narrowed in recent years, especially in literary fiction. Traditionally, US design tended towards literal interpretation, driven, Bache believes, by the complexity of the US market: the image that motivates readers in southern California to pick up a copy of a book is likely to be different to what appeals to readers in South Carolina. As a result, US jackets have tended to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and that does not make for good design. “It’s a complicated [market], so the design becomes simpler and focuses on broader appeal,” Bache says. “However, things have shifted in the last few years.” 

Cover design may seem relatively unimportant to authors who are rightfully more concerned about the words they produce. But don’t ignore this important step if you’re producing a book yourself. Good covers sell books and a bad covers keep them on the shelves. It’s worth spending the money on getting a good quality cover.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Oct. 16/17.

Scroll to Top