The ArtOrder

Category: Book Cover

What makes up the Book Cover category? What makes for a successful Book Cover? What do you need to know to stand out? Lauren Panepinto speaks out...

Friday, February 01, 2013 by Jon Schindehette in Blog, Creativity

For the first time, I put categories into an ArtOrder challenge. The judges and I had a conversation about the categories, and the pieces that folks chose to enter into specific categories. Lauren Panepinto, Creative Director for Orbit books, and one of the nefarious judges made the excellent suggestion that it would be great if ArtOrder would feature a conversation about what type of entries would be appropriate for a given category. She was even kind enough to walk the talk and kick off the discussion.

Here is Laura's thoughts on what would make a successful book cover submission.

"A book cover is different from gaming art and concept art and editorial art in a way that most people don't really think about. In fact, a book cover is first and foremost a piece of advertising. Whether in a store full of covers, or on a website full of thumbnails, a book cover has less than a second to catch someone's eye and drag them in closer. A book cover needs to be a visual fishhook, first making people's eyes stop and rest on them, then hopefully either picking up the book and flipping it over (or clicking on the thumbnail and reading the description). The cover must be 3 things: First it must be eye-catching over all else. Then it must speak to the target audience. Then it must portray what's going on in the book. In that order of importance.

From the artist's point of view, an Art Director should be giving you scene ideas (sometimes I know exactly what we need, sometimes it's more up to the artist to be creative), any descriptions they have of characters/scenes/weaponry/etc (I'll give you a manuscript if we have it, although we often don't yet, and although we're thrilled if you want to read it, I don't rely on that), and maybe a note about comparison authors and books which will tell you the target audience. From all of that raw info it is your job to create an image following the 3 needs above.

First, make your composition vertical. Yes, I know there are some wraparound covers, and you can always pitch a wrap idea but it's the front that you will be judged on and generally artists forget that. A wrap should always be an after-thought. There needs to be a clear visual hierarchy. This means you want to control (through your artists' bag of tricks like lighting/color/composition) what the viewer sees first, then second, then so on. That first thing has to be the most important thing in the cover, the most interesting, because if that doesn't hook a viewer they will never see the rest. And keep it simple. If a cover is too busy a viewer's eye glosses right over it. That, almost more than any other point, is the difference between a book cover and something like a Magic card. There's almost always much less going on, more often a cool scene, or a solid character in an interesting pose, and the rest is background.

The best advice I can give about doing book covers is to look at book covers. Really go sit in a bookstore and look at them. You'll start to pick up the visual language right away."

Now, you can take this information in many different ways.

  • You can use it to better inform the piece you create if you are going to enter a piece in the Book Cover category (adult or childrens).

  • If you have targeted a book publisher, with the intention of doing book covers, you can use the information to help define the requirements your piece should fulfill upon, as part of your portfolio building strategy. You are taking part in the portfolio building class, right?

  • You could get inspired to learn more about the book cover category of work, or one of the other categories and take on a research project.

  • You could choose to proceed under the assumption that you already know all about the book cover category, and continue to get the same results that you've been getting.

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