Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Judging books by their covers (a scratch and sniff adventure)

There is a hallmark for POD titles--other than the overwhelming lack of editing: the covers.

In our great search for the emeralds and rubies at the bottom of the POD sea, we've come across some book covers that were so horrible, so absolutely amateurish, that we pulled them off (not so easy, by the way--POD quality has improved over the years) and framed them.

Perhaps my favorite--and quite possibly the nadir--was a book (that I cannot bear to publicize) about a satanic force that rises to rule the world. And on the cover was a huge image surely intended to be a pentagram.

It was a Star of David.

And in an instant this publisher managed to offend both Jews and Satanists alike.

Why are these covers so bad? I'm guessing it's because of volume - since POD companies produce thousands of titles per year and the traditional publishers produce, well, far less.

So can you judge a book by its cover? Sometimes. I'll be the first to admit that when I am browsing the tables at B&N or Borders, I will almost always pick up a book with an intriguing cover. Likewise, I will never pick up a book with a hideous cover--regardless of how clever the title may be.

So here is my suggestion for you POD folks: Go to you local college or university (even a community college if you have to) and find the art and/or computer science departments. Talk to the professors or post an ad looking for a graphic designer who wants to work on book covers and offer the cover of yours in exchange for a resume builder. No money needs to swap hands and you likely get a far better product from a kid trying to make a name for herself than the opposite: a guy with a 5:00 p.m. deadline and rush hour traffic facing him.

Don't get me wrong--the New Yorkers aren't perfect. In some cases they just repeat the same ideas over and over and over and over and over. But even their worst is usually far better than an average POD.

Random, S&S, Putnam, HarperCollins--they all spend a fortune on high quality covers--not just beauty, but covers that suggest a sense of the book. That is what you want--not the exact opposite.


Bonus round:

Check out Max Barry's display of the evolution of the cover for his book, Jennifer Government.