Covers

How a Publishing House Designs a Book Cover

1 August 2016

From Digital Book World:

It all starts with the pitch. I can actually find myself on the edge of my seat when our editors present each season’s new books. It’s the art department’s chance to vie for which titles speak to us the most—which books might work best with our particular styles and skillsets.

After working at the same publishing house for four years, I can almost always predict which designer will gravitate toward a particular title. But inevitably, it ends up being a mix of interest, talent and workload that determines our selections. We give our creative director our first picks and she ultimately assigns the list. I’m fortunate enough to work with a team that is incredibly versatile; they can work across all genres successfully.

The list is actually somewhat fluid, so if I ever feel like I’m working on too much or too little, things can shift around depending on everyone’s workload. If I’m passionate about a book that I haven’t been assigned, though, I’ll often offer to assist on it. This could include doing photo research, setting up a shoot, or anything else that’s needed.

. . . .

Stylistically, I tend to lean toward lifestyle books and gritty true-crime type stories. These are the types of books that speak to my personal style, and are where I feel like I can do some of my best work. On a personal note, I also enjoy reading these books, which I think tends to help the creative process (though isn’t always necessary, surprisingly enough). I may be biased, but I really do love the clean and modern aesthetic of our lifestyle books. The Life and Style imprint at Grand Central Publishing (my publisher) has been built into a successful brand over the years, which only makes it easier for our designers to have a list of successful in-house titles that we can base our aesthetic off of.

Again, though, I do also adore the grit and intrigue of a crime book. That style can offer some very interesting creative opportunities that you may not find in another type of book, and it’s always an experience to be able to do a deep dive and explore that world. Perhaps more important, it’s also fun as an artist to be able to move between different styles depending on the book. I think it keeps me engaged and also helps me to use qualities from one genre on something that’s unexpected in another.

. . . .

When the titles are assigned, the work really begins. Sometimes, a book comes to us almost fully cooked. It’s been completely (or mostly) written, it’s got a concrete, confirmed title, and it’s up to us to capture the essence of the story on the cover. I think that’s how most people envision the book jacket process, and while it’s our best-case scenario, you’d be surprised at how rarely that actually happens.

Sometimes we’re given a book without a manuscript or even a full outline, and we need to rely on a synopsis or just some basic notes. Understandably, these can be the most challenging designs to capture, as it’s difficult to find that one visual feeling or icon that speaks to an overarching theme of a book. You can’t pull visual cues or themes from the book if the book doesn’t exist! But thankfully, there are other ways to crack the code.

. . . .

Don’t get me wrong, though: whenever I’m given an early manuscript or any sort of glimmer into what the book is about, I’m grateful for it. I find myself constantly thinking of different designs and directions I could take things in, and find inspiration almost everywhere—from New York City itself to weird posters and ads in the subway or the streets, and most importantly, from other books.

Sometimes I’ll see a type treatment or style working on someone else’s book and I’ll be so inspired by it that I’ll need to put my own spin on it. I think more so than most designers, book designers are inspired by each other.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Perhaps PG missed it in the OP, but he didn’t see anything about the cover designer actually talking to the author of the book about the cover.

Call him crazy, but PG thinks the author might — just might — have some good ideas.

Book Covers See Yellow to Attract Online Shoppers

29 May 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon’s sway in the publishing world now extends to even the design of books themselves. The company now accounts for about 45% of all books sold in the U.S., according to Peter Hildick-Smith, president of industry researcher Codex-Group, LLC.

As Amazon’s importance as a bookseller has grown, publishers are pushing their designers for brighter, bolder covers that pop for online shoppers. That has led to a spate of brightly colored book jackets, with blaring yellow covers now appearing in profusion.

“There’s a kind of maximalist attitude toward color, I think mainly because we operate from the fearful assumption that no one’s going to look at the book unless it’s screaming at you,” said Peter Mendelsund, associate art director at Knopf.

. . . .

In 2008, he used Pantone 803, fluorescent yellow, for Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,”setting the novel apart from the traditional dark hues of thrillers.

“Everything gets simplified to what the eye can see at one inch. That can be the size of the graphics, the colors, the amount of detail,” said Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Barb for the tip.

