Judging book covers . . .

1894

We know that we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. We can’t help at least be drawn or repelled by a cover before we even touch the book. Meanwhile, a glance through the years shows how styles change.

For fun, I thought I’d do an informal survey:

1) What is the thing that is most likely to catch your eye on the cover of a new book?

Choose from a) scene, b) face of character, c) symbolic object, d) other.

2) What is the thing you LEAST like seeing on the cover of the new book?

Choose from a) scene, b) face of character, c) symbolic object, d) other.

3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.

4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.

5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three)

6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three)

My own thoughts below ye olde cut:

What attracts my eye?

Objects of beauty–stained glass windows–a compelling face. (This does not include vacuous fashion-model faces)

Objects that catch my attention and that repel it?

I’m pretty generic in this regard–castles, swords, pretty clothes, fabulous beasts. Repellent are horror images, and also back-of-bustier headless women. I think it’s styles more than objects that catch my eye. Art nouveau is just about guaranteed to cause me to come to a full stop., for example.

What is the thing you MOST like to see?

Something that indicates mood and character. It can be stylized, but I am really drawn to beautiful art—reproductions of famous art will always catch my eye.

2) What is the thing you LEAST like to see?

Ugliness. Women’s bodies with the head cut off by the top edge. The backs of bustiers—I am beyond sick of that cover. Ditto two hands holding a thing, a la Twilight. And of course any kind of graphic horror image: total turnoff.
3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.

Steven Brust’s first cover for The Phoenix Guards was a total grab for me—we saw a swordsman almost face on, at an extension. The compelling stance that is correct in all details, the correct grip and the correct rapier were as much of a draw as the phoenix rising behind the character. I grabbed that book when I first saw it, and was already standing in line to buy it when I began leafing through it to see if I’d like the text.

The gorgeous paintings done by Geoff Hunt for the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series.

Sometimes covers still work for me because they match the time of the book, the mood when I read it. So even though many decry the Thomas Canty covers—call them cliche—fussy—I still love them, even though they are considered to be out of style.

4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.

I know it reveals total character flaw, but I did not try Lois McMaster Bujold’s books for a long time because the early covers were so ridiculous.

As a kid, I wouldn’t read A Wrinkle in Time because the cover (badly done kids with circles around them) was so repellent. Also, as a kid, I refused to read anything illustrated by Lois Lenski; I realized decades later that the figures are just ill-proportioned enough to have bothered me, though aside from the figures, now I can appreciate her folksy art style.

Covers suggestive of woman-in-bondage are a very hard sell for me now.

5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three) blues, greens, hints of gold

6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three) red, orange, toxic pink

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Judging book covers . . . — 53 Comments

  1. 1) c
    2) b–I am ridiculously anti-person–not just face but rest of body–because it is so very very rarely right. But. Butbutbut. I get that one of the biggest ways we have of signaling that a book has non-white people in it is to put non-white people *on the cover*. And I get that some of my later would-be answers are sometimes seriously modified by cultural and individual appropriateness–for example, I would generally say that I do not like to see orange and yellow on a cover, but Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death is a hot dry book whose orangey color really conveys what it is doing, and it appealed to me, and I don’t think that it should be shoved into my blue-green water-and-ice preferences, because that would be wrong for the book.

    I loved the reissue cover of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress that was basically black and grey and abstract nerdiness. I loved the covers of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Baroque Trilogy that were very similar to that. For me, the more abstract, the better–because the less they will have gotten wrong. But I also know that when an illustration like Julie Dillon’s for my Tor.com story “Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz” earlier this year really catches the feeling of the story with actual people as well as the abstract items, that’s very exciting–and since I’m not a visual person, I can say, “Well, that’s not really how I pictured her at all, but I don’t care because the entire piece’s emotion is right.”

    Right now I have Adam Christopher’s Empire State sitting on my desk and have only read the first two pages, but it looks like the style of the cover is just perfect, and it’s not a clone of everything else. I appreciate that.

    The worst cover ever on a book I like is probably the mass market paperback release on Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede. I didn’t read that book–or anything else by Bradley Denton–for *years* because of that cover (and title, so that part is unfortunately his fault). But I am also fond of referring to CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle as the sort of books you’d hide behind a Playboy so you’d look less trashy reading them.

