Sunday, 9 February 2014

Louise Discusses - Book Covers


It has long been a passion of mine, book covers; they are the window to the author's imagined world, or they are the representation of the author's nonfictional Magnus Opus. I feel that it is important for the book cover to not only hook the potential reader to pick the book up and flick through the pages, but also it should represent in some way what hides between the covers.

I would like to discuss three books today. They are Imperium by Robert Harris, The Oracles of Troy by Glyn Iliffe, and Undreamed Shores by Mark Patton. These three books are from my own Kindle bookshelf.

When you purchase a Kindle version of a book, the back cover is not evident, there is no 'blurb' to read. This is a pet peeve of mine, although I know that it is possible to download a 'Try a Sample' option before you decide to purchase, or not. I always do this; it is worthwhile. Sometimes the title comes across as exciting, but reading the sample can show otherwise, equally the opposite can be true.

So I am going to have three categories by which to judge the covers; THE BEST, THE GOOD, and THE ENIGMATIC.


Imperium by Robert Harris

The tag line at the top of the book tells any potential reader that the book that has just been selected is The Worldwide Bestseller, black against a muted grey. This is a simple no-frills statement full of confidence. For the most part all of Robert Harris' book covers are dominated by his name. The font is always the same, large, uncompromising and with great impact. The only thing that changes here is the colour, so that it stands proud of the picture. Here it is in bold red. To me this signifies assassination, but of whom? interest has been ignited.

In the mid-line of sight there is placed a single strap-line review in black:
'Truly gifted, razor-sharp' Daily Telegraph
Gritty modern language juxtaposed with the Latin title.

Imperium, a strong title, is predominantly white, again entirely in capitals with the initial letter set larger than the rest. Then the eye drifts across the title and stops abruptly at the figure of a Roman soldier resting against the letter 'U' - signifying the military, trouble, war. There are muted grey columns supporting a roof, which are placed in the centre of the picture - so, we are in the Roman Senate. There are two silhouetted figures, one of whom is addressing a multitude of raised hands. The figure placed in the centre is portrayed in the quintessential pose of a senator, arm outstretched. With the raised hands of the senators, you can imagine the noise, nobody is listening; all have something to say.

Below the title there is a caveat also in white, small capitals, stark against the blackness: In the deadly game of power, one man will risk it all. This is the final thing that the eye drifts to as the reader peruses the cover. The cover is complete. The job is done. There is nothing more to do, but read the book.


The Oracles of Troy by Glyn Iliffe

When the potential reader first looks at the book it is evident even if it were without a title that it is going to be about Greece and Troy simply because of the wooden horse.

I love the dynamic way in which the horse is rearing over the title. It is strong, in charge; the construction is imaginative, artistic. The title is in a font that pays homage to the Greek alphabet without going overboard, set in a bright yellow bold font for impact. The author's name is in capitals giving the author status, but kept white and smaller and set beneath the title, letting the title take pride of place. In the top right hand corner, also in white capitals but smaller still, is a sub-heading, letting the reader know that the book is a part of a series.

The picture has a supporting role in this title. The picture shows castellated buildings, giving a sense of place, whose colouring is in dark muted sunset tones pushing the yellow of the title forward, while the muted blue sky highlights the Trojan Horse emphasising its enormity. The Trojan Horse has been imaginatively conceived. It is not at all clich├ęd. The wood that it is constructed from is old and battered, dry like driftwood, and if you look closely you can even see a hint of an eye, adding to the impressive image.

For me, the book doesn't have to try hard, the cover beckons, daring the reader to look inside and satisfy their curiosity.


Undreamed Shores by Mark Patton

For me this is one of the most uninspiring book covers that I have come across. What does it have going for it? What does it tell the potential reader? It has a title, and it has the author's name. Initially, you think there is nothing else to talk about. So let's look deeper.