It’s the Cover, Stupid! Why Publishers Should A/B Test Book Covers

5 April 2016

From Digital Book World:

Every publisher and bookseller knows that covers sell books. But do consumers also form expectations from looking at the cover? Well, based on the results of some of the initial reader analytics data at Jellybooks, we think they do.

. . . .

The first case shows how a cover shaped readers expectations. The cover was well designed and clearly aimed at grabbing book buyers’ attention both online and in physical bookstores. This particular cover had a single dominant color and “told a story” with a single image. But it seemed to have told the wrong story.

Users who picked the title in one of our test reading campaigns told us afterward that, based on the cover, they had expected to be reading a crime novel or perhaps a spy thriller. However, they were surprised to discover that the book was instead a work of non-fiction.

The narrative described a slice of post-war history at the Central Intelligence Agency. The spy and crime themes were there, but not in the novelized form readers had expected. As a result, the drop-off in reader engagement we measured during the initial chapters was swift and sharp (over 60 percent) when readers realized that this was not the book they had expected.

. . . .

The second example comes from a different reader analytics promotion. Once again, readers were allowed to choose from up to 20 titles on offer, but instead of being able to choose only one title, they were allowed to pick up to five. One title frequently chosen, though rarely as first or even second choice, was a psychological thriller with a somewhat quirky cover: a cat staring at the consumer. Astounding, though, were the results for this book relative to its sales.

The book was a debut novel from recent years for which the publisher had held very high expectations. However, sales had been poor. In a rare case of post-mortem “what went wrong,” the publisher had the courage to investigate whether the content or the publisher’s marketing was at fault. The reader analytics showed that the content was not responsible for the poor sales performance:

i. The book had an exceptionally high completion rate: more than 75 percent of those who tried the book finished it—a rate achieved by fewer than 5 percent of books that we test.

ii. The thriller had a very high velocity. Readers were glued to the pages, and a majority read the book from start to finish in just a few days.

iii. The book had an excellent recommendation factor based on the Net Promoter Score concept. Readers were strong promoters of the book, recommending it to their like-minded friends.

However, many test participants also noted that the cover was “weird.” Readers indicated that they really enjoyed discovering the book, but that based on the cover, they would never have picked it up in a bookstore. Well, why not?

The cover was clearly outside the genre conventions readers were familiar with and accustomed to.

. . . .

How does Jellybooks design A/B tests for book covers?

Test readers are invited as normal, but half the test audience is randomly selected to receive one cover, while the other half is selected to receive an alternative. Readers think we are measuring their reading behavior, as usual—which we are—but in addition we also look at:

i. Whether the cover influences which book is picked by test readers from a selection of available titles to read (remember that test readers do not know that there is more than one cover in play). Does one specific cover make it more likely that the book will be picked compared to an alternative?

ii. How completion rates, velocity and recommendation factor might be influenced by the cover, as the cover has created a particular “promise” or expectation for the reader. In other words, we are very specifically measuring whether a cover can influence the results of a reader analytics test and how strong that effect is. This kind of potential reader bias depends in part on whether readers form their expectations primarily based on the cover or on the synopsis of the book.

An A/B cover test might not perfectly replicate the environment, stimuli and selection pressure that occur in an online or physical bookstore, but for the first time it allows us to judge—in a reasonably objective way—how readers’ expectations are shaped by the cover, if one cover might be a better fit for a book, and to what extent a cover might shape a book’s future success.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG will note that, outside of the publishing world, A/B testing of advertising and promotion materials has been happening approximately forever. For example, A/B testing was common during the days of Mad Men.
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With Romance Novels Booming, Beefcake Sells, but It Doesn’t Pay

5 April 2016

From The New York Times:

Jason Aaron Baca is good-looking, not handsome like the Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds) or rugged like Daniel Craig, who is fetching in a tailored Tom Ford suit. But when Mr. Baca, 42, slipped on a pair of dark aviator glasses recently, he looked remarkably like Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”

He was dressed for work in a khaki military jumpsuit. And even though it was barely noon, he had already stopped by the gym to make sure his biceps and legs looked combat-strong. His assignment: To be a military helicopter pilot saved in a crash by a female rescuer with whom he once had a torrid affair. Now that they’re reunited, their passions have flared.

Mr. Baca is a cover model for romance novels. He has been on nearly 500 book covers, by his own account — one of scores of men like him vying to be heroic heartthrobs. Not since the flaxen-haired Fabio Lanzoni dominated drugstore book racks in the 1980s and 1990s, with his lion’s mane and bulging biceps, have cover models been in such demand.

“Look at me like you are really mad at me,” cooed Portia Shao, his photographer that day. “Show me your good side.”

After a few more clicks of the shutter, he and Ms. Shao paused to examine his work on a 2-by-4-foot television screen. “It looks good because it has everything,” Mr. Baca said. The smoldering gaze. A glimpse of his six-pack abs. Mr. Baca had even thrust his pelvis forward, a trick he learned to make his stomach appear flatter and ensure the ladies looked, well, you know,there.

Romance writers and publishers, as it happens, are among publishing’s most innovative participants. They were early to digital serialization. Booksellers, too, now crowdsource ideas to find fresh writers. And if you want to explore a virtual relationship, you can try a romance-novel app.

How hot are romance novels? Over all, annual sales totaled $1.08 billion in 2013, according to the Romance Writers of America, which tracks sales.

. . . .

 Despite the perception that blockbusters like “Fifty Shades of Grey” drive sales, self-publishing has proved a boon for this particular genre. E-books make up nearly 40 percent of all purchases, according to the writers group.

. . . .

 Sexy still sells. At Brazen, Entangled’s more risqué fiction line, Ms. Pelletier said book covers with male models sold three times as much as with a woman alone. And for new authors in particular, “the cover is really critical,” said Dianne Moggy, vice president for romance fiction at Harlequin.

. . . .

Unlike the Fabio era, when covers were painted by hand, today they are more assembly line than art. Consider Daemon Black, a space alien with dark curls and emerald green eyes who is the hero of Entangled’s Lux series, written by the New York Times best-selling author Jennifer L. Armentrout. In 2011, Pepe Toth saw a photograph of himself and his then model girlfriend, Sztella Tziotziosz, on the cover of “Obsidian,” the first in the Lux series, published that December.

Mr. Toth, 26, then living in his native Hungary, had been transformed into Daemon Black without his knowledge. “I thought, what kind of book is this?” he said in a recent interview.

Mr. Toth, a professional soccer player, learned that Ms. Armentrout had used a stock photo taken from a shoot he and his girlfriend had done three years earlier in Budapest. So, he emailed the author. “I’m the guy on your book,” he said he wrote. Ms. Armentrout invited him to visit the United States.

. . . .

For Mr. Baca’s helicopter-pilot shoot in Santa Cruz, Eileen Nauman, a writer better known by her pseudonym, Lindsay McKenna, emailed a series of guidelines. She wanted to see him looking alert, with a “slight, playful, teasing smile” and, she wrote, with his “flight suit open to sternum, showing off your great body, but nothing too flagrant or obvious.”

“The cover of an e-book is the size of a postage stamp,” she said. “Everyone has about three seconds to peruse, and the first hook is going to be that cover.”

Few romance models, if any, make enough money to eke out a living. Mr. Baca, for example, works at the Housing Authority of the Santa Clara County, Calif., as a customer-service clerk. And although he has an agent, he said he earned only $20,000 in his best year. This, despite the fact that he is a tireless self-promoter who fancies himself the next Fabio. Industry executives say it will be difficult to topple the king. “Nobody did it better than Fabio,” said Allison Kelley, executive director of the romance writers group. “He really did create the brand.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

eBooks and the Limits of Technology

24 March 2016

From The Writers’ Block Blog:

I feel indebted to Esther Porter and Kurtis Scaletta at the Loft for editing my story of a bold Chinese heroine fighting the establishment for the greater good into three hundred crisp pages that have formed into my favorite book ever. (Leave it to writers like ourselves to think our own work is the best ever, but that really is how I feel.)

I’m in the heart-wrenching process of converting my beautiful paperback meant for bookstores like Common Good Books to an ebook version for sale online everywhere later in the year. I am finding surprising limits to our current epub technology that I want to share between you and me, writer to writer. As a consumer of ebooks I never realized what I was giving up when buying the electronic version of a book.

. . . .

 My printed book was designed by Alan Pranke to take the shape and 3D form of an old wood jewelry box containing… get ready for this… a severed hand of a baby, which is central to the novel’s plot. In contrast, the ebook cover is disappointingly flat. It is no box. The smell and the weight of a book or box is not there. This is a complaint you usually hear from book loyalists.

