Digital Culture

Originality has Died so that the Book Cover May Live On

Image credit: Unsplash

By Amelia Chambers

Scrolling through Esquire’s best books of 2022 so far, I was struck by the aesthetic similarities across many of the books. Both Barbara F Walter’s How Civil War Starts and Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark, have the same word by word layout across the front of the cover from top to bottom. Julia May Jonas’ Vladimir continues the long-lived trope of shirtless men on the front of romance novels, and both Lee Cole and Danya Kukafka’s covers use the popular large text with a small graphic on their individual covers. This is not to say that I dislike these covers, in fact, I think some are aesthetically ingenious. However, some fall into the same trap previous books have: one of unoriginality. So just why do book cover cliches persist?

Perhaps part of the problem comes from the rise of digital book-selling and the importance of online shopping. Following Apple’s advice on how to design a “great digital book cover” for self-publishers, the first piece of advice tells writers to look at other books in the genre: “Are there similar colour palettes or commonly used imagery?” From the beginning, the advice is to try and fit in. To some extent, having similar book covers across a  genre is useful for readers attempting to find books similar to those they have already enjoyed. Especially online, a simplified cover makes it easier for readers to judge the book when working from a thumbnail.

Alongside this, instability caused by the rise of corporations like Amazon has left publishing companies unwilling to take risks on book covers. Instead, they place time and money into following these trends, which seem like guaranteed popular sales. In short, they are trading creativity for monetary stability.  But at what cost? The attempts to fit into a pre-existing book cover template stunts creativity, resulting in clone-like covers that seem outdated once the trend has passed on. 

Book cover trends are by no means a recent development. Picture the early 2010s YA book scene, filled with the likes of The Fault in our Stars and Eleanor & Park. Both books, alongside a multitude of others, feature simple covers. Even earlier, the onslaught of dark book covers brought about by the iconic Twilight imagery, featuring a single image and bold text. However, the lack of originality has persisted between these books and Esquire’s list despite a decade separating the two. It’s time for a change, to let creativity drive book cover trends rather than sales.

The possibility of creativity may occur within the current climate. Rising book sales throughout the Pandemic and a rising trend in online book influencers has shone light upon the return to physical book sales. Within these developments, comes the opportunity for creative freedom to design books that match the creativity of the writing within their covers. Perhaps originality can return to the book cover design once again.