Thursday, May 17, 2007

What ELSE are we gonna judge by?

by Marcus Sakey

What makes you pick up a book?

This question is weighing on my mind right now, as my publisher is in the process of designing both the mass market cover for THE BLADE ITSELF and the hardcover for my second novel (currently called AT THE CITY'S EDGE; click here to read about Title Hell). So as we're looking at concepts, I'm also watching myself when I go in a bookstore, because it's a competitive environment, and I want people to grab my book before they grab its neighbor. Actually, I want them to grab it, then rub it against themselves while humming the theme from Shaft. Does that make me greedy?

Here are a few that hook me:

I love this one. Clean, stark, moody. Grabby as hell.

The palette is tremendous. The typography is timeless but inventive. The photo seems like it should be everyday but isn’t--the graininess and the god rays from the cloud combine to make it skew our perception.

I'm lukewarm on Rushdie (brilliant stylist, but never seems to get anywhere) but I bought the thing the moment I saw it.

No way I could walk past this novel.

The image puts you right in the moment without revealing too much--maybe I’m a sucker, but a hand and a cigarette, a view through a window, and I’m hooked. The duotone scheme is dramatic, and the dominant orange is at once unsettling and compelling.

Also, I think that the uneven weighting of the title lends a nicely cinematic feel.

This simple cover pulls off mass-market tone with aplomb—there’s something hypnotic about it.

The photo is dynamic, conveying a sense of motion, but the soft focus leaves everything to the imagination. Again, it reflects the story—the police car, the dark city street, and two figures that suggest the two main characters.

Dig the diagonal orientation, also, the way it makes things seem just a little unbalanced.

I love white space, and the only thing better than a Swiss grid is one that’s been slightly busted.

I also love the way the desolate photo combines with the minimalism of the typography to evoke the story. ROBBERS is about two criminals on a disintegrating, nightmare run--something you can practically guess from the cover.

Phenomenal book that not many folks know about, by the way. Well worth picking up.


Atmosphere thick enough to choke. The railing and lights take on a larger character--they come to look like a parliamentary building or a factory, something imposing and moody.

I also love the treatment of the title and Bruen’s name. That kind of branding, built across multiple books, can make a big difference.

(These are all from my personal collection, but if you're interested in more great covers, be sure to check out The Book Design Review, a fascinating blog that analyzes the covers of new books with an emphasis on NYT Bestsellers.)

Anyway, how about you? Which books just leap off the tables at you? I'd really like to know. Especially if Isaac Hayes comes to mind.


Jonathan E. Quist said...

I confess...
Lately, I seem to pick up books based on the author's name on the spine.

Or, (gasp), because of proximity on the shelf to an author I like.

Well, actually, because of proximity to books written by an author I like. I seldom find the actual author sitting on a bookshelf. But never say "never".

I suspect that if someone launched a series using the cover format from 1960's edition Hardy Boys books, my hand would be magnetically drawn to them while walking down the aisle.

Marcus, if you want customers to rub your books against themselves, perhaps you should ask the publisher to incorporate a lint brush into the spine? Then seed the other end of the aisle with The Cat Who's Hair Clung to a Customer, and you're all set.


Bill H said...

I love James Ellroy's covers. Glammy razzle-dazzle, very Vegas. They're lurid in just the right way.

And the Hard Case Crime covers are cool too. They're modeled after old pulps: women with guns and cigarettes, retro type.

Jude Hardin said...

I still have that 45 (Theme from Shaft) somewhere, Marcus. :)

I recently bought Peeps by Scott Westerfield based on the cover. It's a YA vampire thriller, and I think it's brilliant.

The retro pulp covers are the ones that usually turn my head, though. Love them.

Steve Malley said...

I'm going to have to order these off of Amazon. Here in New Zealand we mostly get the UK covers. Sometimes I like those better, but these are irresistable.

(Returns to humming the theme from Shaft...)

spyscribbler said...

I liked your hardcover cover. Simple sticks out in today's shelves; quite a few authors have taken the all-white approach, but I can't think of another all-yellow on the shelves.

After all, we need some impetus to pick it up, to even look at the cover, back cover, and first page.

Maryann Mercer said...

I have to say it's the title that gets my attention first. If the title intrigues me, I pick up the book and read the jacket copy. Not fond of garish colors, perhaps because they overpower the title and author's name, but I do like color in general. Graphics are cool, but it's still the title that makes me look twice.