“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is perhaps one of the most commonly-uttered phrases in the book world. While this is definitely true when it comes to judging people, the jury is still out on whether this is helpful when it comes to actual books. After all, how else might a book catch your eye from the shelf if not via the cover?
Why cover art matters
Unless a reader has been given a detailed recommendation by a trusted friend, cover art is how many first interact with a book. Even with those trusted recommendations, cover art can sometimes mean the difference between deciding to read a book or leaving it forever on a to-be-read list.
Good cover design captures a potential reader’s attention and can help one book stand out in a sea of thousands. In a world where an average of 2,700 books are published every day, each book faces huge competition to even get looked at, let alone read.
Because readers are trying to navigate through a huge amount of books available, they tend to take whatever shortcuts available to them. Cover art can also do more than draw the reader in, asbook jackets are essentially 10-second sales pitches that convince readers to take home the book, or move on to the next.
Book jackets are also important because humans are inherently visual creatures. Between 30-50 percent of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information, and many individuals learn best via visual channels. Human brains are designed for visual information.
Because of this, many marketers have spent decades studying visual design and the psychology behind each book you see on the shelves. Color harmony (or color theory) impacts the logical order of a book cover and things like major color contrasts have the ability to draw the eye to a specific part of the design.
Readers also associate specific colors with certain feelings. Green is often associated with growth, while gold sometimes invokes feelings of luxury or sophistication. Color perception changes depending on who is looking at it, and different cultures may have different color associations. Good cover design captures reader attention, regardless of their background. Bad cover design turns readers away before they even have the chance to decide if they want to give a book a chance.
Readers have certain expectations when it comes to cover art within certain genres, so most trends develop on a genre-by-genre basis.
Some of the trends for 2021 include bold typography, minimalistic designs, and a return to the 70’s and 80’s stylistically. These trends reflect larger movements of what’s been trendy in pop culture overall. For instance, many TV shows from, or based on the 70’s or 80’s, like Stranger Things, are becoming more popular in mainstream media.
Increasing minority representation in cover art
It’s no secret that book covers are a great place to convey visual diversity, but many of them fall short, especially in the YA genre. In 2018, not even 20 percent of book covers featured People of Color. Stories are getting better about featuring diversity between the pages but the covers binding those pages together tend to whitewash stories and feature white people in the designs.
LGBTQ+ representation is also improving. Some covers are slowly evolving to show queer couples, including showing LGBTQ+ couples kissing on the cover. The change in these covers also opens the debate on whether LGBTQ+ stories should have explicitly queer content on their covers. While it shows progress for queer acceptance, it can also bring unwanted questions to people who aren’t quite ready to answer them. This can be especially true for teens, who may want to pick up a book that represents things they’re questioning, but may not feel safe doing so.
The next time you head to the bookstore, take a look at the books around you to note important cover trends throughout the industry. And remember, it’s okay to judge a book by its cover, as long as you’re just doing it to decide whether or not you’ll take that book home.