Monday, July 9, 2018

Book Cover Design: A Librarian's Perspective

I've learned a lot about book covers in the 2 1/2 years I've been working at the local library. (Has it really been that long already? Wow.) What looks professional, what doesn't, what belongs in what genre and age group, what looks new and what looks like it was published twenty years ago, and more. I'm absolutely no expert, and honestly, I couldn't probably put a lot of what I've learned into words. It's more just a feeling. A knowing what works and what doesn't, without necessarily being able to put your finger on it. I've just got to learn how to translate that to my own covers.

There's so much variety in covers. Some interesting Photoshop jobs like this one that I love:

Note: I haven't read it, so I can't vouch
for content. It's a prodigal son story.

And then there's how different covers can make books with the exact same title look and feel so completely different. Like these two I once shelved at the same time:

Note: Again, I haven't read either book and can't vouch for
content. I just find the contrast between the two fascinating.

But there are some things even more important to me in cover design as a librarian. I've got me a list.

1. Please, please, PLEASE, if the book is in a series, put the series title and volume number clearly and prominently in a place on the spine that is unlikely to be covered by a library label. 

We have so many series at the library that are difficult, or even impossible to shelve in order. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are difficult because the number is only on the front. Captain Underpants is annoying because it just says stuff like "Another Epic Novel" or "Ninth Epic Novel" on the front cover, and not everyone is dedicated to keeping them in order. Geronimo Stilton puts the number on the bottom of the spine where everybody puts a library label, so on a few of them you can see just enough of the number to put it in order, but not enough to do all of them. Then there are series with no number on them at all. Luckily, I've read Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series, so when a girl came to the desk with #2, I was able to get #1 for her as well so she wouldn't be totally lost.

2. If you wouldn't want your small child to see that cover image, or the cover might cause your child to ask questions you don't want to answer, please don't put it on the book. I don't want little kids to see them, and I don't want to see them either.

Luckily, there haven't been terribly many, but there are some Stuart Woods, James Patterson, and Sandra Brown covers that I regularly turn over on the desk or hide in the middle of a stack of books. When it's on the front cover or on the back, I can conceal it for the most part, but there's nothing I can do about pictures on the spine. And I don't care if the photo is strategic enough to not technically show anything bad—if I can still tell that woman is scantily clad, I'm flipping it over. I'm guilty of shifting Patterson books because I was tired of seeing a woman in a skimpy bathing suit every time I turned down that aisle. And you don't even NEED to put those kinds of pictures on the cover. Fifty Shades is awful, I refuse to read a single word when I'm flipping through to check for damage, and I dread shelving the series, but at least I don't have to flip it over on the desk.

3. On that note, snake books. Just why?

Yes, I flip those over too. They creep me out.

4. Make the children's book covers interesting, please.

I really talked up my experience with The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle to a little girl because our copy had this cover and she'd just decided against a book I hadn't read because it looked boring.

That cover just looks...old. I like this one much better.

She ended up not reading it after all, but I can't be sad because of her reason. She'd started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and was loving it.

5. This is just my personal preference, but it's something I wouldn't necessarily know about without working at the library. What's wrong with realistic style illustrations on children's books? Why must they all look like graphic novels or Pixar knockoffs?

They've redesigned Boxcar Children from my favorite editions.

They've redesigned the A to Z Mysteries (and I really hate the new ones).

Just why? Why ruin the cover?

Then there are times when I wasn't a big fan of the original cover:

So then I like the new cover:

And then they go and change it again to make it look all computer animated:

Am I the only person on the planet who likes to picture characters in juvenile fiction as real people and wants the front cover to help me in that?

I just love covers like these. Please tell me I'm not the only one.

So there you have it: my librarian's perspective on cover design. What are some things you like and dislike in book covers?


  1. These are great thoughts on book covers! I mean, a person's first impression of a book usually comes from the cover. Since you like book covers, you might want to check out this blog tag, if you're interested: It was a lot of fun!

  2. this was interesting! i've been thinking abt covers a lot... i realized what i've always pictured for my contenporary middle grade book's cover would fit an adult historical fiction or romance book better lol


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