Monday, August 24, 2009

Package!

I am currently reading Kate Walbert's very hotly reviewed new book, A Short History of Women, whose front cover is depicted here. My review of the book will come later, but for the time being I can't resist commenting on the package!

When I say "package," I mostly mean the jacket, although there are a couple of other contributing factors (the board and binding paper color choices, the page cut, the dye on the spine). Now package is something a publishing professional can't help but oo and ah over when they see a new book. I have learned, from experience, that the first thing NORMAL people say when they pick up a new book isn't "Wow, check out the spot lamination on the cover; I wonder how they made those tiny letter legs so shiny? Must have been a real precision cast." Yeah, in fact, it seems that a lot of people don't even know or care what spot lamination is. (Or the difference between embossing and debossing, or between foil and metalic ink.)

But in the case of a book like A Short History of Women, I can't help but believe that even the uninterested will take note of the package. The jacket designer--a Rex Bonomelli--did what I consider a bang-up job of cover concept. You can see here: he made use of the repeated O in each word--shOrt histOry of wOmen--to stick in a cast of a period hairstyle, thereby reflecting the cascade of generations in the book. Clever, clever device, in a treatment that's otherwise all type, no reliance on a backdrop image or a particular color. The cover is spare, open, and interesting--unusual and memorable, I thought. Furthermore, Scribner's chose a delicate and effective (I think) spot lamination treatment on the front cover, so all the words are shiny if you look closely. This is an expensive effect--it adds between one and four cents to the cost of each copy of the book, which is a lot more significant than it sounds--but in this case I feel well worth it.

But even beyond the cover concept, our friend Rex Bonomelli still had some tricks up his sleeve. If you're able to check out a physical copy of the book next time you're in a book store, pick one up. First notice the spine--even if this book were turned sideways, only a single copy present in a bookstore, the spine would be eye-catching. Rex has included the three head motif here in miniature. Now flip over to the back cover. Notice the design element of the red hatch marks--and how they recur on the inside flaps. Now on to those flaps--normally, flaps are just blank space filled with text. Rex has actually amplified the flap text--both the book description and the author photo and bio--with tasteful and complementary design elements, a rounded frame and echoing red hatch marks. Although much of the jacket is white space, and only three colors are used, the creative design elements are smart, interesting, and decorative even where you don't expect them to be.

(Interestingly and sadly, from a practical standpoint perhaps white was not the best color decision for the background, and perhaps why we don't see spare, simple covers like this--I have been unable to find any pristine copies in any of my daily bookstore truckling; most copies have at least a little smudge.)

I do wonder (in this case, as in every case) what the author thought of the cover design. Kate Walbert, did you love it immediately? Did you imagine something different? Did it grow on you? Was your absolute favorite design totally ruled out by the marketing team?

Do you guys have any all-time favorite cover and/or jacket treatments? Do you tend to noticed things like the effects, the spine, the flaps? What about things like lamination on the cover, or embossed titles?

35 comments:

~Aimee States said...

I am guilty of purchasing books because of how they look. Guilty, guilty, GUILTY. I have shelves of books that I couldn't tell you about because I haven't read them yet, but I had to have them because of the covers. Although, I think that's because I paint as well as write.

Rick Daley said...

I think this is a great cover. The color scheme works for me, because it draws immediate attention to the three heads and helps them to stand out, and also makes it easy to identify the progression of the hairstyles because there aren't any other main focal points to distract from the art. Simple, but effective.

Kim Kasch said...

Okay, this is kinda like preaching to the choir. Of course I notice ALL these things on the cover. I hang out at Borders, Powells and B&N all the time. A good night for me is hanging out at the library or a bookstore. I love to see beautiful artwork on the cover.

Of course, I love art too.

CKHB said...

I have a 2-year-old, so my big concern nowadays is whether a children's hardcover book has the same imagery on the underlying board as it does on the jacket. The jackets get lost or torn so easily, and even though I'm the kind of person who normally wants her books to be in pristine, new-on-shelves condition (no dog-earing the pages, looking for the smudge-free cover before buying, not breaking the spine while reading), with my daughter's books I have been throwing away the jackets. Except sometimes the jacket is different from the hard board cover underneath (If You Give A Mouse a Cookie series, I'm looking at you), and I can't bear to get rid of the jackets that provide artwork not found anywhere else on the cover. So I have a pile of covers stashed in a closet for when my kid is old enough to handle them. And now I feel bad about getting rid of the OTHER jackets, because now some books will have them and some won't.

I spend way too much time thinking about these things...

Charles Gramlich said...

I'd have to see it up close to make a judgement. But, hum, judging just from this pic, I don't find it that compelling. Sorry!

JES said...

I just plowed through a bunch of stuff online about Kate Walbert and Rex Bonomelli... but no luck in finding what her reaction to it might have been, sorry!

Stark-white cover backgrounds just about always draw my attention, probably because that gimmick is used so seldom (probably for the very reason you mention: white becomes not-white awfully fast).

