Judging a book by its cover

Think presents, with wrappings so lovely and intriguing you’re just dying of curiosity to find out what’s inside.

Book-cover design should have that type of engagement, plus it should clue-in potential readers as to what’s inside.

Whether it’s in a pile of books at a book-signing or on a shelf of new releases, a well-designed cover will reel in the undecided buyer.

A blah cover won’t make it to the check-out line.

“They only have three seconds when they look at a book,” said Carroll Multz, local author of six courtroom dramas. “If it strikes them, they pick it up.”

“The Devil’s Scribe,” a recent release by Multz, has a couple of visual shortcuts as to its crime-based content: blood-red type, pill capsules and a gun. Multz worked with local Brass Frog Bookworks in developing the cover concept.

“They asked me what I thought I wanted, and I basically described what I wanted,” Multz said, acknowledging his first idea didn’t pan out. He ran various cover options by friends for their feedback.

In large publishing houses, authors rarely have input into cover design. Savvy publishers know well what works, and they rely on designers who specialize in book covers. With the proliferation of self-publishing, indie publishing and even with some university presses, however, authors are far more involved in cover design, and even sometimes find their own artwork.

John Foster, paleontologist at Dinosaur Journey, is getting ready to release a new book this summer, “Cambrian Ocean World: Ancient Sea Life of North America.” This time he has a perfect painting to use on the cover — an arthropod, dominant in the foreground, swimming through a sumptuous blue Cambrian ocean.

“When I saw that painting, I thought that I had to use it for the cover,” Foster said.

He worked with the same publisher, Indiana University Press, when he published “Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and Their World” in 2007. Then, he chose interior book illustrations with dinosaurs naturally embedded in their environment.

“I wanted to avoid a dinosaur standing out, posed, so a lot of the artwork didn’t lend itself to a catchy cover,” Foster said.

Plus, “I could barely afford artwork on the inside, so I didn’t want to spend the money — it can be double — to reuse one of the pieces for the cover,” he said.

Family to the rescue.

“My aunt is an artist, so she did the cover for free,” he said of Karen Foster-Wells, of Atascadero, Calif.

“The idea was kind of looking back into the Jurassic,” Foster said of his aunt’s painting. “You and the Ceratosaurus have pushed aside some vegetation, and you’re looking over the shoulder of the dinosaur.”

Bob Silbernagel had to go to Plan B for his cover of “Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of Utes From Colorado.”

He thought he had found the perfect cover image in a Jack Roberts painting that is part of an Indian calendar series in a Museum of Western Colorado collection.

He sent the image to his publisher, The University of Utah Press, and they gave it the green light.

“It hadn’t been used anywhere else” in a book, Silbernagel said of the painting of Native Americans and their horses.

Then he discovered a narrative by the Redstone artist saying the Native Americans in the painting represented a composite of Horse People of the West, but that they were not of a specific tribe. For a book dedicated to historical accuracy, such artistic license wasn’t appropriate.

Instead, Silbernagel found a local map from the early 1900s that connoted the “trails” aspect of the title, plus an 1874 photo of Ute leaders and whites posing for a studio photograph.

“It turned out to be a lot different cover,” Silbernagel said.

Charlie Quimby has spent years in marketing and communications and was used to conceptualizing various publication covers.

When his publisher, Torrey House Press of Utah, asked if he had cover ideas for his novel, “Monument Road,” he was ready.

“One of the early concepts I had was to represent Monument Road not as a literal road, but as a treacherous journey,” Quimby said. “So I started researching road signs. The cover is only a portion of the image of a road sign that has been shot up. It’s very iconic in the West to see a road sign with bullet holes in it.”

The photo he chose “had bullet holes that made it through and bullet holes that hadn’t made it through, and then the paint was all distressed. To me it suggested landscape. It suggested the mountainous road, and it suggested sort of stress or violence, and it said the West.”

For a chance to meet more than two-dozen Colorado authors, buy their books, and even ask them about their cover designs, attend the Authors Meet and Greet from 2–4 this afternoon at the Central Library, Community Room No. 1.

Maybe you’ll find some gift books with covers just too beautiful to cover up with wrapping paper.

Have news about local authors, bookstores, book clubs or writing groups? Email Laurena Mayne Davis at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Davis is the director of marketing and product development for The Daily Sentinel.


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