I was pleased by Nancy Werlin’s sensible essay for Publishers Weekly on the process of creating book covers from a young adult writer's perspective.
With the realistic perspective that comes from having gone through the potentially painful process many times, Werlin says:
I used to want covers that represented the book’s contents very closely, and were also pretty. Many folks automatically believe that this is what makes a good cover.A book cover is basically an advertisement for the content inside, an advertisement aimed at people immediately able to explore and purchase the product and thus potentially crucial. That’s why the input of the Sales Department—and increasingly the biggest customers they’re in touch with—is so influential.
But I’ve changed my mind about this. While the cover should not lie (by implication or outright), its job is simply to say: “Pick me up!” to someone who might like the book. That is all. And you have more moving parts than the art: you also have the title and author’s name.
Of course, Werlin’s essay arrives in the same week that James Bridle pointed out another common-sense fact about book covers: they’ll become less and less visible as more people use digital readers. We won’t be able to see what everyone else is reading on the subway, just as we can’t tell what people with earbuds are listening to (unless they’re destroying their hearing as well). Book covers will be less like LP covers, once the objects of fascinated study, and more like logos designed to link several products together.
I’m still working out how this trend intersects with the contrary trend to issue several editions of an established bestseller with different covers for different readerships—breaking down the original brand to broaden the potential customer base.
[Bonus point to the first person who recognizes the Oz allusion in this posting.]