Sometimes book-cover designers -- for paperbacks, especially -- get a little too clever, especially with things like die-cut covers which reveal a second cover behind them. Paperbacks have to endure a lot of abuse which hardbacks don't, and those weirdly shaped front covers are always snagging on things. The cover does serve as a marketing device, an important one, but it's also got a practical purpose -- which sometimes gets overlooked.

Anita said...

I love the covers of LISA LUTZ'S books...someone thought about them, put time into them. The covers actually match the mood and voice of the book itself. I also received Lisa's press kit (I write reviews for a local paper) and the press kit was cohesive, too. Somebody is doing something right for her.

Sarah Laurenson said...

This cover looks awesome to me. No idea if I'd be interested in the contents, but I'd pick it up to find out.

SM Schmidt said...

Darn! This book would have been perfect for my sister's birthday on Thursday. She adores these types of gender studies. Looks like I'll have until Christmas to track down a copy.

As sad as it sounds, I don't generally expect my book spines to hold up. No matter how carefully I try to read the book without opening it up at all, the spines always soon have little stress lines.

Embossed titles though are a real treat when I'm reading. It just feels like the book won't slip out of my grip on a hot day and also adds to the textural experience of holding the book. Especially on the rare splurge the book has the tissue type Bible like paper inside. I could spend hours just listening to that type of paper turn.

Beth said...

I went to the bookstore this past week to buy a copy of a book that has a black and white photograph as the main design on the cover. The copy I found at Borders, however, had really noticeable black smudges on the front, which the salesperson tried to convince me were "part of the cover design." I'm not that gullible, so I went and found it without smudges at B&N.

JES said...

The NY Observer today has an article about a new thing some publishers are trying -- books without jackets:

"...even though they're hardcovers, their cover art is not printed on dust jackets but instead stamped directly onto the boards that hug their pages. The result is a handsome, eye-catching look..."

I bet the effect also outlasts a paper-jacket version!

gapyeargirl123 said...

I was walking past a table of books and had to stop and pick up 'The Dark Volume' because the cover stood out so much. I found it was book 2, and have since bought and read both books.
They're shelved in a section of the book shop I don't normally look at, so if the cover hadn't jumped out at me as being so interesting, I wouldn't have bought it.

And yes, I do this all the time. If a cover has an interesting texture/appearance of texture, I will pick it up for a better look, and quite often buy that book at some point.

Elen Caldecott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elen Caldecott said...

When I lived in France, I fell in love with the Folio imprint. In the old days, all of their covers were plain white. These days, there is a picture on the front cover, but the spines are still white (with the title info in black). The books made for beautiful, minimalist bookshelves!
http://www.gallimard.fr/collections/english/folio.htm

Donna Gambale said...

I love obsessing over packaging. I never thought about anything beyond the cover design until I was an intern at Running Press and sat in on editorial meetings. Then I was like "wow someone actually makes decisions on the paper thickness and size and binding, etc." I never looked at a book the same way again - and I still don't even know half of the options that you were mentioning! One of my favorite recent books (in terms of package and story) was Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver - the entire book's text is the same dark blue color as the cover, and the lack of black just adds that extra touch.

Dave Cullen said...

Great cover. I'll check the physical out at Tattered Cover soon.

Jacket designer Henry Sene Yee has a great blog about how he designs each cover:

http://henryseneyee.blogspot.com/

(I love what he did with mine, and his process was complete news to me.) He will be doing NurtureShock there very soon.

Sierra Godfrey said...

No! I DO actually look at spot lamination/ know what it is! I do!

I recently got the Penguin Classics edition of the Portable Dorthy Parker, and I confess I have not yet read it because I've been TOO DISTRACTED BY THE COVER! Yes. It's a gorgeous cover, with very thick, matte paper (which smells good by the way). It's a paper back but has inside flaps on which a little comic about Dorothy is drawn.

Check it:
http://www.amazon.com/Portable-Dorothy-Parker-Penguin-Classics/dp/0143039539/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251150748&sr=8-1

I am very much in love with it.

BuffySquirrel said...

I suppose it depends who the market is for this book. Given my utter lack of interest in haircuts, and my increasing irritation with the idea that all that matters about women is their looks, I'm guessing it's not me.

Shreds said...

I teach ninth grade, and before the students even open the book, we talk about the cover.

Today I passed out Speak, and before I could even start the discussion, a boy said, "Hey, cool cover." He not only meant the way it looked; he said he liked the way it felt.

I have always felt that way about this volume. It's not slick, it's smooth and almost silky. I bet there's a name for that;)

Deb said...

I like this cover, and would probably give the book more than the 7 seconds we book buyers are said to take to decide.

I'm tired of pink and poison green for women's titles. Hear that, pubs?

It evokes the "White Album" for me, and that's always a win.

Kim said...

Okay, I'm just going to say it...

I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover ( insert wincing here at the cheesy reference). But I do. And it looks like I'm in good company.

I've noticed a few instances where cover art changes for the same title- the example that pops to my mind is Jodi Picoult's "Songs of the Humpback Whale". I've seen two versions of cover art for this book, and I definitely liked one more than the other.

