We shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but we do. A book’s cover design can be the difference between a forgotten masterpiece and an international bestseller. We reveal the tricks book designers have up their sleeves.

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Fiction publishing is a jungle of hostility, where the unprepared and unimaginative perish without trace. Fewer than a half of one percent of manuscripts are ever published, and of those that are, most earn their authors and publishers a relative pittance. 
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Building a first-time author’s reputation is critical to publishing houses’ survival, as is sustaining the commercial worth of established authors. The book cover is critical in helping realize both these goals. 
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Books live and die by their covers. Getting the cover wrong on a first-time author’s novel will almost certainly condemn it to failure, irrespective of the quality of the writing, but if the cover is on the money it will put wind in the book’s sails – and its sales. 
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Recent joint research by expedia.co.uk and the British Airports Authority reveals that up to a quarter of the production cost of a novel goes into its cover. It was found that covers are there to make the reader look good, as well as the book. It seems that when we read in public we wish to be appear smart in both mind and body. 
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The Renaissance-themed cover of Dan Brown’s improbably profitable Da Vinci Codeis widely credited as helping it achieve critical mass. 
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<h2>Book your place</h2>
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On most occasions we try whatever the briefing meeting has suggested, but if we think another idea works better we’ll do that also and present both. For The Divide I had five designers working on it at one point and we ended up doing more than 150 visuals.

Who was involved in the briefing process?

Domestic and international sales, marketing, and the editors were all involved. Editors can be very flaky when it comes to design, and often you can end up going round in circles. But you get to know the ones that have a firm idea of what they want and those that don’t.

Everyone in the cover meeting is allowed an opinion but we go by the majority decision. The people with the most influence are the sales director and the key account managers for customers such as W H Smiths and Waterstones.

We also like all our authors to be happy with their covers, irrespective of how famous they are. Nicholas Evans was very heavily involved in the design process.

What was your thinking behind the use of colour, text and imagery?

Designers tend to design intuitively and go for colourpalettes that they think work, but we frequently get over-ruled and have to react to other people’s opinions, which is what happened with The Divide.

With the typography we wanted a strong, classic type that was clean but punchy.

Book title: The Voyage of the Sable Keech
Author: Neal Asher
Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Tor
Cover designer: Neil Lang

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<b>What was the design brief?</b> 
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For The Voyage of the Sable Keech a decision was made to change the cover style for this author’s books. We wanted to move away from the very busy look of his previous books to something cleaner and more focused. This is why we used the illustration as central focus point. His previous books hadn

I had to bear in mind that I was going to have to redesign a paperback edition of an earlier Neal Asher book in the same style, so whateverstyle we opted for it had to be something we could apply to others in the series.

Who was involved in the briefing process?

The book is first discussed in a meeting at which there’ll be all the editors from the fiction list, and also the managers of marketing and publicity, as well as the managing director.

In the firstinstance, I’ll produce visuals to show the editor, which then get sent to the author. After that they’re sent for everyone in-house to approve.

Although it’s the editor who will write the brief, marketing now seem to have more of a say of how a book looks. Getting books into shops is more difficult than ever, and marketing people are better judges of how to do this than designers.

Marketing happened to like the design for this one, but quite often they’ll put the kibosh on work that’s well underway. Half my time is spent coming up with new visuals or tweaking work.

What was the thinking behind the colour, text, and imagery?

Usually there would be colours within the image you want to pick out, and with type, often the colour is chosen so that it reads well on the shelf. In this case, I wanted the central image to stand out, which is why the background is black.

With sci-fi the standard for type is sans serif, often Helvetica, and it’s used big, bold, and brash. For this book I chose a watery blue effect for the type, to pick up on the maritime theme.

The thinking behind the illustration, done by Steve Rawlings, was straightforward, because the book is about half-dead people on a ship.

Books with backbone: the importance of the spine

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Only big-name authors such as Dan Brown or J K Rowling can expect the full-face treatment in bookshops. The design of the spine is therefore vital. “We rarely notice bookspines from a design standpoint, yet the spine is usually the first thing we see on a bookshelf,” confirms John D Berry, an American book designer and typographer. 
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As former editor of the influential design magazine U&lc(Upper and lowercase), Berry has written extensively on effective – and ineffective – communication through type, and book-spine design is an area of expertise. 
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“The beautiful, dramatic cover, upon which great effort and expense may have been lavished, never gets seen if a browsing book buyer doesn’t reach out and pull the book off the shelf,”says Berry. “I know that when I scan the shelves of my favourite bookstores, it’s the simplest, most dramatic, most legible bookspines that stand out.” 
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There are some fundamental considerations with spine design. The first is direction of type. “Since most books are shelved vertically, the ideal direction is horizontal, so that the words are the right way up when viewed by the browser’s eye.” 
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<b>Narrow margins</b>
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However, unless the book is fat – the latest sweeping epic from John Irving, perhaps – there will be insufficient space for horizontal type. Spine type isn’t usually aligned with the way our eyes are used to scanning text so it must be ultra-legible. 
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“Crowded, cramped type gets lost in the clutter,” says Berry. “Capital letters make the best use of the narrow spine, as there are no ascenders or descenders to extrude into the limited space. A little extra space between the letters helps them stand out and be read.” 
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Another key factor is determining which element of a particular book will be most effective in attracting the customer’s attention. “It might be the title, the name of the author, the publisher’s logo, or something else,” he says. 
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Given the impact of spine design on sales, Berry says it’s an area neglected by many designers. “You might expect that book publishers designers would devote a lot of attention to what the spine looks like,”Berry says. “But it seems to be the rare designer who gives the question much thought.” 
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