What Makes A Good Book Cover?

We have all seen book covers we don’t like. Some suffer from unfortunate aesthetics, being too busy, poorly rendered, or just plain dull, deterring readers with their intimations of boredom within. Others misrepresent the text they introduce, unintentionally or deliberately promising a book they can’t deliver. The offense of a bad book cover feels especially egregious when it seems to alienate young people from a book we feel particularly fond of. It might be tempting to define good book covers as those that attract wide, enthusiastic readership. But that would be simplistic. A book cover has a variety of jobs to do, with responsibilities to the book, the publisher, and the reader. Mr. Robert Hawkes (my high school Russian literature teacher) taught us that the way to assess something’s quality is to measure how well it achieves its own goals. And so, the exploration of book cover brilliance depends upon a thorough understanding of just what the book cover is trying to do.

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