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  • Natalie Taylor

EVERY AUTHOR NEEDS A COVER

The word “cover” has various meanings, and many apply to writers. It may be a taken as a metaphor for a journey, as in “covering ground,” because a good story creates a narrative journey taking you to new territories. Another meaning is mask or disguise, such as hiding behind a different name. Many writers’ pseudonyms are better known that their real names: Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), Stephen King (Richard Bachman), and many others. Yet another meaning of cover is physical concealment, which some writers have done after writing works that defy norms of society, religion, or when they expose political leaders. Some writers have gone into hiding to protect their lives: Emile Zola, condemned for calling out anti-Semitism in France; Pablo Neruda, for protesting against Chile’s military regime; Salman Rushdie, accused of blasphemy by conservative Muslims; or Oscar Wilde, exiled because he was a homosexual.


Another meaning for the word “cover” is much more pleasant. Cover represents the binding around a book, the portal to the author’s work. When a book is completed, the next stage is creating a good cover. It will be the smile or frown presented to the world, and will provide the initial glimpse of the work, even before reading the first page. Just as one’s appearance is essential for a first social or business encounter, so is a book cover to a book.


According to Barry Zaid, a recognized graphic designer living in San Miguel, and creator of many successful book covers, a cover was originally intended to protect and identify the book. But in more practical terms, it is a sales tool.


It must, first of all, catch the eye of the potential customer, with enough detail to make them want to find out more. An example is Barry’s cover for Maria Fornes’ book “Promenade.”


Take a look…your eye is immediately drawn to the titillating little dot inside a circle, representing a bare breast. Next thing, you are peeking inside the book to find out what the heck that breast is all about, and the sale is half-way done. Kaching!




Titillation is just one of the ways to catch the eye of a potential customer, it all depends on the book’s content. Perhaps you want to appeal to an audience that likes classic books and titles, because your own book deals with a different historical period.



That was the case for the book Patience and Sarah, by Isabel Miller, with the cover designed by Barry Zaid. The cover harkens to stories of the 19th century, reminiscent of Little Women or The Scarlet Letter.


Fulfilling the customer’s assumption, the story is indeed set in the 1800s in the American West. Two women pioneers, one a painter, the other interested in farming, leave their families to live together. It was the first lesbian-themed novel to be published by a major American publisher.


Whether you are promoting a cook book, or a telephone and date book, or one about early flights, you might want to let the customer know immediately what the book is about.



But not everything is straight forward in these book jackets. Although the title The First to Fly, is explicit, there is a bit more going on. The down-strokes on the T and the Y are not there haphazardly. They carry the eye down into the structure of the bridge which frames the plane, and suggest the dare-devil antics of the early pilots.


A clever cover design artist can introduce subtle messages subliminally, and a good example is the cover of Jara Ribnikar’s novel “I and You and She”—a racy sex story. It’s an illustration of two legs in high heels showing nothing too daring. But notice how the center line of the circles brings your eye to the area between the legs. As Barry told me:

“Whatever happened to nylon stockings?”


If you are a lucky author with a completed book, you may want to contact Barry to help you design the best cover for your work. You can reach him at 415-121-8787 or email at: bzaid@bellsouth.net


And if you are interested in a print version of this article, please check out the newest, bilingual publication of local news and events in our city: Insiders News San Miguel. Published monthly, and distributed free throughout the city, it has many articles of interest on culture, people, and places.

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