    • Heh! How you felt about the Cherryh covers is how I felt about the early Bujold covers. Gosh those were terrible.

      Interesting stuff about being visual and abstracts. And I very much agree about Nnedi’s book–ordinarily those colors shift my eyes away, but that cover was just right for that book.

  2. Anything that looks like a stock photo repulses me. Unfortunately I’ve had so many experiences where an attractive cover opens onto a lackluster book, that I’m not very trusting, and I’d never buy a book just for the cover. But I’m often quite attracted to nice bindings. I think the Lemony Snicket books were so attractive because they felt like proper books, and looked like them too. My favorite type of cover is a nice thick library binding. But I really do like covers that clearly have an artist actually thinking about the book itself and creating art for it, rather than an artist just drawing what he usually draws and hoping it might work. I prefer stylized to realistic. And I want it to look like a book. Fly-by-Night also had a ‘this is a book’ feel. Also the Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot had lovely covers that were both accurate to the content of the book and to the feel of the book.

    One book that I was utterly disappointed by was A Great and Terrible Beauty. I wanted to try that back-of-a-bodice covered book. And I was hoping from the summary and cover that it would be a bit like Fingersmith with magic. Haha. No. Some people can write Victorian. Some people just put modern American teenagers wherever they feel like.

    Give me red or navy blue.
    Brown and tawny are good too.
    But stay away you black with violet,
    hot pink, or teal with dead girls on it.

    • Very few of the ‘Victorian’ books out there that I have tried avoid the modern-people-in-bustles paradigm. But that seems to be what readers want! And I can always go back and read real Victorians.

      Dead girls? Total turnoff.

    • Cara M, I understand about the feel of the book. I was surprised that I fell in love with my Kindle even though it was the furthest thing from a “book” that I could imagine. But when I got a Verso bookcover, it completed the experience. Mine is like holding a leatherbound book, in look and feel, and yet I get to adjust the font to suit my overworked eyes. Verso makes such wonderful eReader covers.

    • Cora: I hope you don’t mean the original cover for Sorcery and Cecilia, which featured dreadfully out of proportion people in unlikely poses. (IIRC, there have been two covers since that were rather better, once the sequels came out, and they wanted the series to have a unified feel, but I’m stuck with a first printing). Do you happen to remember the artist or designer?

  3. Style of cover is used to signal subgenre. It can be misused (as with the Twilight-style covers now, or the bad covers on early Bujold books), but it’s a helpful cue. I’m not particularly fond of the dark covers now used for urban fantasy, with a single figure in unnatural poses, but if I’m in the mood for an urban fantasy book, I’ll actively look for those covers. I’m also very attracted to Thomas Canty covers, and turned off by the cartoony line drawings that are used on chick-lit covers–largely because I hate chick lit and have enjoyed all of the Canty-covered books that I buy.

    In general, I seem to be more attracted to landscapes, in muted or saturated tones. But that’s mainly because that’s my art preference as well; it’s not actually that useful in picking books I’ll like. On the other hand, these days I choose books almost exclusively because of reviews. Covers really don’t enter into it.

  4. Now that I have retrieved most of my books from storage, I will have to look to see what I have liked over the years, and what I have responded to. So I can’t easily answer: I have seen so many books over the years; I would have to spend quite a bit of time looking and thinking.

    I have been looking past covers for years. Being embarrassed by most sf book covers for a long time didn’t help. (Somewhere in the 1960s, Samuel R. Delaney remarked, “Damn Ace Books covers!”) This opinion that covers were an unreliable guide probably started with Barbara Remington’s Ballantine paperback Lord of the Rings covers. Remington herself said that she couldn’t get copies of the books before doing her work. I also didn’t understand the 1960s Richard Powers cover paintings that someone at Berkeley loved, though I found some of his 1950s covers arresting. It was many years before I saw some of Powers original paintings and grasped his visual qualities.

    It’s interesting that no-one has yet talked about composition. Off the top of my head, I would think that is one of the things most likely to draw eyes. Color and composition are the universals, I think, subject matter comes after.

