Work of Cover Art

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 24 2010

Queries aren’t the only thing I’m behind on. I’ve also fallen behind on my Bravo TV watching, and since Bravo seems to take up the majority of my DVR space, that’s saying a lot.

Finally though I’m catching up and watching Work of Art, the Bravo reality show for competitive artists. Believe it or not, this show is much more interesting than I would have thought. Of course, anything that uses the format behind Project Runway and Top Chef can’t fail in my mind. One of the reasons that I love watching these shows is that I feel in some way it gives me insight into my own world. Fashion design, cooking, and creating art are not that much different from writing a book. All of these people bringing their art into the business world.

Work of Art is particularly interesting, though, because of one episode. In episode three the artists were asked to create a book cover for a Penguin Classics book. This was probably the first time I actually felt I knew what the judges were talking about. In some cases, the art was interesting, but there was no way it was marketable as a book cover, and in other cases the art might have made an interesting book cover, but it wasn’t necessarily great art. The trick for these artists was finding the balance between the two. And this got me thinking: Have you ever seen a book cover (other than your own) that’s really stuck with you simply because it was a great piece of art, a piece you would like to have to hang on your wall? Have you ever bought a book because the cover was so gorgeous you couldn’t resist?


43 responses to “Work of Cover Art”

  1. Avatar TRAYB says:

    Although I'm not sure it's a work of art I'd hang on my wall, I still think Augusten Burroughs's "Dry" featured one of the most unforgettable cover images of the past decade. The hardcover had an iconic (and ironic) photograph of a fish with its head in a martini glass, a fitting metaphor for the hopelessness of the memoir. The softcover also hit a homerun with its clever use of soggy-looking typography. It's a shame that more covers don't push the creative envelope.

  2. Avatar Suzi McGowen says:

    I haven't purchased it yet (because it's not out yet), but even if I hadn't read the great review of The Replacement, I would have bought it based on the cover art alone.

    This is very funny when you consider I only read books on my Kindle, where you rarely see the covers and only in shades of gray.

    For The Replacement, though, I might break down and go back to paper. (Since it's not listed as being available for the Kindle. Yet.)

  3. Laurie Halse Anderson's WINTERGIRLS.

    Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN.

    The "branded" look behind Sophie Kinsella's books–as soon as you see them, you know what you're getting AND they're fun looking AND they're definitely from a graphic designer with a great eye.

    The first two I've picked up; Kinsella's books I have not (they're not my kind of books).


  4. Avatar Wendy S says:

    The cover The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt was the last cover that caught my eye. It has a black cut-out design on a yellow/orange background, but it is a lot less formal-looking than a lot of designs used with the cut-out look.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The cover of Marcy Dermansky's Bad Marie is just so cool, I had to have it. It's just a woman in black and white, but the typography is curved around her head gracefully, and it's got this gorgeous Old French Movie vibe.

  6. Avatar Kristan says:

    I work at a design firm, and we were all smitten with the American covers of the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series. I could definitely see getting prints of those and hanging them up as art.

  7. Avatar Jess says:

    OMG, I love those shows on Bravo! I think I might watch them too much though–today I did a blog post on a dream I had, in which Padma Lakshmi (from Top Chef) rejected a manuscript of mine.

    I missed the cover art episode, but thanks for the recap.
    Dave Egger's cover for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius came to mind~ a little dramatic perhaps, but fitting with the title.

  8. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Two book covers that got me to pick, stare at, think and buy:
    The Shack, original cover
    Memory of Running, original cover

    I might not hang them over my couch but my office, hell yes. Excellant art work that delivered, especially Memory of Running by Ron McLarty: a red Schwinn in a field under a starlit sky, READ IT !

  9. Avatar Rosemary says:

    My friend Sujatha Hampton's book, As It Was Written, has the most gorgeous cover. And it's (sigh) pink!

  10. Clockwork Angel: I thought the cover was beautiful. The cover for Inara Scott's Candidates, which is coming out today, is gorgeous, too. And the P.C. Cast's House of Night series is eye-catching and haunting.

    I wish they would do a TV series in the Work of Art series for writers!


  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    City of Glass series are perfect and good reads.

  12. Avatar Jen A says:

    This one. The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman. I hated the book, actually, but that cover still sticks with me and makes me wish I had that art hanging on my wall.

  13. Avatar steeleweed says:

    I don't know that I'd hang covers on my wall (even if I could find space – got too much art already hanging).

