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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Sometimes it is appropriate to judge a book by its cover

As I am a graphic designer, I believe to a certain extent that books should be judged by their covers. Or at least, the cover should express the content of the book appropriately with well-thought-out graphic design – whether it be a work of fiction, a travel book or an English Language Teaching book (little plug for my day job there).

I have recently started following a profile on Twitter called ‘Why My Cat is Sad’, which is an amusing account for an 18 year old melancholic cat named The Bear, and another called ‘Why My Cat is Smug’, which similarly is an amusing account for a smug cat named Ralph. They both have the same human – Tom Cox – who, as well as a cat lover, is an author.

This crossed my mind too… I’m sorry, Tony Benn.

He has written three books that feature these two cats, among others – Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond, Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man and, his latest book, The Good, The Bad and The Furry: Life with the World's Most Melancholy Cat and Other Whiskery Friends. The latter I hope to be receiving for my birthday and the previous two I shall buy for myself at some point soon.

This article was brought to my attention this morning, even though it was written in December last year, about Tom Cox’s decision to have the covers for his first two cat books re-designed. It is good to know that authors (or this one at least) are aware of how important good design is and how it affects people seeing their books for the first time – whether they are a graphic designer like me or not. We do judge books by their covers.

It [the publishing industry] had already changed a lot by early 2009 when Simon & Schuster, the publishers of my fifth book, Under the Paw, sent me their proposal for the book’s paperback edition. I instantly knew I hated the cover and instantly knew there was not a lot I could do about it.

This is what the books looked like originally:
And these is the newly re-designed versions:

When you write a book, you are forever judged by it. That includes the cover. Most people who’d seen my cat books, without actually reading them, thought I was an entirely different kind of writer to the one I am. Many must also have picked them up hoping their content did match the cover and been disappointed.

You don’t have to be a designer to notice that the cats used in the original book covers are any old cute kittens in cliché situations pulled off a stock photo website. I have no problem with using stock photography in general, but surely it would have been possible to find something a little more appropriate – like a fully grown cat for instance. The kittens they chose aren’t even amazingly cute – ahem. The re-designed versions of the covers use photographs of the actual cats that feature in the books – a simple and effective solution really. Much improved typography too, also fairly simple. Good design doesn’t have to be complicated.

During The Good, the Bad and the Furry’s first, partial week of publication in October, it went straight into the Sunday Times’s non-fiction paperback bestsellers top 10 … Its continuing excellent sales and The Bear’s now almost 60,000 Twitter followers have persuaded Simon & Schuster to change the covers of Under the Paw and Talk to the Tail to images featuring my cats when the time comes for a reprint.

Don’t judge a cat book by its cover and article by Tom Cox, written for the Guardian.

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