Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Importance of book covers

Summer Edward on her facebook pages has been posting book covers from various Caribbean Islands. So far she’s posted covers from Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Haiti and Grenada. I thought I had seen a post on her blog specifically on the importance of a book cover, but I couldn’t find it. Her comment below on illustrations for Caribbean children’s books might be relevant though, as the illustration is actually the most important component of a cover, especially for children's books. Check the covers she has posted and judge for yourself.


Looking at many of the illustrations in Caribbean picture books, I might be tempted to say that Caribbean artists are simply not that talented. This I know, is far from the truth. There is abundant, fantastic artistic talent in the Caribbean. What is missing in our region, is a sense of the importance of the role of the children's illustrator. Also, many of us do not yet understand that works of children's illustration are as much "fine art" as the creations we see displayed in Caribbean art galleries and museums. Caribbean artists fail to see children's illustration as the lucrative business and fine artform that it is, and we are decades behind continental children's illustrations (UK, Asia, USA, Africa) in this sense. So that is where we are right now in Caribbean children's illustration: abundant talent to choose from, but no cohesive, well-respected children's illustration field/industry with ties to an organized, professional and active Caribbean children's publishing mechanism with plenty and sustained work opportunities for illustrators

I may get some grief for this, but I am going to say it anyway: I simply don't think Caribbean children's illustration as it stands today is all that great. I mean the work that currently appears in published Caribbean children's books. To put it plainly, Caribbean children's illustration as it looks today, lacks versatility, seriousness (in the sense of professionalism) and sustained effort. Caribbean children's illustrators (who by the way, are a small group) simply haven't been inventing much, and we are waaaaaay behind our continental counterparts in this respect. Much― and that is not all, there is some great work out there― but again, much of the illustration currently appearing in Caribbean picture books is basically clich├ęd: cute, simplistic, uninventive, cartoony, and computer-generated. ( my emphasis)

Publishers sometimes consult, but do not  give authors control over/input into the design of their book covers. (My publishers are not adverse to a suggestion, but this is in the laid-back Caribbean) Self-publishers of course have that full control. Both need to pay very serious attention to cover design.  Here are some reasons why.
Importance of book covers
·           Shoppers in a bookstore spend an average of 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds looking at the back before deciding whether to buy it.
·           A survey of booksellers showed that 75% of them found the book cover to be the most important element of the book.
·          Sales teams often only take the book cover with them when they shop titles into stores.

What goes into the making of a design for a book cover?  Obviously the story itself - what it is about and the intended readership. Decisions about typeface, size – those technical details are taken on the basis of these considerations.The art brief from the editor will give the illustrator guidelines for the cover illustration. Judging what will make a book stand out on the shelf is not often easy. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Some people may like a cover, others may not – usually the detractors cannot give an objective reason for disliking a cover.

Another  consideration  for our books is also whether the illustrator is familiar with and understands the Caribbean origin of the story. We all have to be very careful not to fall into the category highlighted in the last sentence in Summer’s quote.
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