    I never bought a book because of the cover but I've often picked one to browse because of the artwork. A good cover is your first chance to grab a reader's attention. In the huge-and-growing mountain of books out there, it may well be your only chance.

    The secret is to display a great cover in the middle of a bunch of mediocre ones. Now, when I get front-tabled at B&N, (As If!) I just sneak in and surround my books with ugly ones…..

  14. Avatar BW says:

    I have bought numerous books because I found the cover irresistable. I still do but I have gotten better. It's just one of many bad habits I have.

  15. Avatar Erin McGuire says:

    That show makes me so sad. As a professional illustrator, it sucks to have one more thing strengthening the starving artist myth in the mind of the public. At least on Top Chef, they can all cook, and there's no talking your way out of rotten food.

    But to answer your question, old penguin book covers, and the redesigned penguin classics all look awesome. Sam Weber and Jon Foster's book covers are beautiful also.

  16. Avatar ryan field says:

    I remember one cover from an Anne Tyler novel, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, where there's a vintage chair with wings.

    And I recently found a new cover artist named Paul Richmond I love. I've actually bought his prints. But this doesn't happen often. Most of the time book covers are invisible to me.

  17. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    Have to admit I'm drawn to the SHIVER cover and it's a big reason I'm dying to pick it up on my next trip to the bookstore.

  18. Dang, I gotta catch the cover episode I missed. Loved the making-art-from-old-electronics competition. Yeah, Bravo's top notch.

  19. I can't believe I'm actually saying this but, yes, I have purchased a book based on the cover. Even though, in my head as a writer, I knew it was a terrible idea — and it was. But hey, I'm a visual person so I will no doubt fall into the trap again despite the little voice in my head.

  20. Avatar Sheila Cull says:

    I've bought hundreds of books but never because of the book cover. I don't think. But has the book cover influenced me without me realizing it?

  21. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    There's currently one artist whose covers ALWAYS catches my eye, and I've learned to recognize his work–his name is Tony Mauro and he does the covers for paranormal authors Yasmine Galenorn and Virginia Kantra among others. His paintings are unbelievably beautiful, and totally lifelike.

    You can see his work here–it's breathtaking:

  22. Avatar Anonymous says:

    A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about the fifty incarnations of 'The Girl w/Dragon Tattoo' cover (link below)

    Besides that cover – which I liked because the raised type & design felt like something under my finger tips – Steve Erickson's 'Zeroville' IMO is one of the more beautiful, illustrative (of the story, about a man w/Liz Taylor & Montgomery Cliff tattooed on his head .. a theme here :))) covers. Blue, stark, wonderful to look while reading.

    And, of course, I knew I'd lucked out when I saw the cover of my first novel, 'hidden' … no tattoos, but eye-catching, and perfectly expressive of the narrative.

    – Tomas Mournian

  23. Avatar Don says:

    I loved the watercolors Paul Hogarth did for the orange-spined Penguin paperbacks of Graham Greene's novels. I would love to get some or all of those as prints to hang on my walls.

  24. Avatar J.M.Cornwell says:

    "Three Against the Witch World" by Andre Norton, 1972.

    The cover drew me from clear across the store and I was hooked. The author kept me coming back for more, but that is one cover I still love and would love to have framed on my wall in a larger version. The artist who did many of the Witch World books was very talented.

    More recent covers include "Human Love" by Andreï Makine and the covers for Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels. The Harris novel covers remind me of Chagall.

  25. Avatar Jul says:

    I do have a couple books whose covers I love, but I didn't buy them explicitly for the covers.

    I'd never heard of Work of Art before, but now I'm so curious to go check it out. Thanks!

  26. Avatar Tim of Angle says:

    Any book with a cover by Frank Frazetta, Kelly Freas, or Michael Whelan I will buy without further consideration.

  27. Avatar Sommer Leigh says:

    hush, hush by Becca Fitzpatrick was the first book where I ever thought "I'd give just about anything to have that as a poster up on my office wall." The art is gorgeous and it matches the book so well. I picked it up for the cover only and ended up loving the book too.

    Mistwood by Leah Cypess sold me in person. It's ok online, but in person it knocks my socks off. I don't know how they managed to achieve the right amount of gloss/matte/shimmer/fog. It's breathtaking.

    The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, The Julian Game by Adele Griffin, and The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper are all on my preorder list because of how really beautiful and really well designed their covers are. (I still don't even know what The Julian Game is about, and I just don't care.)

  28. If I recall correctly (yes, I watched every episode), on the winning cover you couldn't read the book title or the author's name. I was rooting for the cover that came in second.

