Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Covers

This week, when I opened my Shelf-Awareness newsletter, I was struck by four covers immediately.

Well, five if you count the biography of Snowman - the greatest horse that ever lived. But I'm not looking at non-fiction unless I think it would be a great fiction cover. In this case, it's not a particularly exciting cover even for non-fiction -- but it does the job because if you already know the story of Snowman, then a white horse jumping over a title "The Eighty Dollar Champion" tells you all you need to know. And if you don't know the story... well, it still tells you most of what you need to know.

Favorite horse stories aside....

I took an immediate shine to this all-text cover of George Pelecanos' new book. It's a unique typographical opportunity to have such a short title, and to be able to fill half the cover with it. Even with the little blurbs, it looks very uncluttered. (In looking at other versions of the cover, I find that when they added a gray medallion next to "George" for the blurb, it then started looking ordinary again. This is a touchy thing.)

The straight black and white, with the retro-hip orange as the only color, has a modern feel -- especially with the very plain sanserif font. Usually pure font/color covers come to look dated quickly. Those elements tend to be subtle, but are very prone to designer fashion. However, the fact that the font is so very clean, and there is only one color, this one may stand the test of time longer. (Does it need to? No. The name "Pelecanos" is what is iconic. This cover is not.)

Okay, I have to admit that I think this cover for The Twelfth Enchantment is just about the worst cover I've seen from a professional in a long time.

The background illustration is fine. It's pretty standard, actually - for an historical, romance or literary. I don't recognize it, but it has the look of a public domain "classic." Using PD images is also pretty standard, especially with literary fiction, so not really a problem there.

The problem is ... what the heck is going on with all the scattered paper? It's ugly. You can't read the title in thumbnail, and even when you can read it, it isn't obvious what you're seeing is supposed to be the title. Luckily, with ebooks, you see the title right next to the cover, so you know. But if you see this in a vacuum? All four of the pieces of paper have equal weight, and the one you see first and best is "enchantment." Is that meant a illustration or text?

It reminds me of the 40's movie motif -- where the newspaper pages would swirl at you and calendar leaves would float by. Or worse yet, a bulletin board. It does not bring to mind any of the things they mention for this book: fantasy (god no), romance (litter is romantic?), historical (not if it isn't a 40's hard-boiled newspaper drama), thriller (a regency dame attacked by static cling?).

There is a slightly later Victorian style this could have emulated, but that painting blows that choice out of the water. (They should go for etchings if that's what they want.) This may well illustrate something that goes on in the story well, but if you have to read the story before you "get" the cover, the cover fails.

This cover for Trackers does a nice job of telling you right off: African thriller. The overall image says "Thriller" with color and lack of detail. The Rhino says "Africa."

What I really note though, is the typography. It doesn't quite bleed off the page, but it fully uses the space with almost no buffer at all. The tracking (space between letters) is very tight, and there is negative leading (the space between lines). The only place it has buffer is in the lower right, where DEON blends in a little with the red-orange above -- the little bit of black on the right margin helps make the N more legible (and if you do it to the N, you have to do it to the R below that).

Text that goes all the way to the edge like that is a tricky thing for printed works. There is little margin for error for the exact cut line. For an image, you can just use a "bleed" where the image extends a little beyond the edge of the image so you can't tell if you cut a little wrong. But text? Text has defined edges. If you miss the cut by even the tiniest amount, you screw it up.

(So Indie Authors? You can do this with your ebook covers, but if you are going for print, modify your design.)

This last cover, for Duty Free, stands out for me because it suggests two genres but doesn't quite fit either. Instead it seems to merge them. I hope the style is coming into fashion, because it is attractive.

The first genre it suggests to me is chick lit. Chicklit these days usually has a vector drawing of an attractive woman. While a lot of designs put more emphasis on the legs, but the woman is always prominent, and if she isn't happy, she's at least doing something which is a part of the chick dream-life.

This is not a vector drawing, but it is heavily posterized (that is simplified to flat color areas). The woman may not be classic chick lit, but she does suggest a happy woman shopping or traveling -- having a chick adventure. (Plus the font suggests chick lit all over the place.)

The other genre this suggests to me is the lighter end of the more highbrow kind women's books: non-fiction adventures. Travel, biography, cultural experiences. The covers for these are usually photographs of the location or subject -- suggesting it's about the experience and observations of the character more than the character.

From the description, this book is pure chick lit -- but the main character is a Pakistani society woman. Chick lit which, for Americans, also broadens your horizons. So, imho, it's good that it reminds a little of each genre.

Well, that's it for covers this week.

See you in the funny papers

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