I originally met Susie of Poole Publishing Services through the discussion board known as KBoards. I was still really early in my writing career, I'd just finished my first manuscript and was hard at work on draft one of Malfunction (because I didn't have the guts to edit). Susie was offering a free book cover to help start up her business.
I jumped at the chance. Book covers were something that had been stressing me out for a while and this was a GREAT opportunity. While I didn't end up using the first cover (though I may in the future) I fell in love with the cover Poole Publishing Services provided for Malfunction. Since then, Susie has had a hand in all of my published works and will continue to do so.
Not only are her covers top notch and her services professional, Susie herself is a joy to work with and I always look forward to interacting with her. So, of course, when I decided to reach beyond indie authors alone with my Community week posts to include others in the industry, I wanted to get Susie on as soon as possible.
So without further ado, here is the guest post from Poole Publishing Services:
Judging a Book By Its Cover
In June 1867, the newspaper Piqua Democrat warned its readers “Don't judge a book by its cover, see a man by his cloth, as there is often a good deal of solid worth and superior skill underneath a jacket and yaller pants.” This was the first recorded instance of the now oft-repeated phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The idiom is relatively young because book covers themselves are young. For hundreds of years, books were handmade objects of very high financial and cultural value, and covers were made of sturdy materials to protect the content. However, in the 1820s, new methods of production made it affordable to produce cloth book covers with stamped designs. Cloth requires more protection than wood or leather, so “dust jackets” followed soon after. At the time, dust jackets were simple, disposable, and covered the entire book like wrapping paper.
Things changed in 1894 when the cover of The Yellow Book not only set off a series of unfriendly critical responses (the Times disparaged the cover’s “repulsiveness and insolence”) but also prompted the rise of the modern book cover. (Fig) Eschewing decorative patterns and Victorian restraint, designers began employing bold, eye-catching colors and avant-garde design. By the 1930s, books were finally available as mass-produced paperbacks and were therefore inexpensive for both consumers and publishers. Covers were often literal representations of the plot and emphasized dramatic graphics over careful design. (Fig) Finally, in recent decades, we have arrived at more aesthetic covers containing thoughtful designs and nuanced symbolism. In an increasingly competitive market, designers must meet an increasingly higher bar.
As brick-and-mortar stores recede into the distance, consumers can now buy any one of the tens of millions of books available at Amazon.com with the click of a button. In the face of this incredible glut of available media, what is our first step in winnowing down our choices? Quite simply: judging a book by its cover.
Although the metaphorical meaning of the phrase it clearly good advice, I would argue the practical meaning is unavoidable -- and not wholly undesirable. At the most basic level, genres have cover styles, and these styles act as lighthouses in the sea of media surrounding us every day. (Personally, my eyes slide right over any covers that convey “political thriller”…)
But “judging a cover” is about more than just marketing. Academic books with subdued covers, pink romance novels with cheap paper, glossy coffee table books in unconventional dimensions – the physicality of the book and the visual contents of the cover set the scene for the purely mental journey on which you are about to embark. This is a significant part in the consumption of a book and shouldn’t be dismissed as shallow.
Don’t judge the quality of a book’s contents by its cover. But don’t dismiss the cover either. It’s the greeter at the front door, the narrator setting the scene, the artist painting you a picture. Don’t judge it – embrace it as part of the book.