what can a book cover really say?

treehuggerWhile I was writing my memoir, I had envisioned my book’s cover to be a picture perhaps of an elegant landscape in oil paints of wispy birch trees with their wavy leaves in soft greens, peeling bark in degrees of white to muddy grey and tan. The image would speak to you, inviting you to join me on my search for home, my place to be. Sounds lovely, right? But this cover wouldn’t tell you much of anything about my book or even allude to a story, which wasn’t literally about birch trees or even an oil painting!

When my memoir, Under the Birch Tree, was ready for a cover design, my publisher had forwarded several images for me to consider. Some were similar to what I had envisioned, but most images were variations of the same thing. I was reminded of the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” only the images, though beautiful, weren’t conveying much of a message.

Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches” has always been a favorite of mine. His elements—birch trees, childhood, real life, and make believe— worked in tandem with my memoir. I even included a few lines of Frost’s poetic words in the beginning of my book, inviting readers to reflect on innocence, carefree spirits and evolving years.

 “I like to think some boy’s been swinging them . . .

And they seem not to break;

Though once they are bowed,

So low for long, they never right themselves:

You may see their trunks arching in the woods,

Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,

Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair . . .”

Birch trees are a thread I wove through my book’s themes and I used a birch tree as a metaphor.  I required an image that would convey my main theme and tell my story.

Under the Birch Tree w blurb

One image in particular did this. It popped from among the others offered to me and was not of a landscape of birch trees or even a single long shot of one. The image showed child-sized hands reaching around the trunk of a birch tree as if hugging it. My first reaction was a tree hugger? I considered a tree hugger to be a slang term that refered to an environmentalist. You’re familiar with them, those who have scaled the great redwoods of California, used the giant tree limbs to support a camp site, and lived off the tree’s giving nature in attempt to keep the trees from being cut down. I’m no tree hugger in that sense, but small hands embracing a birch tree packed more meaning. This image was not like the others. It made me pause and when I did, my story was revealed.

The picture may not have spoken to me in a thousand words, but definitely in a few, telling me of childhood, belonging, and finding home. I chose this as my cover because of a few elements that, when combined, became the face of Under the Birch Tree.

I note the following as what were important considerations for choosing the best image for my book cover.

  • Central image. A recurring image or symbol is a marketing tool that gives a book an identity and a way for a reader to remember your book. How many times have you tried to think of “that” book with maybe “those golden stars” on the cover?
  • Metaphor. Consider using an image that can be used as a metaphor for your book’s theme. On my cover, small hands clutching a tree are a metaphor for discovering connections to home as a young child and seeking that sense of belonging and grounding. I was intrigued by an image that conveys not just the obvious, a tree hugger, but what was also suggested. What’s really being told in this book?
  • Simple cover image. A single image will maintain focus and understanding of a book’s central theme. You don’t want a cover that is visually overwhelming or confusing with multiple images that attempt to convey all themes in a book. Book covers compete with each another, and creating a simple, clean image will draw attention to it and help to set it apart from other covers.
  • Color palette. A color palette is an additional marketing tool to showcase a book’s identity. Choosing complimentary colors in combination and using them consistently through all marketing materials becomes like a calling card, unique to a book’s distinctiveness.
  • Text Font. Title and subtitle text fonts should represent your story just as much as does the image. Taking caution to not use fonts that might overpower your image, or compete with it in any way, try different fonts to see how the overall cover design looks. A handwritten script font on my cover compliments my image and its black color is part of my color family. The text is easy to read, suggesting informality, the character and personality of my story. Even the scripted “t’s” appear to be in the shape of a tree.

I couldn’t be more excited and delighted with my cover. It didn’t need to proclaim a thousand words, but it did need to express my book, my story, and me!

What about a book’s cover that attracts you to it? What about a cover design that causes you to pass over it?

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