. . . .

 More surprising to me though is that all of the tasteful typesetting that MK Ross and I have been laboring over for what feels like a year of final edits were instantly washed away by the ebook. The carefully considered spacing between words, the choice of font size and grouping of words on a line were, well, gone. The text defaults to each user’s own past settings and specs. It pains me to look at my labor of love wrung through the wash like this on my iPad. I understand the benefit of giving each reader the ability to make the text readable—of course older eyes need bigger text—but this way removes the visual poetry of the page layout that we authors struggle over to make just right. I now understand why publishers of experimental novels like mine might not offer an ebook version.

Link to the rest at The Writers’ Block Blog and thanks to Nikki for the tip.

The Hunk Who Loved Lady Liberty: Fabio becomes U.S. citizen

18 March 2016

From CNN:

She’d played hard to get for years. But now, it was time — so what if it was in a convention center. She called to him. He rose, a red jacket covering his broad chest, hair swirling around wide shoulders as he moved. Then Fabio slowly raised one callused hand and said the words America had been longing to hear.

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty …”

Yes, Fabio is now a U.S. citizen, the, uh, climax of a lengthy process that can take years to complete.

The Italian-born model, known for gracing the covers of countless bodice-ripping romance novels, took the Oath of Allegiance on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, along with nearly 6,000 others from 140 countries, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“America just got better hair,” agency spokeswoman Claire Nicholson tweeted Wednesday.

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Covers – 1926-1947

13 January 2016

From The New York Public Library Digital Collections:

Despite the fact that dust jackets often include useful information about a book and its author, including biographical notes and often a portrait, it has long been Research Libraries practice to remove the jackets from new books during processing for their permanent place in the stacks. However, from 1926 to 1947, anonymous librarians selected and saved interesting jackets from books of all sorts. Arranged roughly by date published/acquired, these paper covers eventually filled the 22 large scrapbooks presented here. This digital collection offers, first, a view of each jacket’s front, spine, and inside flap; jacket backs and flaps may be viewed by clicking the “View Verso” button on the “image details” pages.

The jackets in the collection are from books published in the United States and Europe during two turbulent decades.

Link to the rest at The New York Public Library

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How to Know Your Book’s Cover Needs a Redesign

16 December 2015

From BookBub:

Potential readers need to be intrigued by a book’s cover to click through and check it out. Our testing has shown that a cover alone can account for a 30% difference in clicks on a BookBub Featured Deal, and other sources have reported similar results. So if your cover design isn’t up to snuff, your book sales will suffer.

But how can you know which of the covers in your backlist need to be redesigned? And how will you know if a new version of the cover will perform better?

Step #1: Assess Your Current Cover

First, assess your existing cover design to ensure it meets basic quality standards. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does the cover include trends and tropes that perform well in your genre?
  • Is the typeface professional? Outdated fonts like Comic Sans should be avoided.
  • Is the title visible and legible when viewing a thumbnail of the cover?
  • If a blurb is included, is the text legible or does it make the cover look cluttered?
  • Does the cover look professionally designed or amateurish?

. . . .

Step #2: Look for Feedback from the Marketplace

Here are a few signs your cover needs a redesign based on data, trends, and feedback from the marketplace.

1. Sales have slowed significantly (or never picked up)

Sales (or lack thereof) will be one of the biggest barometers for the effectiveness of a cover design. It can be difficult to know if a book’s low sales are entirely due to a poor cover design, since there are so many factors at play. But if book sales have dipped after the new release buzz has died down, or if sales never took off to begin with, the cover may not be appealing enough to capture people’s attention on its own.

A book’s cover is the first thing potential readers see when browsing an Amazon search results page, skimming their Facebook feed, or reading their daily BookBub email. If the cover is not catching readers’ attention, they won’t click through to read the book’s description no matter how targeted or well-planned your advertising campaigns are.

. . . .

2. The cover deviates significantly from successful books in your genre

Like everything else in publishing, cover design is incredibly subjective, and best practices differ by genre. Elements like the image, typeface, featured characters, and colors all impact the emotional reaction potential readers might have, and the right packaging depends on genre readers’ preferences.

