Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Titles: Should You Be Able to Read Them?

Below are the book jackets of some of the books that editors from larger publishers were promoting at BookExpo America in 2005. In fact, these are the titles the editors selected to present during the Editors and Booksellers Buzz Forum.

Now, what I want to know is very simple: Do the titles matter? Look at them. It’s almost as if they were designed to fade into the woodwork in almost every case. It’s true that with a little bit of work I can make out most of the titles. But if you look at the titles, it really looks like the designers of the buzz-worthy books intentionally were trying to hide the titles.

Jonathan Harr’s title is unreadable at this size (the size in most catalogs and websites). I think it says something like The Lost Painting, but I cheated. I made the graphic larger to make out the last word.

Skinner’s Drift is readable with some work, but who is the author? And why is Skinner’s fading out into the background?

The original cover of Maybe a Miracle had a lopsided a in the title, a faded white title against a mottled blue background, an author name fading into nonexistence, and something diving into a fishbowl. Above are a few of the covers that have been used since then (the last is for the audio edition).

The Tender Bar is one of the more readable titles. But, in the original cover showcased at BEA, the title was cast in a faded white against a light background. And the words under the title appeared to read: a novel. Perhaps the publisher was not sure either. [It turned out to say: a memoir and, amazingly, the book became a New York Times bestseller.]

The Trudeau Vector does stand out, but even it is compromised with a small THE and two colors breaking up the rest of the title (in the original cover). In the finished cover, they used only one color but now the title runs off the page. Alas.

In the original cover, the author name was also unreadable against the background of the waves or ice. In the finished cover, they put the name against a plain background.

The True Story title stands out but is written in thin splotchy type, mixes two colors, and has (at this size) a lot of distracting and unreadable type above it.

The paperback edition on the right is also hard to read. In both covers, the author's name is difficult to make out clearly.

The Widow of the South is slightly readable, but again, it’s set with faded type against a splotchy background.

If I were judging these covers, my first impression would have been that the publishers really did not want you to read these books. Every one of these covers would fade away into the background if put face out into a sea of other books. Only The Trudeau Vector might stand out, although there’s nothing in the cover that says: Read me, read me.

My guess, at the time, was that these books were not going to do too well. I felt bad for all the authors whose names were made to fade away, except for Jonathan Harr, who got star treatment with a name bigger than the title by far.

Of course, at the larger size of a cover on a real book, many of these books would have been readable, but none of them, again, said buy me, take me home, read me.


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