Category Archives: covers


Book Art

3c9a7c3c1011b71c029716359300f8f8One of my favorite  things to do is to go into a book store and judge book covers. “Gasp! No! This is something you should never do,” you may be thinking. But I think there’s actually merit in appreciating and critiquing the artworks that decorate books. That doesn’t mean I’m judging the writing, though.

The cover of a book is a work of art. There are artists involved in this process, and a lot of time and effort from many different people goes into making them just right. So if you’re not appreciating them or looking at them critically, you’re basically saying that all that effort is a waste of time. In my opinion, going into a bookstore is like going into a museum full of paintings. You may not love or understand every work of art, but you should appreciate its existence.

Here’s a blog that I love. It takes the covers of books and shows how absolutely beautiful they can be.


A photo posted by Book Bento Box (@bookbento) on

And here’s an article that shows some truly gorgeous book covers like this one:


These covers can enrich your home as much as they can your mind. Covers are just one more wonderful thing to love about books!

What are your favorite book covers?


Books with a side of awesomeness

I recently stumbled upon an Instagram account called @bookbento, that’s run by Read it Forward, and then fell in love with its content. It satisfies pretty much every part of me that loves books, good design, pretty knick-knacky things, and the many Instagram filters available. Essentially, @bookbento pairs a book (recent ones include THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri, THE GIRLS by Emma Cline, A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara, and ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes) with items that match elements of the book, set against a striking background. For example, THE ASSISTANTS was paired with a typewriter, a day planner, two pencils, and a cup of coffee. This Instagram makes me want to go out and read all of these books immediately, proving that good visuals can be important!

With social media becoming an ever important way to reach an audience, I think something like @bookbento is an incredible way to draw readers in and maybe convince them to go out and buy a copy of the book. It’s aesthetically pleasing enough that viewers might stop for a closer look, and the elements surrounding the book hint at what might be inside. There were a few books that I certainly Googled afterwards, to see a summary, and then put on my “to-read list.”

What other clever social media accounts about books have you found? What effect do you think they have on both avid readers and readers who might only pick up a book or two a year


Those conventional publishing rules…are made to be broken

PicMonkey CollageLast week I had lunch with one of my favorite editors and we got to talking about the state of publishing and what was working and what wasn’t.  Somewhere along the line, we began to try to identify all of those “rules” which we were taught about the business—and discovered that in this ever changing world most of them no longer held.

Here are some examples:

Green covers don’t work—and then there was GOOD NIGHT MOON.

Books about dead or abused children won’t sell—now the true crime category is back and books like Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE have become bestsellers.

Short story collections don’t do well.   And then along comes Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.

Books about death are a “no no” but what about BEING MORTAL and WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR?

And, finally, we all know that books with unlikeable protagonists definitely don’t work, but what about those in GONE GIRL or Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS?

I guess rules are made to be broken and, I have to say, I am always delighted when those in our industry are.  It makes life so much more interesting.

I wonder whether you have any examples of what you have been told definitely won’t work…until it does.  Let me know.


Don’t Judge A Book by Its Dress

Readers find books in a lot of ways: a friend’s suggestion, a radio interview, a magazine ad, a blogger’s review. But nothing beats browsing a bookstore (or a website) and picking a new book simply because the cover caught your eye. In spite of – or perhaps because of – an increasingly digital world, it’s fun to see publishers’ art departments paying a lot of attention to creating arresting covers for books.

So I got a big kick out of this Buzzfeed list matching 24 striking book covers with couture seen on the runway during New York Fashion Week held earlier this month. High fashion and literature might not go hand-in-hand very often, but when they do, it sure is fun!

24 Books That Perfectly Match New York Fashion Week Looks

I don’t know if I’d wear that dress, but I sure would read it!

Have you ever bought a book based on cover design alone? What do you look for in a great cover design? Any favorite book covers that you think would make a great dress?


Some nuggets

For today’s blog post I just want to share several short nuggets of information with our followers.

