The Mysteries of Covers

I do my own covers. Although I am recognizing to my ego’s distress, a certain lack of skill in this matter and have been looking at professional cover designers, it got me thinking—always risky when I am tasked with producing a blog.

What is it about covers? Who figures out what works for a particular book? I know it when I see a cover I like because the cover, whether a book or a record a gift-wrapped package—I think now of the hilarious scene in Love, Actually in which Rowan Atkinson constructs a garish gift bag for an increasingly nervous Alan Rickman—is appealing.

Is it because I am already programmed to respond? Because it’s an author I like? Or one of my favorite bands? A combination of colors? The composition of elements?

Because I love books and Ulrich Schnauss?

Here I’ve shared some covers I’ve located with the help of my browser. All of these are of books I’ve read.

The cover of Jane Eyre above was created by a German-American engraver in 1941. Remarkable symmetry, bleak, despairing. A stand alone work of art.

Irish illustrator Hugh Thomsen drew for Jane Austin’s novels. This is called “the Peacock Version” and is a first edition from 1894—I don’t know if he also designed the cover, but the detail of it is—in a word—kissable.

There are a dozen cover versions of Ursula’s classic novel. But this is the one from my copy that I found on a pretty cool Pinterest page of the best science fiction covers.

My copy of the Divine Comedy doesn’t have Dante Alighieri’s frightful scowl, but it does have the sensational Gustave Doré etchings.

Doesn’t this cover evoke turn-of-twentieth-century fiction? The setting for this book, play and film is of that era. So the designers of J.K. Rowling’s story cover knew what they were doing.

I don’t know A.J. Tipton’s work, and don’t often read paranormal romance, but I think I would pick this one up in the bookstore. Because I prefer brunettes to blondes? I don’t know, but I like this.

I’ve read several of Allende’s books and while browsing I saw many remarkable covers. The story of Zorro as told by Allende is magical, but not exactly in the realm of magic realism. Magic realism book covers are not in any way unmoored to reality or filled with artful surprise. The hook has to be in the title, or the blurb, or by knowing the author.

The coming of music streaming has not really changed the art of the album cover. The two covers below–Santana 1969 and Afghan Whigs 2017–are similar in style and tone.

When I open iTunes I get an array of album covers that continue to amaze, despite the fact that they are a fraction of the size of LPs. Joni Mitchell produced her own album art. I wonder if musical artists consistently use their preferred cover designers, or shift from one to another. Much of what is produced is beautiful work.


A library of books on your e-reader does not match the comfort of a library of paper books on your bookshelves. And the smorgasbord of album covers on iTunes is somehow not as pleasing as sagging shelves of LPs—unless they have been used as a scratching post by your cat.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Mysteries of Covers — 4 Comments

  1. My mothers copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights had those same Gustave Dore covers. They scared me so much I never read either book, despite my ravenous hunger for books, any books, out there on the farm. I never read the Brontes until their books appeared to me in more luring package!

    I feel differently now about those covers, but as a young kid, life was terrifying enough that I’d never willingly add to it with a scary book. (I pretty much feel that way now to, for that matter, still eschewing the horror genres and overly, pointlessly violent genres of anything.

  2. I didn’t “get” that cover of “The Left Hand of Darkness” before I bought it, nor after I read it. It didn’t persuade me to buy it (the author’s name was sufficient). It’s pretty – but does it sell books?

  3. We have a copy of the peacock P&P in our special collection at the museum. Sometimes I go in just to visit it. So pretty.

    I will note, because I’m a geek about this stuff, that it’s only in the last 200 years that edition book covers had anything to do with the content of the books–in the days when you bought a printing of a book and took it to your favorite binder, the book looked the way you asked the binder to make it look. It was only when mass production comes in that publishers realized they had an opportunity to make the covers catch the eye and relate to the contents, as a sales tool. Yes. I said I’m a geek.