Interstitial Moment:

Today I received two different cover comps for a book of mine. (My new book of adult poems.) And as I looked at the two side by side, I thought a lot about what makes a good cover.  I also realized how difficult it is to make a decision about what will most appeal. It’s not the first time I have had this thought, of course. Back when I was an editor for Harcourt with my own imprint, I had to think about it a lot as I was editing between 5-10 books a year then.

But here goes:

First, as everyone will tell you, a book jacket is a poster. It will be (if you are lucky) face out on the shelf in a bookstore and it needs to sing a siren song to anyone walking by. It needs to crook its finger at the buyer. It needs to wiggle its beautiful rear. It needs to seduce.

But my seduction (Johnny Depp, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman) may not be yours. You may be (mirable dictu) a Justin Bieber seductee. And so the art director and editor (along with the marketing department and occasionally, God help us, Barnes & Noble) need to look at the cover comp with the eyes of the hoped-for book buyer.They have to make it gorgeous and appealing, not necessarily to their own aesthetic but to the perceived audience’s desires.

The questions are asked: is it bold enough, alluring enough, does it tell a story (does it, the author begs, tell the right story, but that is a different question and another fight). Can you recognize it and its genre across a crowded room? Is the type big enough, too big, too ornate, not sexy enough, too old-fashioned, too modern? I myself dislike san serif type, but understand its place on book jackets and often have to give way. There are times the art directors get caught up in the tropes of the day. For example, recently there has been a tidal wave of  YA book jackets and adult novels jackets with the main characters’ heads cut off. Go figure. And a few years ago no one would ever use green on a jacket because the common wisdom of the day had been “green jackets don’t sell.” Fairy tale novel covers, once the province of romantic illustrators like Kinuko Craft and Ruth Sanderson and John Jude Palacar seem these days to have been given over entirely to photographers.

It’s a tough job and an often thankless task. Not everyone is pleased with the result. But in the end, if the jacket appeals to the buying public, there is satisfaction enough to go around.

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