Nugget #1

A cover reveal! Because I know that’s a popular request, and I absolutely love this cover.



FATHER LINCOLN by Alan Manning


Nugget #2

Cause for concern?

I’m referring to an upcoming Authors Guild study on author income coming out this week that everyone in the industry should read, as it affects not only the livelihood of authors, but the wellbeing of the publishing industry as a whole. It’s hard not to wince at the idea of 56% of authors earning below the poverty line in 2014, and the always-contentious standard 25% e-book royalty rate and Amazon’s marketplace dominance are widely believed to be the cause of such an ugly statistic. BUT I would also like to stress that it’s too soon to jump to conclusions without seeing the whole report and being able to identify larger earnings trends. Do things need to change in order for midlist authors to be able to earn a decent living? Yes, almost definitely. And luckily technological innovation is giving us ever more inventive means of distribution, marketing, publicity, etc. Now we just need some sort of study to reveal some jarring statistics that shock us into a conversation about change. Oh wait…


Nugget #3

Gotta love the short fiction on Twitter! Something I alluded to in an earlier blog post.

Writing strong characters

Many years ago, I was working with my very talented client, A.J. Hartley, and he sent me pages for a new thriller with a female protagonist, the first female protagonist he’d ever attempted. I read the opening section and tried to be diplomatic in my feedback, but I basically told him that the lead character was not likeable or sympathetic enough and that she came across as very defensive. He took the criticism graciously, went back to the drawing board, and delivered a revision that nailed the character so well that when the book was later published, Publisher’s Weekly had this to say about her: “Hartley has created an enduring heroine in Deborah, who’s courageous, loyal and smart enough to learn from her mistakes.” He has since gone on to write many wonderful books with both male and female protagonists, but that first one paved the way. See first edition cover image below.

I recently came upon a piece on’s blog about strong female characters that I wanted to share. The author, a writer named Ilana C. Myer, brings up an important point about writing characters in general, regardless of gender. What is most important is that they have empathy. Focus less on whether they are a man or a woman and more on the character’s feelings, their pasts, their sense of humor and a fully realized character will emerge.

What are your tips for writing strong characters? Any pitfalls you try to avoid? The stereotypes are easier to fall back on, but when you get past that and create really memorable, enduring protagonists, gender can be the least important factor of all.


Judging the Book by its Cookie


This morning I listened to a fascinating NPR interview with Peter Mendelsund, an esteemed cover designer who has recently published his own book on cover design (did you follow that okay? I’ll wait).

Mendelsund talked to Fresh Air’s Dave Davies about how he reads every manuscript carefully. “I’m trying to be very alert for anything in that text that has structural importance or a particular kind of emotional weight,” he explained, saying that he wants the cover design to capture the feeling he had while he was reading, rather than simply recreating a character or portraying a scene.

So I was thinking deep, important thoughts about aesthetics and subliminal messaging today as I stood in the kitchen making my coffee. And my eyes fell on a framed cookbook cover on the wall in our lobby, which just so happens to be in my direct line of vision from the kitchen door. “A ha!” I thought to myself. “THIS is why I always crave cookies in the office! It’s not even my fault. It’s the cover design!” Luckily, Tuesdays are the day our intern Amy usually brings in amazing home-baked goods – chocolate peanut-butter-chip cookies are today’s treat.

I’m kidding – sort of – but I’m also thinking about covers. We do judge books by them, even when we don’t realize we are. When I worked at Barnes & Noble, I would hear at least once a day, “I don’t remember what it was called, but the cover was orange.” Below are some delightful books I discovered when their cover caught my eye:


What are your favorite book covers? What catches your eye when you’re browsing for a new read? Do you find yourself drawn to the same design elements over and over?


Covers via Goodreads


Stereotype versus Archetype

Earlier this month, at Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference, I was part of a panel discussion on “ethnic” writing with four very talented writers, Adam Stumacher, Qais Akbar Omar, Jennifer DeLeon, and Celeste Ng.  As you might imagine, I was—for better and worse—the designated voice of the “marketplace,” and I tried to address the commercial considerations of publishing books that John Cheever didn’t write.

