Last Impressions: Covers & Titles

11 May

Book covers are important, this is a truth of the world. More often than not they’re the first point of contact between potential readers and your work. Titles are, in my opinion, just as important. But I’m not going to talk about ‘first impressions’ here. I’m going to talk about last impressions.

After I finish a good book, there’s something I always do, a ritual of sorts. I look at the cover again. Sometimes for minutes, as I think about the book and reflect back on it. Now, for me, a really great cover/title isn’t just about that first impression. For me, a truly great cover/title should change after you’ve finished the book. Especially for titles, I think there are a few ‘rules’ for a great one:

1) Memorable and easy to spell.
2) Intriguing and evocative of the book’s story/characters/setting/themes.
3) Unusual enough to stand out from other books, especially in the same genre. Take a look at how many fantasy books are called something like “the x of y” or how many thrillers are called “the x“. If you’re going to use this format, your x and y better be pretty special.
4) If possible, the title’s meaning should be clearer and, perhaps, deeper after the reader has finished the book.

Some thoughts on my own covers and titles:

The Undying Apathy Of Imogen Shroud’s cover is one I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about, and I’m pretty proud of it. One thing that people have mentioned is that they like the ambiguity of the heart-shaped thing on the end of the club. After you’ve read the book, you know exactly what it is. More than that, though, my hope would be that what was once just a dark silhouette of a girl holding an ambiguous club-thing has now become a character; that after reading the book, the reader sees Imogen in that silhouette. The title’s meaning, also, may change subtly, depending on how you look at things.

The Charlotte Powers covers also I’m proud of, nice and clean and simple. They use Charlotte’s personal power icon, the star-against-circle device, surrounded by the power-icons of all the other supers she encounters during that particular book. As a reader, I love this kind of thing. I’d spend ages just looking at the cover before I even started reading, looking at the icons, trying to figure out what they might represent, and then after finishing the book I’d go back and match the powers to characters. I know not everyone would do this, in fact I know hardly anyone would, but I write for myself and for people like me, people who enjoy these little details, and so to me, this is a good cover. Also, after reading the first book I think the cover does change a little. There’s a reason I put all the power icons there, but to go into that reason would be a spoiler.

The covers for the Miya Black books are simpler, but I think they still achieve this goal–of a good first and last impression. I think the ‘title over icon’ effect is quite striking, especially the bright colours and stark white against black. Also, the icon of each book does have some significance–not a huge amount, it’s true, but some.

Birds of Passage’s cover is a little unusual, in that it doesn’t depict anything that happens in that book. In fact, the scene it depicts isn’t actually ever shown. It happens, but off-screen. Maybe some people will get it after the second book, maybe not. Like I said, unusual. But the Resonance series in general is ‘unusual’. So it kind of fits, and I think it shows some of what the first book is about, and after reading the book the reader will at least know what the location depicted on the cover is. As for the title, it’s a pretty basic connection, but I think it works nicely.

The Boy & Little Witch’s cover needs work. I think it’s okay as a print book cover, subtle and a little lonely, but you can’t see the tiny figures in the lettering in the Kindle cover so it just doesn’t work. I need to redo this one. I’m actually considering getting an actual artist to paint something for me. In any case, I think a new cover would improve the book a lot.

For other works, I have to say that the Discworld covers are amazing (not the US editions), the early ones with all the little details and characters and things, I’d spend ages studying them after I was finished to try to catch everything. The newer covers are great too–it’s interesting also that they reflect the changing ‘maturity’ of the series, the earlier books were more jokey and the later books are more thoughtful.

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Posted by on May 11, 2011 in Of Writing


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