    Reading your list, Sherwood, I am thinking you are attracted to anatomically accurate figures in strong poses, ships and the sea, and perhaps light. The Phoenix Guards cover you admire was done by Rick Berry, who has gone on to do some awesome paintings still, yes, involving well-rendered strong-posed figure. I think you are referring to the Aubrey/Maturin covers of British maritime artist Geoff Hunt which are interesting not only for their well-rendered ships, skies, and seas, but also the quality of light that Hunt brings to them.

  5. 1) What is the thing that is most likely to catch your eye on the cover of a new book?

    D) COLOR. Although any of the other things can, and have.

    Choose from a) scene, b) face of character, c) symbolic object, d) other.

    2) What is the thing you LEAST like seeing on the cover of the new book?

    A bulging male torso, waxed and polished to a sheen.

    Choose from a) scene, b) face of character, c) symbolic object, d) other.

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.

    The Thirteenth Tale (books!!!) http://books.simonandschuster.com/Thirteenth-Tale/Diane-Setterfield/9780743298032

    The Luxe (I’m not a girly girl and don’t get into this kind of thing but a display of this series of books caught my eye and made me walk across the store to get a better look. It was stunning.) http://www.annagodbersen.com/the-luxe/

    I Capture the Castle (So retro, so beautiful. I bought it immediately, hardcover, hoping I would love it. I did.) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31122.I_Capture_the_Castle

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.

    Sherwood, yet again I feel we are connected. A Wrinkle in Time did the same thing to me. I have never responded to that style of 60s design. And Lois Lenski? Same reaction totally. I found them ugly and couldn’t read them. And then I have to get past any book with gleaming male torso (see above). Now, an open shirt, a hint of skin and ab? Seductive. Oily torso? Ick.

    5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three)

    I honestly can’t limit it. Any have.

    6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three)

    Same as above. Any could. I’d say I’m not attracted to pink, but I’ve seen pink that worked for me.

  6. Fast overview: I hate bad photoshop. Fortunately, these are becoming less common. Bad mean lighting, scale etc. that doesn’t match up. I’m not too fond of boring photoshop, either.

    I prefer paintings over photographs or photoshop. I can frequently tell the difference between a picture which has been put through a “let’s pretend its a painting” photoshop filter and a real painting.

    I have a weird preference for predominantly gray paintings, but don’t tell anyone or they might become a cliche. I like deep rich colors and long vistas. I’d rather have a nearly monochrome cover than one with ugly colors.

    Symbolic objects can catch my eye– I picked up Twilight any number of times before it became famous, and then I’d start reading it and get put off by the prose and give up on the book.

    The Twilight cover had something besides a symbolic object– it had strong interesting lines, which are generally a hook for me. Hands? I’m thinking of a twisted red ribbon on black. Am I thinking of a different book?

    Clutter puts me off– remember those old Pratchett covers?

  7. Oof! The original of this, with links, got gnomed, so I’m rerunning it without links. My apologies for the repetition.

    Now that I have retrieved most of my books from storage, I would have to look to see what I have liked over the years, and what I have responded to. So I can’t easily answer: I have seen so many books over the years; I would have to spend quite a bit of time looking and thinking.

    I have been looking past covers for years. Being embarrassed by most sf book covers for a long time didn’t help. (Somewhere in the 1960s, Samuel R. Delaney remarked, “Damn Ace Books covers!”) This opinion that covers were an unreliable guide probably started with Barbara Remington’s Ballantine paperback Lord of the Rings covers. Remington herself said that she couldn’t get copies of the books before doing her work. I also didn’t understand the 1960s Richard Powers cover paintings that someone at Berkeley loved, though I found some of his 1950s covers arresting. It was many years before I saw some of Powers original paintings and grasped his visual qualities.

    It’s interesting that no-one has yet talked about composition. Off the top of my head, I would think that is one of the things most likely to draw eyes. Color and composition are the universals, I think, subject matter comes after.

    Reading your list, Sherwood, I am thinking you are attracted to anatomically accurate figures in strong poses, ships and the sea, and perhaps light. The Phoenix Guards cover you admire was done by Rick Berry, who has gone on to do some awesome paintings still, yes, involving well-rendered strong-posed figure. I think you are referring to the Aubrey/Maturin covers of British maritime artist Geoff Hunt which are interesting not only for their well-rendered ships, skies, and seas, but also the quality of light that Hunt brings to them.