The background resembles a stormy sky, a dark navy blue/grey, perhaps representing conflict. Against this image the title sits unsteadily, set in a lowercase font which looks as though it has been written with a brush pen. The initial line is smaller, almost inferior, shy, sitting behind the larger line below. I think that it is small because it represents the 'thing' undreamed. 'Shores' in a larger font may represent the extent of what is to be yet dreamed. This is all arbitrary of course, as it is all in the author's mind. It is up to the reader to unravel this conundrum of a title, which is taken from Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale Act 4, Scene 4. The author's name is smaller still, and placed at the bottom of the cover, almost unimportant, a happenstance. All the information is in white, stark against the dark background. Does the cover invite you to open the book and read it? Merely through curiosity at first, I think.

The cover actually belies what is inside. The story is intriguing and well imagined, but because there is a lack of information on the book cover there is absolutely no clue to this fact or that the story starts in circa 2400 BC. I bought this book because I had enjoyed a previous book by this author, and just for the record, I also enjoyed this one.

Louise E. Rule

Louise is the author of Future Confronted 
Louise's Blog can be found here
Louise's Facebook Page can be found here

This post was inspired by  Lorri Covers It  two previous posts here on The Review Blog


  1. Neat analysis, Louise. Robert Harris is my writing hero, so I'm a little biased. As you say, nothing more to say about the Imperium cover. Yes, it's the cover that attracts me as a reader. I need an image that beckons me into a new world. Then it's the title. I was attracted to The Song of Achilles for its image before it was nominated for any prize. In the next nanosecond, the title made my buying decision. I glanced at the blurb, but that was a concession. And I didn't even read the first page, but what a wonderful read it turned out to be.

  2. Book covers are so inspiring, as you say Louise, they are the window to the author's world. The first thing I am drawn to is the cover and if the blurb matches the excitement, mystery, adventure it drama that it is proclaiming, then I am hooked. Not so sure about Robert Harris though, I prefer books where the title is more dominant than the author's name and I prefer colour as opposed to blandness. The second book looks far more interesting to me. More promise of adventure and the colours of Greece. Black, white and red, just suggests boring to me. But that is just my opinion. But one thing for certain, this post is definitely riveting.

    1. I would normally agree about the title being more prominent than the author's name Paula, but I think a book by Robert Harris is sold on his reputation for writing a good political thriller. The book in question is predominantly about Cicero as narrated by his slave/scribe Tiro. Being a political novel, I think that the cover shows how black and white politics can be, with very few grey areas, hence the colouring of the cover. Personally, if a book is written by Robert Harris, then I am assured of an absorbing read. I really enjoyed this book, especially as I have studied Cicero and his writings.

  3. An interesting post, indeed, Louise. It's a subject about which some people can become quite heated, as I've personally found out. I lean towards the simple on a book cover (probably the ones you name enigmatic) and I've had varying responses to the covers I have from two very different types of publishers. Some readers have liked the simplicity, and some have found them 'boring' since they display no immediate visual impact - as with the Trojan Horse in your example. What the readers have not varied on are the positive comments regarding the story behind the cover.

    1. I do know what you mean Nancy. As I had already read a previous book by Mark Patton, and enjoyed it thoroughly, I had no doubts about reading 'Undreamed Shores' - but if I had not heard of him, then I doubt the cover of his book would have encouraged me to take the book off the shelf. I know that sometime 'less is more' - but it has to be done stylistically, I think, otherwise how are you going to entice a reader to become interested in your work?

  4. I suppose for me the book cover should perhaps give an insight into how the author feels about the book. I create my own book covers but as my first book was traditionally published i found that i had little influence on how it was presented. To this day i absolutely loathe the first cover and though the publishers probably approached it from 'this is the norm and what sells' i cant help find that it falls flat and shows nothing of me as the novels creator and what i think the novel represents.

  5. What I like in a book cover is for it to immediately raise a question in my mind (unless, of course, it's so enigmatic that the question is "Huh?!?") If you think of it that way, the cover can be every bit as much of a "hook" as the opening sentence. If it makes me curious (and it isn't very hard to make me curious!), I'll pick it up and look inside.

  6. I like a book cover that relates to the story. Some books have covers that don't. Big tall buildings that give you an idea its a medieval book when actually its a tale of espionage.