Why is it so hard to come up with a good cover? Part of the problem is that art departments are overworked; a handful people (who'd probably rather be doing something else) are tasked with dreaming up and executing hundreds of covers a year on a limited budget. Coming up with a good cover image must be difficult, because if you look at book covers, most of them are terrible. I know; I just spent all afternoon staring at so many I'm blearing-eyed, searching for inspiration. I've decided I had a lot of nerve to complain.
It isn't just about good design, although that's really important. Covers also need to be right for their genre in order to send the correct, subtle message to readers (I think some of the Sebastian covers fail here). But some covers rise above the rest to the level of pure genius. Take this one, for instance:
Not only is it striking graphically, but the image of a woman holding out an apple says something about temptation, sex, and danger that is instantly understood. Then there's this guy:
Terrible title and boring cover, but I guess once you're a phenomenon, neither really matters.
What drives me crazy is the cavalier attitude shown by many art departments toward historical accuracy. Consider this cover of Tracy Grant's latest book; gorgeous, eye catching, and totally wrong for her period, which is Paris 1815. But since it's so striking, I understand why they left it alone. (I once complained about a cover that was very historically inaccurate but other wise a good cover; what I got in its place made me want to weep.)
My friend Laura Joh Rowland consistently has some of the best covers I've seen. It's hard to pick a favorite, but here is one of them:
So, can you think of any book covers you've found especially striking and appealing? What works for you as a reader? What doesn't work?
UPDATE: Someone just sent me a link to a very interesting article where some very creative people have participated in a game of "flip that cover," where they took a well-known book and redesigned the cover to create a very different impression. See it at Huff Po here .