The cover is like the original hook- something's gotta make me want to snatch that book up in the store and go, "Ooo, what's that?"

Buying books that I've picked up by solely looking at a very cool cover...guilty as charged. Let's not even get *into* the books I've bought based on the title alone, please. I'd be here for a screamin' month...

Beth said...

Can I add that I absolutely hate it when they change a book cover to match movie merchandising? I want the original cover, not a picture of the movie stars. One thing I love about a book is that you get to picture the characters in your head, based on the descriptions.

Terri said...

Moonie - it all your fault I am not getting my work done. Thank you, by the way.

This is a gorgeous book. The layout is stunning and gives an idea of the style of the story.

I do the graphic design for our family toy company and do the layout/typography/photography, etc. I'm not in this designer's category, but have an appreciation for the process.

Over at Library Thing, when adding a book to your list, you can choose from any of the covers it has had over the years. I love this feature and love seeing the evolution of cover design over the years (or decades). For example, for "Grapes Of Wrath" I chose the 1950s version with the watercolor painting as the cover. I also have an attachment to that version, it is the same cover I stole from a library many years ago (I paid for it, but I checked it out, fell in love with it, and never took it back).

My nominee for drop dead stunning cover art is the Stephen King "Dark Tower" series. Just like the stories, the artwork gives a hint of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and historical epic.

Now, must work! Terri

moonrat said...

JES--the "cover stamping" technique--we call it "paper over boards" because we like more complicated nomenclature--has another benefit: it's much cheaper to produce. producing a jacket often costs as much as producing the book itself. when a book costs less to produce, we can afford to charge less for it.

moonrat said...

Dave--thanks for the link to Henry Sene Yee's blog!! I'm totally subscribing now.

moonrat said...

Sierra--awesome!! You know the difference between matte and gloss!! I forgot to cover that in this post.

moonrat said...

Shreds--haha, I think THAT's matte, what you mention. Not shiny, just smooth.

moonrat said...

Kim--re: two covers for the same title: we do that for a number of reasons. Usually, it's because the first one doesn't work from a marketing standpoint, or because the accounts (BNN, Borders et al) asked us to change it or said they would take more if we changed it.

But one more neutral reason is that some images are deemed "appropriate" for a hardcover and inappropriate for a paperback, or vice versa. Since customers have to pay more for a hardcover, it's assumed they want a "classier," more subtle/artistic image--something that looks collectable. Meanwhile, the same book will need a catchy, highly marketable paperback cover. As a result, I (and others like me) have series where we publish the hardcovers along one scheme, the companion paperbacks along a completely different scheme.

Does it make sense? I don't know.

moonrat said...

Beth--a lot of stores refuse to even carry the movie tie-in package. That means when a movie of our book comes out, we often do two new editions--one with the tie-in package, another with art (sometimes/often the current existing art). We launch them both at the same time, and offer the stores a chance to choose what they prefer. Most stores WILL want to stock up if there's a movie out, but just because they want lots of copies of the BOOK doesn't mean they want copies with eg Michael Douglas's face all over them.

moonrat said...

Charles, Buffy--I think it's true, though, that this design targets a really specific reader! Who is, apparently, not you. But was definitely me! And the book was exactly what I would have hoped.

CKHB said...

I also hate movie-tie-in covers, and I'm glad to hear that there are usually alternatives (although sometimes they're hard to find once a movie has been released...)

Jane Steen said...

Check out this edition of The Color Purple: http://www.amazon.com/Color-Purple-COLOR-PURPLE-ANNIV/dp/B001TI516K/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251232784&sr=8-14. It was the edition I happened to pick up when my youngest needed it for school (and started reading it while she was trying on clothes in a store, and wouldn't let her have it till I'd finished it.) It's a truly beautiful design, even better than the image because the flowers are glossier than the b/w image. If you look at the other editions of the novel, you'll see that this one really captures the spirit of the writing much better than the others.

Have you ever bought a more expensive edition just because the cover is prettier? I have, many times.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Thank you Buffy - I was starting to worry I was the only one that didn't like this cover. Hair? Seriously. Kelley Armstrong's cover on Men of the Otherworld, now THAT's art!

Kim said...

Moonrat, it does make sense, especially when I apply it to the book in question. I saw (okay, I *own*) one as a paperback and the other online, so it's possible that the online one was the hardcover version and thus the different art.

I weirdly like the papaerback cover better, but it's largely possible that it's because I own it. I loved the book (I highly recommend it, in case you haven't picked it up)- more specifically- I loved *that* book.

Strange, I know. What can I say? I'm a writer. We're supposed to be a little weird ;)

Sarita said...

I volunteer to do book mending at my local library, and have played around with making books by hand at home. The result is that if I come across a book made in a style that I'm not used to seeing I oo and ah over how it was made, and wonder how I might use the technique on future books I might (or might not -- it's been a while since I've actually made a book) make.

Sometimes if the artwork on a cover catches my eye I'll spend a while studying it, but otherwise I don't normally look at that kind of thing too much.