The Importance of the Book Cover

I remember having this discussion in a class a few years ago regarding Lolita. Each of us came to class clutching a different copy of the classic text and upon placing them all down on the table our teacher made us discuss what we liked and disliked about each of the different covers. As some of you may know this is a novel that has received a lot of criticism for its covers over the years. Most of them contain an image of a sexualised young girl even though Nabokov always claimed he never wanted a girl of any description to be present on the cover. I believe this was for two main reasons: the first was that the character of Lolita was very open to interpretation, that if you empathise with Humbert Humbert then everyone has ‘their own’ Lolita, and secondly, the novel was designed to be a psychological portrait of Humbert so if anyone should be on the cover it ought to be him (though ideally Nabokov wanted a sweeping American landscape to take centre stage).

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lolita cover 4lolita cover 5.jpglolita cover 6

But as you can see, nobody followed his wishes and all these covers, which have been printed over a number of years, contain some kind of image of Lolita which is either highly sexualised or hinting at a loss of innocence. And why is this? Because sex sells – it advertises the book as something it’s not in order for you to pick it off the shelf at your local bookshop.

As part of a separate project I was once asked to redesign a book cover and I figured Lolita would be the perfect material to work from since so many people have written about it and there have been so many competitions floating around. However hard I tried, unless I really went to basics with Lolita written in a child’s hand, I found I could not escape an image of a girl. I didn’t want to sexualise my Lolita though, and I wanted to make it clear she was a fabrication from his pen. This is the result of a few hours playing around on Photoshop and InDesign:


In order to prepare for this assignment, I did a little research on what makes a book cover appealing. Here were my top five results:

  1. Use contrasting colours – dark and light colours used correctly will make your cover ‘pop’ off the shelf amongst a sea of drab.
  2. Choose a suitable typeface and never have more than two.
  3. Use lots of empty space (called negative space in the design world) to free things up. Minimalistic sells.
  4. Make it clever – use something symbolic or something witty – remember, the book cover is still a form of art.
  5. And keep it simple, no one likes clutter.

However much most of us don’t want to admit it, a book cover is usually the first thing we are enticed by. The front cover is what gets it into the consumer’s hand for them to read the blurb.

Here’s a few covers I think do a pretty good job:

to kill a mockingbirdafter me comes the floodgone-girl

I usually hate film covers but Gone Girl I can totally forgive (yes alright, I’m a bit obsessed). The way Amy’s eyes are just watching everything is so uncanny, it’s like the eyes of Dr TJ Eckleburg all over again. That’s a definite favourite with me.

Until next time, ciao!


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