    • It’s interesting that no-one has yet talked about composition. Off the top of my head, I would think that is one of the things most likely to draw eyes. Color and composition are the universals, I think, subject matter comes after.

      Yes, I think that describes me to a great extent. For example, I love the old yellow bookcover Sherwood chose to illustrate this piece. It’s why I can’t eliminate colors or emphasize colors. In most things I can do that, but in bookcovers color attracts me, it could possibly push me away, but I can’t think of any color that could do so on its own. It’s all part of the composition, the greater impact.

    • Thanks for the data, Randoph. Yep, that’s a fair assessment of my tastes, with a dash of impressionism and watercolor art in there, down to interesting sketches. One cover I saw once that immediately drew me was a bit of a Leonardo pencil drawing–yep, anatomically correct, check.

    • The original is there now, Randolph. The links got it stuck in pending, but I approved it when I saw it. Thanks for posting twice. Our spam filter occasionally nabs something valuable, but since it also caught 111 definite spams generated in the last six hours, we’re going to keep using it.

  8. 1) Eyes catch my eye; also a smooth and distinct, quirky art style (Brett Helquist, Brian Selznick, Diterlizzi, Mary GrandPré for example), and something compelling that makes me want to look at the covers for a long time.

    2) I least like seeing photographs, especially photographs of parts of people’s bodies. (The new Uglies series covers don’t count, because that’s part of the point of those books, but otherwise most YA covers just look ugly to me because of this.) Also, immodest attire in general. And if there’s a body, I usually want to see the face.

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.
    The Lightning Thief (the green-blue one), Chasing Vermeer, Howl’s Moving Castle (the newest version, with old Sophie waving her walking stick at the Castle in the front; although an older one also counts, the one with the demon Calcifer’s fearsome, fiery face as the castle, though I could do without the ridiculous, tiny red-gold-star-spangled figure of Howl waving in the corner…) Spirits That Walk in Shadow and the The Blue Girl deserves an honorable mention because of the evocative mood and use of color which accurately the reflected the book inside to draw me in.

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.
    Ironically I also got burned by the terrible cover on Wrinkle in Time, although now that I look back I wonder why that was.
    As for others… A Spell for Chameleon (it was the manticore). Shade’s Children (it looked plasticky and weird, and it was a horrid book anyway).
    Books with Chick Lit covers I avoid like the plague. Books with completely abstract covers I can do without.

    5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three)
    Deep colors, dark but not too dark. Any color can be beautifully used if it is wisely contrasted with other colors so that there is a balance of light and dark.

    6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three)
    Hot Pink! Lime Green! Neon insert-color-here! It should not hurt my eyes to read the title.

    • Oh, we are in such agreement about hot pink and lime green–really, any neon color is a look-away for me. I don’t care much for abstract, either, except in limited circumstances.

    • I agree in general, but…

      The Janet Evanovitch covers are in these colors and that has come to signal that it’s an Evanovitch book. I picked up One for the Money DESPITE the neon colors on the cover, and after that the cover style helped me immediately recognize her later books.

      • Or think of Carl Hiassen’s novels. They are set in south Florida, and so the covers — always some tropical hue, orange or turquoise or sunny yellow — are Floridian in tone.

  9. Art style. If it’s easy on the eye, that’s more important than any specifics about it. (Besides the byline on it, of course. 0:)

  10. 1) What is the thing that is most likely to catch your eye on the cover of a new book?
    Instead of choosing, I’ll prioritize, because all of these can catch my attention if done well.

    1. symbolic object 2. face of character 3. scene

    Beautiful, striking images are most likely to catch my eye. Simplicity (but simplicity that says something).

    2) What is the thing you LEAST like seeing on the cover of the new book?

    Ugliness (and this is a matter of personal taste, I realize – my ugly may be someone else’s fascinating).

    Busy, complicated images are least likely to get my attention. A lot of “scene” type covers fall into this category. The opposite – nothing but text – is also unlikely to get my attention.

