Thursday, December 8, 2011


My Kindle and Me

Both Linda Wiken and Rick Blechta have been blogging about covers this past week. I take Rick's point that cover artists are getting lazy. He uses the cover art on Ian Rankin's latest book as an example. It's stark and ugly. I'm wondering if the recent explosion of e-books could be at the root of this.

I'm addicted to my Kindle. There, I've said it. I never thought it would happen but I actually prefer to read on this device. Partly it's the joy of being able to access a book the minute I hear good things about it. I've had this device for a while and I still can't get over the fact that I can zap 600 pages into my hand in the time it takes me to swallow my first sip of coffee in the morning. I just love the look and feel of the thing and I don't yearn for paper the way I thought I might.

What I do miss, though, are covers. I used to spend hours browsing in an independent bookstore, checking out covers and blurbs, reading the first page or two and often buying a couple of books on that basis. Now I'm more likely to check the Kindle reviews and perhaps download the free sample before I buy. The cover is simply not an incentive on an e-reader.

My Kindle offers a slightly grey and slightly blurry version of the paper cover. But most of the books I've downloaded open at page one. If I want to see the cover I have to back up through all the copyright and dedications and acknowledgements and by the time I get there it's not worth the trip. Maybe the newer Kindle Fire is crisper but I still can't help but wonder if covers are on the way out for e-readers. Maybe this is what's driving the crappy cover art that Rick suggests is the norm today.

Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted appeared in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.


  1. I too love reading on the Kindle and knowing that I'll always have a book with me. I also find that when I hear a book reviewed on the radio I don't have to try to remember its title or author I order it right away. Yesterday, on NPR there was an interview with an Australian movie actor who was starring in a soon-to-be-released movie based on a book by Patrick White. When i went on line this 1973 book will be available in the spring and I pre-ordered it. I also did this with the first Erika Chase book which will be out in the spring. And, like Sue, i don't believe covers matter nearly as much as they used to.

  2. I feel that all books need a cover. Publishers are getting lazy – and cheap. It takes a good designer to design a good cover. They're "simple" (generally only 3 components (title, author and some sort of image) and that’s what makes them tricky. Hire a cheap designer (or use an in-house junior designer with inadequate supervision) and you risk getting bad design. A good cover sticks in a reader's mind, so even if they don't buy immediately, you've still got the book in their memory. A sale might still be made.

    Whether they’re designed for paper books or e-books, covers still need to be good, reflecting what the book is about (hopefully) or selling the book's “sizzle” – as opposed to its “steak” (a definite must if you don’t have the former). Covers are a book’s calling card, after all. If you’re buying an e-book, don’t they always have a cover online for you to look at? Those should be included in the downloaded file, as far as I’m concerned. It certainly doesn’t cost the publisher a dime to do that.

    But as I said at the outset: publishers are getting lazy and cheap – to everyone's detriment.

    From the design aspect, it costs no more to design one or the other. With books still coming out in both formats, one cover design is all that's needed. The designer only needs to output them slightly differently, and that's just a matter of punching the appropriate computer key.

  3. I've gotta weigh in with Rick here. From a bookseller's POV, covers are the primary selling feature. They've got to grab the readers' attention. From a reader's view, I gravitate to certain covers. I can't explain what features captivate me but I know them when I see them.

    One year, when the Canadian Booksellers' Association's BookExpo still existed in Toronto each year, booksellers were invited to stay on a day by Random House Canada. We were treated to presentations by their marketing department and asked to choose covers for upcoming releases. They were finally listening to those on the front line who heard what customers wanted. Covers that grabbed them! Way to go, Random House.

    I don't think that's changed. Covers are still important.

  4. Second comment, what's better -- Kindle or Kobo?