Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Judging Local Books by Their Covers

I'm glad Pioneer Press book reporter Mary Ann Grossman plays up local and independently published books, but each time I see one of these articles I can't help but focus on the covers and how (usually) dreadful they are. They scream "self-published" and "I have no idea how to reach an audience."

Last Sunday's story included five covers of works by four authors. One was good, two were trying but still unsuccessful, and two were just bad.

The covers of cancer survivor Christine K. Clifford's books look like do-it-yourself pamphlets rather than book covers, particularly Laugh 'Til It Heals. The Clue Phone's Ringing is a bit better, but still has a hopelessly naive quality to it.

If I saw these books in a bookstore, I would not pick them up because I would assume the content was no better than the covers.

Robert MacGregor Shaw's book, The Bachelor Slob in the Kitchen, was the only successful cover shown.

Now that's a book you'd want to peek into to see what it's about. It's a simple concept with catchy photography and fun, readable typography.

And that's exactly where Gerald Anderson's Murder in Bemidj or Paul's Bloody Trousers fails. Neither the title nor author name is readable because they're set in red on a colored background, and in a font that's a bit hard to read in the first place. A yellow outline was added around the letters in hope of making the words stand out better from the background, but it doesn't help enough.

I give the Murder in Bemidji's cover designer credit for working with a decent illustration, but it's as if there was no consideration at all given to how the art and display text would be used together.

Finally, the cover design of Dennis Nau's book (left) is simple enough, but it makes some key mistakes in its typography. First of all, what is the purpose of those ellipses? They make me think the writer doesn't know what he's doing.

Second, there's way too much leading (or linespacing) between the title lines, as if the designer thought the whole space needed to be filled. Finally, the author's name is much too small.

A revised version (right) fixes those three errors, and also switches the typeface to one that's condensed so the type can be bigger, fit into two lines, and have more visual impact. It's nothing great, but it looks competent and doesn't undermine the content of the book.

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