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.

    When I first saw the Twilight books in the store (and I saw the first three together) I was struck by the cover images. The simplicity, the use of color (specifically red – not my favorite color, but it was the ONLY color besides white and the black backgrounds), and the style of the rather iconic images really caught my eye.

    They have now been copied to death, as has Twilight itself, which may be why such covers don’t appeal to others. But I maintain that they are very successful cover designs.

    I’ll call that one “book” since it was one concept on a series. Here’s another that struck me: Cold Mountain. Again, vibrant color, and ONE color rather than a mess of them. Got my attention, and the color along with the title immediately suggested a mood.

    The Hunger Games – with the mockingjay – is a pretty striking cover as well.

    And while it’s a book I won’t read, I thought the cover of 50 Shades of Gray was pretty interesting. It made me take a look at the book.

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.

    Can only think of one: the original US cover of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (I can’t find it now, there’s a new one). The layout was too scattered for me. Maybe it was successful in that it turned me off of a book I wouldn’t have enjoyed reading.

    5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three)

    Blue, green, purple

    6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three)

    Red, orange, yellow.

    I often find that book covers that come from movie posters are more striking than the book’s original cover. The Silence of the Lambs is an example. Maybe the movie industry is better at making striking “cover” images than the publishing industry.

    Interesting that folks here don’t like the headless woman covers. I don’t care for them either, but the publishing industry loves them – they say because not showing the woman’s face allows the reader to imagine herself as that character. I’m not sure that’s true.

    • I thought the Twilight covers were neutral–but then I wasn’t the audience they were marketing to.

      Loved Mockingjay’s cover, even thought I thought the actual book disappointing.

      True about ugliness being personal–a commenter up above made an excellent point about fonts, then posted an example of a good font that I personally was repelled by. Eye of the beholder things!

  11. My current pet peeve is the headless torso cover. I know why people do it – low budget covers where you don’t a model release for the stock photo you’re using, and then suddenly it becomes a style, and big publishers are doing it too. But it still leaves me thinking of bad photos by your least favorite uncle who always cut off somebody’s head when he took the family portrait.

    I know what I like, but I’m hard pressed to say why I like one artist and not another. I adore Michael Whelan’s work, while I can’t stand Darrell Sweet’s I think it may be that there’s a slightly stylized quality to Sweet’s faces, where Whelan’s are close to photographic in quality. Boris is good that way too, as long as your main character is a body builder. Luis Royo is another favorite, although I dislike his recent trend toward painting people with an excess of piercings.

    • Boris Vallejo actually did one of my favourite covers for Robin McKinley’s Beauty, featuring a young woman who was neither buff nor half-dressed. It took me a while to believe it was him. Normally his and Royo’s overly-nude styles turn me off (But Royo does more outside that arena, and when he does, he does very well indeed).

      Darrell K. Sweet has a strange stylized way of painting people and clothes that has always worked badly for me; it’s almost realism, but not quite, and so fails more than it would if it were more realistic OR more cartoony. His covers also tend to be busy and full of colours and lines that break up the composition instead of flowing with it (Any time there are multiple figures in a group, it really falls apart). Whelan goes for realism, and has superb sense of composition and colour placement. He can do people and pure landscape. I can’t picture a Darrell Sweet landscape.

  12. 1) What is the thing that is most likely to catch your eye on the cover of a new book?
    Choose from a) scene, b) face of character, c) symbolic object, d) other.
    A) Scenes, if I have the whole cover available. However, if the objective is to catch one’s eye in a book store, the spine is all important. That’s also what’s going to show on my shelves! Lettering should not be miniature or in illegible type, and the author’s name should be prominent. A colophon to fit the mood is nice if the volume is fat enough to handle it. I much prefer a series to match, and get annoyed when e.g. the 3rd volume of Pat Wrede’s Far West series goes from the sepia of old photographs to blue, rather spoiling the effect. Not to mention the switch to a wardrobe inappropriate for a heroine in an exploratory wagon train.

