Monday, May 18, 2015

My Thought Monday #5 (The Curious Case of the Creative Cover Part One)

Hey readers! Welcome to another thrilling installment of My Thought Monday. A weekly post where I get to rant and/or rave about happenings in the book world. I have received lots of positive feedback from my previous posts and want to keep the momentum going. This week I'll be touching on another topic that's important to all authors and bloggers. 

I'd like to offer up my thoughts for discussion among authors, bloggers, readers, and all members of the literary community. I understand that my views may be in the minority on some fronts and would love to hear your thoughts. Please note that while I would love to hear your thoughts, I will not tolerate this as a place of hate and negativity. If you so choose to put forward your thoughts via comment, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc, please do so professionally. I am fully aware that sometimes the bookish world is the last place you want to put your personal thoughts, but I, for one, am tired of being quiet. It's time for me to take a stand on issues that are important to me in this community. It is my belief that, only as a community, can we pull together and make real change in this bookish world we all know and love.

This week's topic:
The Curious Case of the Creative Cover
Part One: The History of the Book Cover

You've pulled into your local Barnes and Noble and are perusing through the aisles for your next five star read. With so many to choose from, how do you pick just one? Covers. 

When stacked up (literally) against the masses, what makes your novel stand out in the crowd? Captivating and creative covers. 9/10 times, I'm not even looking at who wrote the book. If you don't have a fun cover, good luck getting readers to notice your book. 

I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret. I do just a book based on its' cover. And guess what? You do too. So do your friends, so do other bloggers, and even authors. It happens. Whoever thought up that expression should have seriously picked another analogy. This one is false we all judge based on covers! It's a sad reality. It doesn't matter how great your written word is, without a great cover, you're going to have a hard time with sales and promotion.

Why are covers so important? When did this trend start? What are readers looking for? These are all phenomenal questions that we in the book world need to be asking ourselves. Particularly authors. 

So, I thought it would be fun to start out today's post with a history lesson. Put on your thinking caps people, we're taking a journey across time!


Picture it: the bazaars of ancient Greece, the year 360BCE. The Greek philosopher Plato was well known for the intricacies of his cover scroll. Plebeians from all around harked at the sight of his creation!

This is a joke. Nobody was rushing out to get their hands on the latest edition of Allegory of the Cave. Was it because Plato had an awful sense of graphic design? Probably, but I guess we'll never truly know. 

Authors have been writing and readers have been reading since the beginning of human civilization. From cuneiform to mass publication, writing has come a long way. But at what point did the cover become just as important as the writing? Let's explore the 'modern era' of cover design.

With Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, books were first able to be mass produced. It was decided early on that books needed a proper binding and 'cover' to protect the pages within, thus the 'cover' was born. As you can imagine, these early covers were more practical than eye catching.

For nearly three hundred years, book were bulky shapeless things that weren't even slightly aesthetically pleasing. Books were heavy, but more importantly, books were expensive. My research has shown me that in today's numbers, purchasing a print novel with bound cover in those days could have costed upwards of $300. That a lot of money for a novel, am I right? Needless to say many were not purchasing novels. The entire system of reading for pleasure really wasn't what we see today. Cheaper, boundless versions of books were abundant, but for obvious reasons, many of those didn't make it to today. Centuries of use and decay would have rendered those manuscripts worthless quick. 

So you see, covers are made for so much more than just us to look at. They have purpose. Protecting the works inside from the elements. Ensuring the the ink didn't fade and that the durability would protect that binding during travel. 

Boy haven't times changed?

Side Note/Fun Fact: Books were most always bound in leather during the early period, but not always. A variety of animal pelts have been used for binding, include human skin. Yes, you read that correctly, human skin. Totally morbid, but it's on my bucket list to one day own a book bound in human skin. How crazy is that? Here's a picture of one from the collection of the Harvard Law Library.


So, as you can imagine, things got complicated over time. Books were published more and more often and I can only imagine it became more and more difficult to distinguish the works of one author from another when you have ugly brown/black covers all over the place. Someone eventually had the bright idea that in order to make a book stand out, they were going to need to utilize all that blank space on the front of a cover. So... with the eighteenth century equivalent of a rhinestone gun, the creature minds got to work. Jewels, paints, and drawings were used to bring the beauty of a novel onto the outside cover. Bringing covers, as we now know them, to life.

You guys have probably seen covers like those above before. They're beautiful works of art and are really just as much an expression of art in human history as they are book covers. With these covers we now have something both useful and aesthetically pleasing. You could sell your books (well you weren't selling your books, but that's another topic for another day) and people would know it was yours, how awesome!

