Book covers take time to create. There are a lot of things to consider: message, impact, shelf appeal, and most importantly, how a cover makes the reader feel. But you might be surprised to hear that the work on a cover often begins before the book is finished. This means that the artist doesn’t know how wide the spine needs to be—and the spine is a critical element for printing. To get this feature right, designers must know how wide the spine is. This is determined by how many pages the book will have, the size of the book, and how thick the paper will be. The internal book formatting must be complete, including blank pages, margins—in short, everything must be decided. Even the paper must be selected—will it be white or cream? (Personally, I like the thicker feel of the cream paper.) It’s all critical to how that spine appears to readers.
If you check out the wraparound cover image above, you’ll get a sneak peek at the cover design for Two Dirty For D.C., releasing August 27th. (17 Days To Go!) See how the images flow from the back and over the spine across the front? The spacing of words, letters, and publishing logo are all balanced for an easy-to-read experience. There are no letters on odd lines, no narrowing or unintentionally tilted words, and no oddly stretched images.
This isn’t an automatic result. The artist laid out a mockup in advance, but then it had to be re-developed after all the internal elements were finalized. At that point, the printer could give the designer that critical spine thickness. Then it was back to the drawing board for the designer, to make sure wording, logos, and designs were spaced, balanced, and placed properly, and that the background wasn’t distorted.
The design must also be “tweaked” to whatever size is chosen for the book. Measurements require precision for the book to look good. The cover above measured 12.067 inches wide by 8.253 inches high. The Two Dirty For D.C. finished book will be 5.25 inches by 8 inches. You’re probably thinking, “What? Why would the image be bigger than the book?” Well, the last step in printing the book is cutting it to size. The image is bigger to allow for the cutting, and for small mechanical variations in that process. This extra cover size is called “bleed.”
While this is all true for most books, wraparound book covers are the hardest to design. The background image must be more than twice the size, with all of the interesting imagery on the right-hand side of the book’s front. Few pictures are balanced this way. Wraparound designs are nearly always custom made. It gets even tougher when more than one book must look like a set, especially if they are to be packaged together, or require easy identification as a series. Getting the spines to match as one extended design is not easy. Wraparounds can become so complicated that even big-name authors often limit their images to the front of the book, or the front plus the spine, opting for a solid color back.
Authors fret over book covers. What makes a good cover? Does it represent their book well? Is it cheapening their book? Can it be identified from a distance? They would much rather be writing than worrying about covers, but, unlike a certain proverb, you can tell a lot about a book by its cover.