To know if a book’s design deviates from what’s working in your your genre, study the kinds of covers trending for similar books. Here are some tips on how to know what’s trending:

  • Review the books on each retailer’s top lists for your sub-genre. For example, on Amazon you can see which books are most popular in your specific sub-genre.
  • Review the covers of bestselling books. Browse the recent New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, and take a close look at the books in your genre.
  • Browse the titles BookBub features in your genre to see what’s working well in your niche.

If your book cover is drastically different from books in your genre that are selling well and popular with readers, you might want to consider a redesign.

Link to the rest at BookBub

The Best Book Covers of 2015

13 December 2015

From The New York Times:

When considering the book as a whole, I prefer that the interiors contain answers and the covers ask questions. To the extent that my favorite reading experiences empower me to confront uncomfortable truths and honest answers about people, societies and the greater universe, the covers that lure me into the pages often do so by posing questions that I don’t want to ignore.

Books and their covers are confronting their own awkward questions of relevance and value in the escalating competition for attention against screens the size of Jumbotrons (or, conversely, wristwatches). To see publishers answer this concern with the craft, sophistication and pictorial wit that go into an increasing number of book covers each year reinforces the certainty that one of our oldest technologies remains one of our most perfect. Below are 12 covers from 2015 that made me stop, stare and ask aloud to no one in particular what the cover means, only to turn to the first page and then the following and then the one after that and onward.

. . . .

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“The Complete Stories” by Clarice Lispector

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“Imperium” by Christian Kracht

 

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Researchers Observe Effects of Art on the Brain

8 December 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

When it comes to art, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but some scientists now are looking for it in bursts of brain waves.

Seeking a biological basis for our response to art, researchers from the University of Houston recorded the electrical brain activity from 431 gallery visitors last year as they explored an exhibit of works by conceptual artist Dario Robleto at the Menil Collection, near downtown Houston. In the low-voltage sizzle of so much neural buzz, the scientists are trying to find how our brains mix sensory impressions of color, texture and shape with memory, meaning, and emotion into an aesthetic judgment of artworks that, at their best, can be both universal and intensely personal.

“This is about emotion, about brain patterns, about individuality,” said university computer engineer Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, who is conducting the research funded by the National Science Foundation. “We don’t know the neural basis for art. The hope is that there will be a common element.”

. . . .

His brain wave experiments, conducted at three Houston museums over the past year or so, are part of a growing scientific exploration of the human preoccupation with art, with potential implications for worldlier endeavors. Experts say our aesthetic judgments go well beyond paintings and sculpture to influence whom we find attractive, which designs and products we prefer and how we respond to abstract communications such as music or mathematics.

“It is one critical aspect of how people make choices,” said Anjan Chatterjee, a University of Pennsylvania neurologist and author of “The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art,” who studies how brain damage has affected working artists. “It is mysterious as to why it is such a big part of our lives.”

. . . .

As an art critic, the brain is quick to judge. Shown an artwork for the first time, be it a landscape painting, a portrait or an abstract rendering of almost any style, people usually make a snap judgment of its aesthetic appeal. Brain-wave recordings suggest that the neural calculation takes 200 to 330 milliseconds, about as long as a photo flash.

“You experience the appeal of art, and you know right away whether you like it or not,” said Dr. Contreras-Vidal.

Gazing at Van Gogh’s dynamic swirling brush strokes evokes a sense of movement that activates portions of the brain’s visual motor cortex, according to brain scanning experiments conducted in 2012 at Boston College. In a similar way, a portrait activates the part of the fusiform gyrus area in the brain that is responsive to faces; the prettier the face in the portrait, the stronger the neural response. A landscape painting usually activates a portion of the parahippocampal gryus associated with places, according to a 2007 brain imaging study at the University of Southern California and New York University.

Art can stir emotions at the level of synapses. The “delicate sadness” of a mask used in traditional Japanese Noh theater activates the right amygdala, a small, almond-shaped brain structure associated with fear, sadness and other negative emotions, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan recently discovered. The pleasure at viewing a beautiful object appears to trigger the brain’s reward center.

. . . .

The most powerfully engaging works of art appeared to trigger brain regions in the frontal cortex that are involved in introspective thought, as well as nearby regions usually directed at more outward matters. The two areas usually don’t activate simultaneously. “That is a very rare state,” Dr. Vessel said. “It resonates in the shape of your mind.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG thinks there may be implications for cover design and advertising in this research.

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