By the mid nineteenth century, another new trend had emerged: dust covers. Or 'book jackets' as we often call them now. Early dust jackets were printed cloth that was only meant to protect the novel from the place of production/purchase to home. At that time, the cloth (and later, probably once they realized how wasteful the cloth was, paper) would be disposed of. These early dust jackets were only meant to protect the book, but were quickly found to be excellent promotional materials. The use of dust jackets has persisted all the way to today, where they are common among most all hardback novels. If you're interested in learning more about the history of dust jackets, there's an entire website and museum collection devoted to them. Check it out at the British Library Dust Jackets Collection site. Probably the most well-known example of a modern use of dust jackets is the Harry Potter series. Most all readers own the hardback copies of these novels and can see the usefulness of the dust jacket.

It wasn't really until the mid to late nineteenth century that we really began to see the emergence of book covers that we can relate to today. Ones where the cover art showcased what the insides words relayed. Covers that were relevant to the story. And that is where the real fun began.

For obvious reasons, this was kind of a big deal. 

 (These books are worth so much money, ridiculous amounts of money people.)

From very humble beginnings, book covers came from a place of convenience and efficiency and have evolved, slowly, to the covers we know today. While they aren't all attractive, by any means, each cover told a story. Each cover was a labor of love and something both the author and the reader could cherish.

The twentieth century came and the literary world exploded. The vast numbers of high quality literature that came out of the late 1800s left the world with lots to read. From romance to horror, the world was a readers paradise for the first time. Publishers popped up left and right, printing books for the masses. Libraries were stocked, schools were provided for, the world was a bookish place. With literacy rates at an all-time high, the world was ready for the next big thing.


Early Penguin paperback. As you'll come to learn, Penguin played one of the biggest roles in the implementation of the paperback novel. 
Gone were the days where a book needed the kinds of protection a hardback would offer. With printing prices on the rise, a new type of print really took off. I intend on one day doing a whole post on the history and impact of the paperback on the literary world, so this part will remain brief. With a paperback novel, printers were able to mass produce a cover and a book in one quick print. They were cheaper to make and easier to transport without sacrificing the quality of the novel within. This also introduced a much easier world of cover design. Much like printing a piece of art, covers could now be designed in any way and printed with ease.

This was an awesome addition to the literary world and one that has, clearly, had one of the largest impact on the book world.

Coming into the later half of the twentieth century, we saw the invention of computers, bringing with it the developing software and machinery to really push publishing into the next stage of evolution. The field of graphic design grew, propelling us to today, the twenty first century.

As you can clearly see, the book world has undergone some massive changes over the years. It's nothing close to the world it was in its' infancy. Like all things, a continued evolution of human society and civilization, in addition to emerging technologies, will continue to alter the book world. 

According to 'Google's Advanced Algorithms', there are over 129,864,880 published novels in the world today. That's nearly one hundred and thirty million, and growing each and every day. That's 130 million covers to see! What are you waiting for? Get to looking!


To be continued next week...
The Curious Case of the Creative Cover Part Two:
The Current State of the Cover Market

I just threw a whole lot of information at you guys and I hope you were able to not only follow along, but learn a bit about the history of book covers. This topic started as a discussion about what I like/don't like out of book covers, but I thought it was important for us to fully understand the purpose of a cover before I tear into my critiquing them. This will be my first 'two-part' series. Next week's post will dive into my thoughts on the current state of the cover market and, trust me, I have many. 

I hope my historical tirade hasn't bored any of you to death quite yet. Did you learn something in today's post? What did you find most interesting? In the comments below, share with me your favorite old time-y book cover info. Maybe a favorite novel in it's early state. I'll be continuing this discussion over on Facebook where I will be hosting a giveaway for one lucky discussion participant! 

Head over to our Facebook page by following the links in the top right-hand corner of the blog to join the discussion!

Be sure to comment below with your thoughts! Thanks so much for stopping by! Until next time, Happy Reading!


Hey friends! In case you missed my big announcement last week, I have some absolutely incredible news! I am honored to announce that One Guy's Guide to Good Reads was nominated for Best Blog of the Year at UtopYA! The UtopYA Awards honor the best of the best within the literary world and I am beyond blessed to be up for consideration. Nobody is quite sure how my name got thrown up in there, so.... I encourage everyone to go vote before they realize the error ;)

Also, while you are there, cast your votes for some of my all-time favorite authors! If you have questions, please don't hesitate to shoot me a message! Voting is open until Thursday 5/21! Don't forget to vote! Share with your friends and get the word out! There are some incredible nominees this year and I cannot wait to see who walks home with an award!

I cannot thank you all enough for your constant support over the past year! God Bless and Happy Reading (and Voting)!

**Follow the link below to cast your vote**

No comments:

Post a Comment