    2) What is the thing you LEAST like seeing on the cover of the new book?
    Choose from a) scene, b) face of character, c) symbolic object, d) other.
    C) gore and sex objects

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.
    a. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger, this Bantam edition:
    http://www.e-reading.org.ua/illustrations/135/135482-singercover.jpg
    Vivid detail; attractive setting; character in the faces suggesting a good story.
    b. This version of Miss Read’s Return to Thrush Green
    http://avbooks.co.uk/read/ret.jpg
    Well matched to the content, plus a slightly impressionistic look for the nostalgia angle
    c. Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots. The Jurisfiction emblem on this edition immediately suggested a combination of literary story line and the (amusingly) insane.
    http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1304713470l/27001.jpg

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.
    a. Madeleine L’Engle, The Young Unicorns. The bloody switchblades kept me away from the book for some time, despite being a great fan of L’Engle: http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1312588501l/4633796.jpg
    I rather liked the blue Wrinkle in Time cover with the circles – but found the same thing in orange (50th anniversary edition) very disturbing.
    b. Sylvia Engdahl, The Far Side of Evil, http://www.sylviaengdahl.com/images/fsoe-1971.jpg
    Where is the rest of her face? And the color, argh.
    Clearly it can’t have deterred me from reading, though, since by the time I bought my own copy I’d checked it out of the library umpteen times.
    c. Andrew M. Greeley, The Cardinal Virtues, http://mccoy.lib.siu.edu/illinois/images/cardinalvirtues.gif . Worse, it’s repeated on the spine. This whole genre irritates the life out of me, especially when totally unrelated to the plot. (I don’t think it was relevant in this one, but couldn’t swear to it – author’s works are pretty samey, though I still pick one up now and then when stranded in airports.)
    5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three) blue, green (of the scenery variety)
    6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three) shocking pink, fluorescent green, blood red

  13. 1) What is the thing that is most likely to catch your eye on the cover of a new book?

    Scenes, especially if they suggest something, and symbolic objects in a context i.e. held in a hand, not just free-floating on a place background.

    2) What is the thing you LEAST like seeing on the cover of the new book?

    Faces, especially if they’re looking at me. If it’s a book I’m reading, I have to put it down with the face hidden.

    Cartoonish images.

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.

    Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham. It was just black & white, with a white horse running down a city street. I bought it purely based on the cover.

    Passage, Connie Willie with a Titanci lifebouy against clouds at the end of a hallway. I had this one out from the library but when I saw the cover I had to sit down there and then to start reading it.

    One I can remember but not find if Sarah Waters’ Affinity, with a hand holding some wilted violets.

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.

    Every cover that says “Hey, I’m the same as all these other books” (which includes most the young woman on the cover with a tatoo/holding a weapon/skimpy dresses, women in ye olde dress with or without a half-naked man & single objects against a black background) because the contents will be the same as all those other books. Standard marketing ploys and me do not go together well 🙂

    Also what seems to be the latest trend for SF/F fantasy, judging by a local bookshop’s shelves, which is just text (name & title), or text+small object. Boring. Which is not what you want a potential reader thinling.

    5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three)

    Red, and black & white

    6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three)

    Pink, and pale shades of other colours.

  14. I’m a thoroughly opinionated person, so I expected to dash out a reply in short order — and then drew up blank. I have no trouble jotting down a few covers I don’t like:
    – The early Bujold (the content inside the covers is divine)
    – A woman in a filmy dress facing away, head cropped out of frame
    – The Generic Urban Fantasy Young Woman in black leather
    – Bare-chested bulging muscles guy clutching a woman with flowing tresses

    What I can’t do is say that a particular color or style will attract me. I looked over my bookshelves, and didn’t find any common theme in covers that I liked. Except, of course, for “designed by Chip Kidd”. For anyone who hasn’t already seen his TED talk on book design, here it is: Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is.

  15. 1) I like scenes and sometimes symbolism. Stylised covers tend to attract me, and I’m a sucker for Art Nouveau, for example. I am also likely to pick up any book with an airship on the cover.

    2) Not a fan of character faces generally – they tend to convey very little about the story. I’m also not a fan of headless women, gratutious boobs, or the sort of cover that screams ‘the publisher is trying to make this book look like it’s related to the latest publishing sensation!’ (e.g. this dreadful cover for Pride and Prejudice, which is designed to make it look like the Twilight books).

