Novel-tea: I’m judging books by their covers, and I know you are too

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

As much as we try to deny it, the truth is that we constantly judge books by their covers. It’s simply the way our brains work — we like looking at and owning pretty things.

If a book is more aesthetically pleasing, it’s more likely that we’ll pick it up. This core tenet is something that book publishers must keep in mind when choosing book cover art and that cover designers must think of when creating art for each specific book. The question of what exactly will appeal to readers, though, as well as what to put on the cover that most accurately represents the content of the book, is quite a conundrum.

Recently, a pervasive cover art trend has crept into the book publishing world. Characterized by indistinct blobs of bright colors overlaid with a bold, white, sans serif text, this trend is mostly found on the jackets of contemporary literary fiction novels. Other genres feature their own cover art trends: most romance novels have two cartoonish figures on a background of bright colors with some iteration of a cursive font, and many young adult fantasy novels feature a dark background, an image of a dragon, snake, or warrior, and a stately serif font.

While book cover trends have been reflecting each particular time period’s artistic preferences since the beginning of print literature, the latests trends have become more widespread than ever before. Many readers, including myself, are noticing a lack of creativity and variety in book covers which leave us unsatisfied.

The reason for this book cover monotony boils down to social media and book shopping becoming an increasingly online business. Covers are now being designed for the sole purpose of looking good in a tiny thumbnail on Amazon or a little box on Instagram. This explains the current popularity of the indeterminate blobs of bright colors and bold text; publishers want their books to be eye-catching even at a very small size.

Rising homogeneity in book covers can be a good thing for some, as it often allows readers to know the genre of a book before they even pick it up. However, playfulness and uniqueness can sometimes be the best part of book covers.

Senior BXA student Ellis Jones has a behind-the-scenes perspective on book cover art, as they design book covers for fun and for CMU Press, the university’s publishing house. Jones hopes that for the future of cover design, “the extreme amount of trending [will] go away….There’s a lot of creative ideas that we aren’t using because we’re trying to reflect trends or seem similar to other things.” Jones’s own cover art designs are delightfully fresh and creative, playing with fonts, graphics, and textures in experimental ways.

Book covers should be canvases of imagination. I do not want to walk into a bookstore and only look at various iterations of the same five things. I want to be surprised and intrigued. I want things to catch my eye.

I sincerely hope that artists like Jones can eventually push through the trends we’re seeing today and move the book industry toward more creativity and originality. Publishers should expect more from readers and not underestimate their creative tastes. I know I appreciate a new and inventive book cover more than one that I’ve seen before.

Ultimately, I am not ashamed to say that I do judge books by their covers. Honestly, I am more likely to pick up a book with a completely unique design than one I’ve seen a hundred times before. Lots of readers might agree with me on that point.

Speaking directly to designers and publishers, I would say: I do not want what I’m seeing on the shelves these days. I want playfulness in fonts! I want embossing! I want rich colors and visual storytelling! I want picking up a book to be an active experience in appreciating art and design. Is that really so much to ask?