The book and its cover – how often does the reality of the first live up to the promise of the second? The cover, of course, is a piece of advertising, designed to catch your eye and part you from your hard-earned cash. It can, and often does, promise you everything and anything. The book, when you read it, has to stand on its merits, not the hype of the cover. And that is when disappointment so often sets in.

I was thinking about this the other day when I bought a book purely on the strength of its beautiful cover, having barely glanced even at the blurb on the back. I don’t often buy books at the supermarket, but one look at this cover and I knew there was no way I was going home without it.

Book Covers Matter

As a writer myself, the knotty problem of what makes a good book cover is one I grapple with whenever one of mine is published. How do you sum up a complex story, interest potential readers and compete for their attention among the many thousands of books on the market? And all in the small space of a book cover, perhaps seen in the glimpse of an eye? It takes a special kind of magic to make this work. It’s probably true to say I’m a little more alert to the tricks of cover design than the average reader – but I fell for this beautiful book in an instant, and into the trolley it went.

Arts-and-Crafts Style

And yet this cover seemed to me to break all the rules. It’s intricate – fussy, even – you need to look at it a couple of times to see what it consists of. A closer look shows it’s part overwrought Victorian floral wallpaper, Arts-and-Crafts style, and part Chinese dragon; the title is woven in discreetly and is not particularly easy to read. This is far from the clear, simple, easy to understand design of the average modern book cover. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I suppose that breaking all the rules just works sometimes. This is one book that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf. It has certainly given me a few different ideas regarding possible covers for my forthcoming novel, which has an eighteenth-century setting.

The book, in case you’re wondering, and would like to see for yourself, was Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, and I’m happy to report that I found the book itself every bit as rich and intricate as its cover. Have you ever bought a book purely for its cover design?