Don’t Judge a Book…

Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, and sometimes they’d be right.

The truth is that the publishing industry is obsessed with covers because a person wandering through a bookstore or library must be engaged if your story is to live. You’ve got one chance to grab their attention, and unless that person has come specifically looking for your book, the best way of claiming their attention is through an arresting cover.

So what makes an arresting cover?

There’d be any number of PhDs written on the semiotics of book covers, but fundamentally it needs to be somehow relevant to the story. It needs to – on some level – arouse the sensibilities of the reader. It needs to give the reader (even if only vaguely) some sense of what the book is about.

There is quite a range of possibility, depending on the story and its target market. A subtle psychological drama can get away with something blandly symbolic, whereas any kind of action novel needs to get to the point immediately. If your book is about self-aware, war-mongering robots, you can’t have a cover featuring a woman staring off into bucolic distance – even if the woman is a robot. Your readers will want something just a tad more explicit.

On the other hand, if your story is a dynastic history spanning several generations of ordinary people coping with the gentle vicissitudes of famine, flood, inheritance, politics and distant war, you would be wise to avoid a whole bunch of exploding robots on your cover.

Just imagine the reviews on Goodreads:

I thought this book would be about exploding robots but it was a costume drama set in the nineteenth century and by page 87, only three robots were mentioned and only one exploded. DNF.”

That sort of review is death so I can’t emphasise enough the need for cover integrity…which is totally a thing.

So, bearing all of that in mind, what do I have to say about my own new cover?

Welcome to Ord City has an amazing cover. It is designed to look like a retro postcard – welcoming the reader to a nice holiday location – but the reality is that Ord City is not a nice place. It is very far from being a nice place, but refugees have been welcomed there by an opaque government representing a divided community. Are refugees welcome or not?

Then there are the colours – eye-catching for sure. I defy anyone to see it in a bookstore or library and not automatically reach for it. There is a crocodile, and yes…there are crocodiles in the story (although not as apparently welcoming as the one on the cover).

There is also a gumtree which lets everyone know this is an Australian story, even though the subtext is equally relevant to any country where the issue of refugees divides the community.

There is also a quote from Pauline Wright on the cover. Pauline is President of the Law Council of Australia and one of the smartest people I know. If she says the book is astute and riveting, who shall dare oppose her?

I couldn’t be happier with the cover so congratulations to Lucy Barker who is an accomplished visual and installation artist. I am privileged to have her as a cover designer and recommend her services to anyone who wants their book to really stand out amid the savage Darwinian struggle of the bookstore.

Or library.

I only hope you all believe the story’s just as good.



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