Have you ever written a book review?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dust Jackets: Spines--More Important Than You Think

Most publishers treat spines as the ugly stepchild of jacket design. It's the smallest part of the jacket and thus the easiest to ignore. All a spine needs is the title running along it, the publisher's name/logo on the bottom, and the author's name on top.

Right? Well . . . not so fast.

Think of it this way. How many books in a bookstore are face out? One percent? Two percent? In most cases, Publishers/distributors PAY to place these books face out. (Didn't know that? Another post I need to write.) Whatever the number, it is a very small one.

[Pictured on the right is the spine of Sickles at Gettysburg, by James Hessler. Click to enlarge.]

The vast majority of books are shelved spine out. When a customer walks through a store and is faced with hundreds or even thousands of books and the only thing he sees is a spine . . . that ugly little stepchild suddenly takes on an entirely new meaning, doesn't it?

We strive to add a little spice to our spines. We do so with a mixture of color, font style, and arrangement of components. Can you read the title from six feet away? Can you tell what the book is about? These are important questions we consider when designing the spine.

But there is a more important (and usually ignored) aspect to spine design you should think about. When we use a set piece graphic on the front cover (a painting or photo, for example), our designers often place it on the spine (assuming there is room width-wise). This little touch of class not only looks nice, but it jumps out at a potential reader because it is so different than most of the spines around it.

AUTHOR LESSON: If your publisher asks for your advice on cover design, suggest that the spine be paid a wee bit more attention. Adorning it with a photo or painting that mimics, as far as possible, the front cover is often all it takes to stand out in a crowd.



Anonymous said...

So many things I have never considered when thinking of a jacket. Now I can't look at them without asking myself all sorts of questions to see if they pass muster! Thx for your continuing education blog posts.


Robert said...

Ted is absolutely right about publishers paying for space. I used to work for a large book company and every Saturday night in addition to changing out the NYT bestseller list my job was to make sure end caps had the proper displays set up. If we didn't have the right book we had to put up books from that publisher. Go to a bookstore today...you don't think those magazines just end up in the bookshelves right at eye level by accident do you?

Anonymous said...

When you work for a small publisher and they leave out a word on the spine title, is that a sign of a lack of quality control?

Ya think?

TPS said...


Yes, it would be. And I know the company you are referring to, since I know you.


J David Petruzzi said...

The spine is something I guess I never gave much thought to, until now - although it is, as you say, probably THE most important "first impression" part of a book.

I'm sitting here now in my new home library, surrounded by some 3500 books - all of them shelved spine-out, of course. There are a few thinner books that have NOTHING on the spine - that annoys the hell out of me, and I always make a label to put on them. But it is interesting how some spines pop out at you, while others don't. And it's interesting to see the diverse ways that spines are treated by various publishers - some carry over that cover illustration, most repeat the title just as it appears on the cover. Many I can read from several feet away, while others I can't make out until I'm very close.

It's indeed true that the front cover, back cover, flaps, etc may ultimately sell that book, but the spine is more often than not your very first impression.

(Author of three SB books with REALLY nifty spines :)

C. Patrick Schulze said...

How is it a publisher wouldn't consider every aspect of a book in this day of declining sales? As I stressed when counseling clients, "Details do it."

I guess this is yet another tool in our bags we can use to evaluate the professionalism of a publisher.

Thanks for the advice