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You SHOULD Judge a Book by Its Cover!

Kent Holloway

Managing Editor

For anyone who has followed me for any length of time, you know there's one particular thing I love about books almost as much (sometimes maybe more) than the story that's inside. I often collect books expressly because of this thing. I might not care a bit about the author and the description on the book might have no interest to me, but this one thing compels me to add it to my bookshelves nonetheless. I am, of course, talking about a great book cover. I am, without a doubt, a huge book cover connoisseur and have often thought how wonderful it would be to open an art gallery somewhere of nothing but the very best book covers in the history of publishing. I don't know if anyone would ever come to such a gallery, but I'd certainly pay the entry fee to see something like that.

I'm particularly fond of vintage paperbacks and their covers of yesteryear. There's something about the rich colors and tones and Art Deco styling that speaks to me in a way few modern covers do. In the cover above, I honestly have no idea about the book. I've never read anything by Thomas Polsky. And yet, having discovered this cover, I must scour the Internet in search of a copy to add to my shelves. In the scheme of the publishing business, that's a POWERFUL cover. That's precisely what a book cover SHOULD do.

When self-publishing or indie-publishing became more practical and acceptable back in the late 2000s, one of the most difficult hurdles to get past was designing great, professional book covers that could compete against the big dogs of the huge New York publishers. Most indie books during that period (including my own) looked as though they were drawn with the Microsoft drawing app that came with Windows 95. But as indie publishing became more common, this changed. Artists from around the world saw a great opportunity to meet a huge demand and they began offering their services to us average guys for a fraction of the price they charged the big companies. Now, for anywhere between $250 to $700, a self-publishing author (or a small press like Charade) can get a beautiful cover to grace their equally amazing books.

WARNING: Soap Box coming! Honestly, there's no excuse anymore for bad covers. There are too many affordable services out there and yet, I still see self-published mystery authors trying to do book covers themselves to save a few bucks. And I'll be even more honest with someone who reads almost exclusively independently published books, I won't buy a book with a bad cover. After all, if they didn't want to spend money on cosmetics that would entice me to pick up their book, I have to wonder what they spent for editing and proofreading. That's why I labeled this blog post what I did. We SHOULD judge books by their covers. It's a great way to know how much care went into producing that book, I believe. An author who believes enough in their work, will invest the money to ensure that it succeeds. That's Charade's philosophy. We take great care to create the best, most visually pleasing covers we can. After all, it's the best marketing dollars we could possibly spend.

With that being said, I thought I'd take a few minutes today sharing covers I've recently discovered that inspired me. These are by no means exhaustive. Heck, they're not even great covers I've found over the years (more like in the last few months). But they're enough to give you an idea of what I'm talking about.


I don't know what it is about minimalist book covers--especially those in the vein of a retro style--that appeals to me. In designing my Ajax Clean, as well as Murder on Voodoo Island book covers, I went with this same simplicity. There's something nostalgic about them that draws me to the books, even though I wasn't alive in the 40s, 50s, or 60s when such styles were popular.

I'll tell you, the first time I saw the book cover for Remi Bone by William L. Myers, Jr., I immediately went and preordered the print edition of the book. The angular imagery and duel-tone colors and crazy lettering just screamed, "This must be on my shelves as soon as it's released!" I mean, I did read the book description and it sounded like something up my alley, but ultimately, it was the book's cover that sold me on it.


I've reviewed Death and the Conjurer (one of my favorite mysteries in recent memory), as well as interviewed the author, Tom Mead, here on Charade's blog. But it all started with getting a glimpse of this cover from Mysterious Press's Facebook page.

I saw it and was instantly mesmerized by its beauty. The lettering and the gilded, Victorian style graphics. The levitating top hat and wand in the center, and that foggy backdrop of old London blurred in the distance.

The image conjured (pun intended) a sense of wonder and intrigue. Knowing from the text on the cover that it was a 'locked-room mystery' only served to intrigue me further. Once again, I immediately ordered the hardback edition of this book, and I never regretted it. The story was even more amazing than the cover itself.


Wonder and whimsy is another style of cover art will instantly draw me in. If it somehow captures bits of my childhood imagination, or even chills my own inner child, the publishers who designed the cover will have won over another consumer. I can't explain why this is true for me. It just is. It's one of the reasons why Neal Gaiman is one of my all-time favorite authors. Why Matt Smith's iteration of The Doctor in Doctor Who is my favorite. They touch that little mystical space in my soul that longs for a piece of my childhood, but within an adult setting. It draws me to a world where anything is possible, not matter how improbable.

Now, understand. By 'wonder and whimsy', it doesn't have to be a middle grade book or anything like that. It just needs to elicit that childlike wonder where anything within the imagination could happen. Titan Books' cover for Wild Spaces does this for me (more so than the American version from Tor). A boy, his dog, and the enigmatic tentacles. What could be more fun? I just saw this cover today and I'll be checking this book out very soon.

There's no right or wrong way to do a book cover (other than the accepted rules of graphic design). It either works or it doesn't. It works for SOME people, while it might not work for others. Some of these covers I've shared today, many of you might scratch your heads over wondering what exactly about them appeals to me. But, book covers are like all art...extremely subjective.

But one thing is clear, each of these covers are structured very professionally. There's thought that is quite evident in each of them. The skill for each of these are obvious to any with eyes to see. And the publishers didn't skimp on paying talented artists to do a great job. If you're an indie or self-published author, engrain this into your heads. There are two things we never want to skimp on if we're going to self-publish a book: 1) editing and proofreading (pay someone professional to do it. It'll be worth it) and 2) book covers. If you're not a graphic designer or if you don't have the equipment or skills or desire to learn how to do it right, then consider investing a little money to ensure the cover is as exciting and as compelling as your story. You'll be glad you did in the end.

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