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.
    I love the new Vintage classics covers for the Swallows and Amazons series – the simplicity and limited colour scheme makes them eye-catching and I think the art style, which somewhat resembles Arthur Ransome’s, suits the stories well.
    I think Mercedes Lackey’s book covers tend to be pretty good, but I especially likethese covers for the Talia books. Yes, they’re quite busy, but the colours go well together and again I feel that the cover style suits the stories.
    Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Not only do I like the colours and composition, it has airships!

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.
    This cover for Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch. I can’t get past the colours. Ewww.
    This sparkly abomination, for Bujold’s A Civil Campaign.
    These covers for the Protector of the Small books by Tamora Pierce. Not only do they convey next to nothing about the story, they’re just… boring.
    5) Blue tends to attract me, but other than that I don’t really think colours are particularly significant – unless they clash or are garish/ugly (see below).
    6) Fluorescent colours, hot pink, mustard yellow.

  16. 1) I am attracted to landscapes, or stylised drawings and silhouettes, particularly with a limited colour palette. I don’t think the subject is as important as the style.

    2) really bad drawing alarms me. Legs that can’t possibly attach to bums, strange elbows and noses – that sort of thing. Dragons with wings that shriek ‘I AM PHYSIOLOGICALLY UNLIKELY’ . Human flesh (unless very well drawn).

    I avoid photographs of people on covers, particularly if they are staring right at you – not so bad if they are looking at something else in the image. If books have people on, I prefer stylised people in painted styles, not real people.

    I don’t think there are any colours that can’t work if the artist is sufficiently skilled and the image sufficiently subtle, though bright pink is certainly a *brave* choice.

    The Harry Potter Deathly Hallows ‘kids version’ cover is one that leaps to mind when I think of covers I particularly disliked:
    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51tB0kftR-L._SS400_.jpg – SO UGLY!

    • I completely agree about how repellant badly drawn physiology is. Whether it is human or mythological, it doesn’t matter.

      And also the British HP 7 cover. NOT what I was looking forward to, no! It think seeing it took my enthusiasm down a peg while I was waiting to read the seventh book. There’s no metal embedded but it’s still too shiny (my first impression is that the teens are as reflective as the coins around them…) Hair flying everywhere, and too much panic! Granted, it doesn’t look quite so bad when lined up with the rest of the series.

    • Oh, good question.

      I tend to look past ugly covers if I want the book–Bujold’s old ones (any romance novel I was seeking to read, as the covers are pretty much all repellant)

      I guess, no, my perceptions don’t change.

  17. Book design is my hobby. I also do covers freelance.

    My usual client(s) so far have been almost exclusively non-fiction titles. The one exception refused my suggestion (which was based on a scene in the book) in favor of his own mock up (done by a friend) of a Jurassic Parkesque ripoff using a dragon rather than a dinosaur skeleton. Consequently, I found the Ted talk very amusing.

    With the covers I do on commission, in a lot of cases the publisher (tiny, one-man operation, this is a print-on-demand house) sends me a file and wants me to use it. These are usually artwork, sometimes photographs. Other times I’ve needed to go hunting for artwork or stock photos from my own sources depending upon the subject matter.

    There is one author whose wife paints his covers, and I’ve had to take the scans apart and rebuild them in a printable format (I seriously doubt that a visible canvas texture enhances a flat-color graphically-driven design). The very worst one I had to ever deal with was yet another “done by a friend” painting, done by someone who has no clue of how a building is put together or what colors are printable when sent to press. It took a lot of work to end up with a rather poor illustration, but it was better than it started by a long chalk.

    One of the main parameters that I have to juggle is that Lightning Source International has a 240% limitation on ink coverage for their covers. You would not *believe* how easy it is to exceed that limit whenever you try dealing with a dark blue (or just about any other dark color) cover. It’s one of the reasons I have to deconstruct the author’s wife’s covers (which are really quite good. She has a very solid grasp of graphics) before I can work with them. Scanned dark colors invariably come in over the limit.

    It’s only been recently that I’ve started getting requests for front page only versions of some of my older commissions for eBook publication. It’s also only been recently that I’ve got good enough to start attempting to use 3D renders in doing covers.