At one point, the issue of cover design came up, and Ng, whose novel EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU comes out from Penguin Press this June, said she felt fortunate that her publisher created a cover refreshingly devoid of elements (bamboo leaves, jade figures, gold coins) that seem to be the go-to images for books by Asian writers. I noted that there is an analogous complaint about books that engage Islam, an overwhelming number of which feature the image of a veiled woman. A couple of days ago I spotted this blog entry that illustrates, quite effectively, that “all books about Africa have the same cover.” This same entry also cites blogger Marcia Lynx Qualey, who provides a gallery of covers featuring ladies in burqas.  

Book covers perform a function; their job is to be visually arresting, instantly evocative and appealing to a consumer. Most rely on archetypal imagery that stands in for larger ideas, and broadly communicates a book’s themes and settings. A cover design is effective not because  (or not only because) it is original or “accurate,” a cover design is effective if it sells the book.  And yet, inasmuch as I am a voice of the marketplace, over-reliance on the same set of images—images that reflect back and shape our own imperfect notions of a place, a faith or a culture– seems problematic. I think publishers need to be careful to avoid trading in stereotype, rather than archetype.

What do you think? Do you see similar done-to-death themes in other “ethnic” or international literature? 



Just now on Twitter I came across possibly the most perfect line of copy I’ve ever seen:  the revamped cover from Atheneum/S&S Children’s of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret contains the tagline “Growing up is tough. Period.”

Atheneum, I salute you!

“Growing up is tough. Period.”

If you’re not familiar with the book you probably weren’t a preteen girl post 1970 and you also might not know that this, perhaps the most perfect book I read in all of elementary school, is about a girl trying to figure out her religious identity while facing the many struggles of puberty.  (I read it young enough that it was my first introduction to what was coming my way, and I remember having to ask a lot of questions, including interrupting a roomful of people to loudly ask my mother what a sanitary napkin was.)  The copy is coy enough to not offend, except perhaps those who already try to get the book banned for being honest about complicated things, and you can hardly market to that crowd.  It cleverly alludes to the contents for those of us who grew up with it and might need to go snag some Judy Blumes on the way home to re-read this weekend or give to any preteens we know.  And it’s smart since it gets people talking—when I googled it to find the cover image, I saw that the sites that covered it when the new editions were revealed all acknowledged it.

Writing any kind of marketing copy is hard.  As agents, we have to draft it for our pitches to publishers when trying to sell books, and as rights director I often have to write it for foreign or audio submissions (either because it’s too early for publisher-generated copy or because different markets will need a different approach).  It’s one of the toughest things about a query letter or a sales pitch.

So when it’s just right, well, I think we should all give kudos where they are due.  Congratulations, Atheneum, because that’s a stroke of genius.

Ever seen any book copy that made you sit back and take notice?  Share the brilliance with the rest of us below, please!


Friday fun

You guys, it’s summer, it’s Friday, and roughly half of publishing is on a plane to one of a small number of conferences/signings/events.  So it seems best to go for happiness and joy for today’s blog post, right?

And what could be more pleasantly inane than Flavorwire’s slideshow of classic children’s books adapted to star Parks & Rec characters?  The illustrations are by the clearly delightful Jennifer Lewis (@thisjenlewis).  They all amused me, but I have to say #10 is definitely my favorite, and I let out an audible “HEE!” at #12.

Not a Parks & Rec fan?  Then what about this Design Observer list of the UK’s best 50 book covers of 2012?

Covers not doing it for you, either?  Well, there’s another mysterious book art sculpture in Edinburgh, says Abe Books.

And if that doesn’t fill your heart with joy, then I can only hope you’ve got Summer Fridays in your world and can take this afternoon to relax, read a book, and remember what happiness is.  Happy weekend, everyone!