    A couple of covers that stick with me: Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell–it's just a photo of a young girl, but you can see it from across the room; and any of the Twilight series, whose original covers were all clean, simple and elegant.

  29. Avatar Tara Maya says:

    I have definitely bought books for the cover art alone. In these days of increasing digital purchases, I will often decide whether to buy on the kindle or splurge on the hard cover based on how much I like the cover art.

  30. It's interesting how many people admit having bought something because of the cover art and then not liking the book–I've done that too.

    I wonder if this is good or bad for the author? On one hand, they made a sale. On the other, there's one more person in the world willing to say, "Oh that–I didn't like that."

    Word of mouth is powerful. Ideally, you only want the people who will enjoy your book to read it.

  31. A Suitable Boy (paperback), by Vikram Seth. The cover got me to take the book down from the shelf, and the first paragraph clinched the sale. Loved that book beginning to end, but I'd never heard of it and if it wasn't for that cover, I would never have discovered it.

  32. Avatar Anne-Marie says:

    I can't specifically remember buying a book for the cover art, but in the heyday of LPs, I must confess to doing that often- Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell and King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King come to mind. I know, I am dating myself severely.


  33. Maybe this is cheating because it's a series of graphic novels, but I do have two of the covers of the Flight anthologies as the main art in my living room. I also would hang up art in the style of Jay Lake's MAINSPRING, several of China Mieville's books, or Robert Charles Wilson's DARWINIA, if not the actual covers themselves. Of recent releases, I rather like the cover for Kevin J. Anderson's THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. I would possibly hang the picture on the cover of Nina Revoyr's THE AGE OF DREAMING on my walls as well. And something about the cover for Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO grips me.

    Cover art has never been the sole thing to push me to buy a book, but it has often made me pick up books I might not have before, or swing for the more expensive version if the mass market and hardcover or trade paperback have different art.

  34. Avatar buildingalife says:

    I agree with Suzi, The Replacement has an awesome cover. Also, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce has one of the best covers I've ever seen.

    One thing I really like to look at is the different covers from foreign publishers. For instance, the wolf on Sisters Red has red ears on the UK version. This is to allude to the hell hounds (who have red ears) that are a familiar archetype in the British culture

  35. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Kate I went to Mauro's site, WOW.

    I want to live in his world but I'd have to wear more clothes like a turtleneck full-length.

  36. Avatar kelly says:

    I was on a big Barbara Kingsolver kick anyway, but I was so drawn to the paperback cover of THE LACUNA that I couldn't leave the bookstore without it — or return it after I learned that one of my best friends owned the hardcover and would be happy to lend it to me.

  37. Avatar Victoria says:

    As a cover artist, I love anything by Micheal Whelan, and it seems he only draws for projects he believes in, so it kinda works out to be an endorsement of the work. Come to think of it, same goes for John Howe's covers.

  38. Avatar Lucy says:

    The Bronze Horseman has been through way more covers than any one book needs, but this one

    caught my imagination the first time I saw it. I've never forgotten the cover, even though I didn't buy the book.

  39. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Ordered Stiltsville by debut author Susanna Daniel yesterday based on the gorgeous cover I happened to stumble upon while browsing Amazon. So, great covers do make a difference.

  40. Avatar Shannon says:

    I saw that episode where the artists did book covers. Maybe it was just me, but the cover that won was not the one I felt should have.I'm in agreeance with Sheila on the runner up.

    I'll admit I do judge books by their covers. If the cover is poorly done, or not interesting, I probably won't even look at the blurb. Bad, I know. But honest.

  41. Avatar Susan S says:

    Although I can't remember titles at the moment (curse you, leaky brain!) I can remember at least a dozen instances when I've stood in the bookstore with a title in my hand, wishing I actually wanted to read it because I liked the cover art so much. Only once did I actually give in and buy the book anyway.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have actually gone to the bookstore to buy a book I wanted, seen the cover art and thought "Do I really think I'll like this? Because I'm not connecting with this at all." After a flip and a couple of pages read, I did end up buying the book, but the cover art almost did me in.

  42. Avatar Lucy says:

    Ok, I'm experimenting with hyperlinks, because I wanted people to actually click through on the cover I referenced above. Bear with my baby efforts. 🙂

    The Bronze Horseman

  43. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Alot of people credit the cover of the The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan for launching his series. It is what got me to pick up the book 20 years ago.

    That is a great cover and one that alot of science fiction fans would want on our wall.