My first job out of college landed me as a producer in an in-house art department at MTV. There, I learned a lot about packaging, advertising, brand identity, design, and photography. And though I quit that world last year for editorial pastures, the lessons I learned in aesthetics still follow me everywhere—I catch myself staring at print advertising and layouts, dissecting what works and what doesn’t.
So when it comes to receiving books for STET, I admit I’m pretty underwhelmed by the book covers that greet me. I wish they were better. They SHOULD be better. I mean, I don’t know the costs of manufacturing a book (and I’m sure it’s a shit ton) but I wish publishing houses would spend a little more effort into the book cover designs. I think it would help tremendously with sales. Since I’m not a big fan of hardcover book designs (or hardcovers in general), I’ll wait for the paperback release to see if the art is any better (and they usually are); it’s also cheaper, which is a huge score. When on the hunt for classics, I look for older editions on Thrift Books because everyone knows vintage covers are way better than reissues. The worst is when you buy a book that has since then been adapted into a film and the cover is a Hollywood production still. There’s that old saying about how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but, come on now, everyone literally does it with books.
The book cover is the first clue as to what kind of story is told within. It needs to be treated more like conceptual advertising — more clever, more artistic, more timeless-y. Many book covers end up too sparse or lazy, not showing enough. Others are simply painful to look at. Another thing I don’t like is when the size of the author’s name trumps the title of the book they wrote; the hierarchy of information seems off-putting. I don’t think the author’s face should ever be blown up on the actual cover, unless they’re a loved and recognizable celebrity. The same goes for photos that kinda look like stock images. No. Book covers should be so visually tight that I would wanna hold onto those books so I could eventually gift them to my unborn literary children when they turn into adults.
There are some exceptional presentations though! Below, a few of my favorite book covers of the year: