Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

How to Judge a Book by its Cover

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How to Judge a Book by its Cover

Who hasn't picked up a book based solely on the allure of its cover at some point in their lives? Who hasn't decided they'd never read a certain book because the cover was cheesy or offensive or just plain ugly?

Let's face it: covers matter, to readers and to writers. As a perfectionist, one of the biggest fears I had when I heard my novel was going to be published was that I'd end up with a cover I hated. That may sound shallow, but the last thing I wanted was for the manuscript I'd spent more than a year writing to get stuck with a cover that misled readers into thinking Poison Shy was about sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of designer David Gee, ECW art director Rachel Ironstone, and production manager Troy Cunningham, I ended up with a cover that suits my novel perfectly. It's sexy and mysterious, with a hint of danger. I couldn't have asked for a better one.

Troy even informed me that mine was the first cover he's worked on that required a freckle check. I love that!

When it comes to readers, if covers didn't matter, why would publishers bother with a cover image at all? Even e-books have covers. The fact is that covers are full of useful information, and I don't just mean who wrote the book and how much it costs. A cover is a preview, a mood-setter, a primer. A good cover knows who its readers are. It sends out radioactive signals from the stacks and sucks you in like a tractor beam. It shoots a blow-dart at your neck from its corner display and infects you with read-me syndrome.

If I know anything, I know this: shopping for books is nothing like shopping for laundry detergent. Your choices are not limited to the six or seven brands displayed on the shelf. Here are some things to look for, on and around a book's cover, to help ensure you're getting the read you want:

- Who blurbed it? Has another writer you've enjoyed reading in the past decided to endorse the book in your hand?

- Who edited it? Flip to the pages just inside the front or back cover and read the acknowledgements. Editors, like everyone else, have tastes, and those tastes may be the same as yours.

- Was the book nominated for an award? There's usually a circular badge or sticker of some sort that says so.

- How is it being marketed? Is there a tagline somewhere that says, "So-and-so is the next E.L. James, Stephen King, or Alice Munro"?

- If the words "Bride", "Daughter", "Wife", or "Paris" appear anywhere in the title, chances are the book will be read at your next book club meeting.

- If there is nudity, or even implied nudity, somewhere on the cover, there's probably sex in it. Depending on your sensibilities, run as fast as possible in the opposite direction or to the check-out counter.

The next time you go book shopping, try taking more than the average 3 to 5 seconds most people spend looking at a cover before making a judgement on it. You just might buy something you didn't expect. Some of my favourite books of all time are the ones I had no plans to read.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden holds a BA from the University of Toronto and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto. Poison Shy (ECW Press) is his first novel.

Go to Stacey Madden’s Author Page