Crimes against graphics
Authors often invest nearly superhuman effort—thousands of laborious hours over many months or even years—in creating fine books worthy of publication and significant readership.
But in all too many cases those efforts are sadly thwarted by hasty, half-hearted, or just plain incompetent graphic cover artists, who in most cases I suspect have not even read the first paragraphs of the books they’re tasked to work on for a mere few hours.
There are many ways a fine book can be cloaked in graphics rags that are sure to relegate it to obscurity. I’ve served as an awards judge for two excellent writers’ organizations and have studied book covers in stores for years, and I think I’ve seen them all. Dark red lettering on a black background is a frequent way to render cover copy unreadable. A background photo that was never interesting to begin with and has no relevance to the subject matter or setting of the book is another unsubtle way to turn off readers as they scan the shelves; a novel set in the dead-flat country of eastern NC featured a dull cover shot of mountains, for one bad example.
Whimsical graphic experiments that look like something created during a workshop/vaping session at a convention of abstractionists can also doom books quickly; a recent cover had the one-word title broken up into syllables and scattered, so it required some study to figure out, and the author’s name, in dark gray over slightly darker gray, was utterly lost at any distance over two feet away. Selecting tiny font sizes on covers and for the inside text is a just-plain-mean way of convincing readers to shun a book. Murky low-contrast nonsensical collages that turn to mud when reduced to the thumbnail sizes often used to advertise books in magazine ads and online is a clever way to test the vision, and the patience, of book browsers. Why publishers allow, or even seem to embrace, such criminal graphics is a mystery.
There are fads and trends in cover design that come and go, some good and some not so good. There’s one current industry-wide trend I like. Almost every hardcover dust jacket is done with an overall finish of matte varnish, which provides a good grip and a nice rich feel for the reader. Using spot high-gloss varnish on these covers, such as for the title and author name and a selected graphic element, provides pleasing, attention-grabbing contrast.
And of course there are the superb covers that complement and even augment their books’ contents and make these relatively few volumes stand out amid all the intense competition in any bookstore. Those graphics wizards are to be commended. The covers and interior layouts are indeed works of art done by thoughtful, caring people with real talent. The authors lucky enough to benefit are deeply grateful, I’m sure. Invariably, such covers adorn books that the rest of us writers would do well to emulate. Just as these covers themselves ought to be studied and emulated by some of the lesser graphics practitioners out there.