Something I never noticed until I started working at a library is how book covers are designed... surprising, since I'm such a visual person. When I see a book that interests me, I tend to take in the cover's art first, then I pay attention to the wording. Of course, the title has to catch my eye, too. The size of the title, however, doesn't matter that much to me. And the author's name? Nine times out of ten, I couldn't care less about that. Sure, I have my favorites, authors I will pretty much always rush out to buy their books no matter what, but I don't target a book by the author's name. When in search of something new to read, I consider the story, not the author.
But, as I've learned from my work here in public libraries, this is not the case most of the time.
Here in the county I work, we have a list of prepubs that patrons can place on hold months before they're released. These lists contain all of the most popular authors in the largest adult fiction genres: James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Sandford, Fern Michaels, Danielle Steel, and Nora Roberts, to name a few. These are the authors who publish multiple books a year -- like, some come out with one a month. These lists also feature highly anticipated books from other popular authors, the occasional debut, and popular nonfiction. A patron will present me with a list, all of their favorites checked, and ask me to put them down for them. Most patrons who go for these lists are, in fact, only looking for an author name. They don't care about the title, the plot, what the eventual cover will look like -- they see the name, they want on the list for the book.
Over the years, observing like a scientist what my patrons check out, what comes in for us to add to our collection, and how new authors are announced and marketed, I've learned a little bit about how fiction book covers work. The main takeaway is this:
The bigger you get, the bigger your name gets.
Before I get into this, I have to warn you my conclusions might sound a bit like... throwing shade... but by no means am I trying to degrade any author's path nor any person's reading preferences. There are different genres, writing styles, and literary appeals for a reason, and any author who is thriving and happy with their writing career gets a congratulations from me. It's just I have a vision when it comes to my personal journey, and here it is.
Debut authors who are not already celebrities in other arenas will have great cover art, but their title will be four trillion times bigger than their name. This is to sell the story first and then -- hopefully, eventually -- generate interest in the author's future works down the line.
There are authors whose work is known to be fantastic, steady, and of the contemporary vein, and no matter how big they get, their name and title tend to be of equal size. This is because their name is synonymous with great stories that people love and reach for again and again, and the title is equally as important as the author's name. Sometimes these people's books have reached grand heights -- such as Moyes's Me Before You -- and often it's because those books have been turned into plays or films or TV shows that the author's name gets top billing with the large titles on their covers going forward.
This, for me, is the sweet spot of a writing career. Quality authors with long careers have big, catchy titles and a good-sized name on the cover. If I land here on my author journey, I'll be overjoyed with that result. There are also authors who are giants in the industry whose covers look like this, and to me this indicates strong storytelling by well-established names. Stephen King comes to mind, of course, because I love him.
Personally, I don't usually pick up books with covers on the other side of this scale I'm establishing here; the books with author names so big the title is eclipsed don't appeal to me. Working at a library, I judge books not by their cover, but by spine facing out first, because that's what I most often see. I process books every day, and one step involves sticking stickers all over books. A label with an author's name goes on the bottom of the spine, and sometimes the author's name takes up the entirety of the spine, so much so that the only place to stick the label is over the title. This tells me that the title doesn't matter as much.
Sometimes, it's just because the author is such a big name that people will read them no matter what, as I mentioned earlier. Sometimes the title is the millionth in a series, or the author has multiple series going at once, eliminating the need for imagination and thoughtful titles and reducing them to one-word wonders.
These are the authors who, as I said, tend to put out multiple books a year. More power to any aspiring author whose goal it is to make it to that level, but that is definitely not for me.
And, of course, if you're reading this blog, you know where I am currently at: small-time authordom. (Is "authordom" a word? If it isn't, I decree that it now is, because I have an English degree, so if I say it, it's a word.) Not many people know my name, my face, or my work yet, and I'm still at the beginning stages of what I hope will one day be a thriving career. And in the beginning stages, as I said above, you get big title, little name.
If a slider button that adjusted your title to name ratio on a book cover existed, it'd look a little like this:
Personally, I'd like to land and stay right in the middle. I never want to be the author that churns out multiple books a year; I'd like for people to have time to wait for and really anticipate my next release. But I'd also love for the size of my name to be greater than or equal to the size of the titles on my covers. That way, people are equally as excited by my story and me.