Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mona and me: trying to make a distinctive book cover

Evolution? Yes. Advancement? Maybe.

Books have been around for centuries, and there are just so many ways to design a cover.

Book covers use just three basic ingredients that can be combined in various proportions:  text, graphic image (a picture) and negative space (nothingness). Some books have text but no picture, some have a picture but no text. Some have lots of space, or very little. Some pictures are photographs, others are drawings or paintings. Some images are literal, others are symbolic, or abstract.

Some covers are beautiful.

Others are deliberately or accidentally ugly.

On some covers the text is vertical, or backwards or upside down or in a spiral or is chopped up or smeared. Some text is tilted, some portraits are rotated, or are blurred, monochrome or converted to line art. Some covers are horizontal instead of vertical -- or square or even oval or round. Some covers are made of leather or metal or bark or parchment or canvas. Some type is metallic or glows in the dark, or feels fuzzy or is embossed, debossed or cut out.

It’s important that your book be noticed -- and remembered. Try to be different from your competitors, but don’t be so different that your book costs a fortune to produce.

I’ve produced a lot of books about publishing. Most books in the field show either (a) a book, (b) a bunch of books, (c) a writer, (d) equipment used to make a book, (e) money, or (f) a reader.

Here are seven books about self-publishing. Only mine stands out.
(left-click to enlarge)
My upcoming book about book design has gone through many changes. 

Many self-published books are ugly (inside as well as on the covers). My original title was A Self-Published Book Doesn't Have to be Ugly, and early covers used various graphic images including reactions to ugliness, a trophy for beauty, a beautiful woman reading a book, and Mona Lisa -- symbolizing beauty. I even manipulated Mona to make her look different from Leonardo's original painting, but still keeping her recognizable.

Then I decided to make the book an e-book so I could include color artwork at a reasonable price, and I simplified the title to No More Ugly Books! with an image of a flame implying that I might want to burn ugly books. (In truth, I don't think any book should be burned, but I'd be much happier if ugly books don't exist.)

Just before this book was finalized I came up with a different look, and for a series of related books. About 60% of each cover is devoted to a retro-comic-book panel with some exaggerated emotion. I think they’re fun and I hope they'll be remembered.

(Left-click to enlarge)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I've often said that there is no point in debating aesthetics. ("Whatever turns you one," "De gustabus non est disputandum," "Chacun à son goût" and all that.) However, ugliness is apparent to most people, and my book may help to lessen it a bit.

Although I like to consider myself a Renaissance Man as was the great Da Vinci, I am certainly no Da Vinci. I would never say that my book covers are beautiful, but I don't think they are ugly -- and I'll settle for "nice."

I'd still like to use the cropped and reversed Mona Lisa for some book in the future. That could be beautiful. Whenever I stare into Mona's face (and I do that a lot), I am mesmerized. Leo was a master.

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