    For my own stuff on my own site I am typically going for the Easton Press look. Lush traditional leather bindings with all the trimmings that I can think of. Since they are output in .pdf to post online, there are no considerations of economy required. I don’t think it would have even been possible to produce most of them.

  18. I like naturalistic covers that show something that is actually relevant to the story. Apparently in many cases this seems too much to ask.

  19. Everything depends on context. I can name favourite artists and styles, but even they don’t always work if paired with the wrong book. For instance, I usually love the Dillons, but I’m not sure their style worked at all for the Narnia covers they did (Though I used their version to replace my utterly destroyed childhood copies – until I realised they’d lost most of the Pauline Baynes interiors, which I considered as much part of the story as Lewis’s words). Kinuko Craft builds expectations of a similar baroque stylization inside, which matches well with Patricia McKillip but has done poorly with some of the other authors I’ve seen graced with her covers.

    Still, I’ll give it a fair try.

    1) What is the thing that is most likely to catch your eye on the cover of a new book?
    I tend to like scenes done right, but too often, they’re too busy for something that’s going to be around eight inches tall. (And Romance novel clinches would count as scenes, and the number of those that work is vanishingly rare.) I seem to be opposite many people here in that I do like faces, and prefer them looking out or at something in the scene – abstract stares tend to bother me. But I like faces if they feel distinct, not like random cover models. Symbolic objects are a risk for me; these days, as someone said, they’ve become part of the Twilight copy-catting, but I quite liked, the one for Charles de Lint’s Trader with the painted stone.

    2) What is the thing you LEAST like seeing on the cover of the new book?
    a) Badly proportioned people or broken spines.
    b) Romance novel clinches. I’ve seen something like two where the woman looks like she’s in a comfortable pose and *having fun* with someone she wants to be with, and they improved it immeasurably, but even so.
    c) Muddy composition or composition not designed to be viewed at cover size.
    d) Faux manga on books that aren’t manga-like in their approach or sensibility. (I thought the beautiful Japanese covers for Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner books would have worked even on the English-language American release, but put that style on, say, Robert Jordan, and I would rebel.)
    I CAN’T say I hate all poses of figures from behind, or without heads, or body parts without context because some of my favourite covers partake of that style, but it is painfully overused.

    3) Name three books whose covers attracted you.
    Only three?

    A cover I generally liked that came out recently was Rick Riordan’s The Son of Neptune; a scene in motion, very well designed. I loved the Royo covers for Carol Berg’s Lighthouse Duet – I also liked the cover that graced The Spirit Lens, which is of the manipulated photograph style, but thought the sequels both failed because the model was too obviously photographed and the background too obviously a painted set (the third is especially bad).

    For faces looking at you, the original cover to Robin McKinley’s Deerskin.

    4) Name three books whose covers repelled you.
    I can do more than that in one fell swoop. Josh Kirby’s Discworld Books. Pretty much all of them. I strongly prefer Paul Kidby’s. (The American editions with the abstract art range from awesome – I also like the one I recall seeing for Soul Music – to worse than Kirby ones like the one Tamsin pointed out). Most Darrell Sweet, as I mentioned to someone else.

    5) What colors on book covers attract you? (limit of three)
    I can’t limit it to three, because monochrome covers often don’t work for me. It’s particular combinations that do. That being said, I am always a sucker for rich dark violets and turquoises.

    6) What colors on book covers repel you? (limit of three)
    Neons – but I know of a cover I like that was neon lime green and hot pink, so. Pastels without some contrasting dark colours.

    Boy did I ramble.

  20. I love cool typography. A good background cover + a good font + simple layout = goodness.

    That much-hated cover of A Wrinkle In Time also turned me off. And then, one afternoon when there was nothing else to read in the house, I turned to it in desperation, fell in love, and have since completely disassociated my idea of the book from the original cover (instead, I associate it with a simple arrangement of “The Young Prince and Princess” from Scherazade that I was playing at the time, which is much nicer).

    Same with the Narnia books– my parents had a weird old set with the face of a giant lion on it that I understand, so I didn’t read them for a comparatively long time.