An Author’s Experience of Cover Design


Earlier this month, the subject of book cover design, and who the final design should speak to, blipped across the blogs for a day or so after Seth Godin reasonably opined that the single purpose of a book cover is to raise expectations that the book can and will deliver.

Just a week later, the Millions published a piece by the writer Sonya Chung, whose first novel will be out in March, about her own experience of the cover design process. Coincidence? (Probably.)

The essay is especially fascinating when she talks about the kind of cover she didn’t want to have:

I did not want the design to be too literal; I myself am drawn to jacket covers which are more evocative of a novel’s essence than descriptive of its plot or characters (I dislike, for instance, the movie-poster jackets of books which have been made into films, which often present celebrities’ faces for characters you’d rather imagine).

And about the kind of cultural cliches that she feared would get stuck on her cover just because she’s an Asian-American woman:

I also knew that conveying the cultural elements of the novel in a jacket image could be tricky. In a recent article in Hyphen Magazine, books editor Neelanjana Banerjee expresses a frustration with the easy cultural tropes that are often used for the covers of novels by Asian Americans — fans, geishas (or other painted-faced women in traditional East Asian dress), dragons, chopsticks, lotus blossoms (I would add peonies, cranes, and scantily clad Asian temptresses) — to “mark” the books in an exoticized way and thus, presumably, sell more books to readers attracted to the familiarly exotic — whether or not those tropes best represent the novel’s actual thematic content or storyline.

The final cover design for her novel, Long for this World, would seem to avoid all these pitfalls nicely, and is just mysterious enough that even I might have been induced to pick it up and flip it over.


Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →