Covers are expected to do a lot of work – give some indication of genre, still make an impact even in thumbnail, but most of all to move the book. So it might happen that an author, in choosing a title, goes for one which is easier to illustrate. An author might even choose such a title over one which, while less effective in marketing terms, better expresses the feeling of the book. Ever been tempted?
Not all titles are equally easy to illustrate. If Bethany Bloodlust calls her latest book ‘A Dagger in the Back’, she has already done most of the designer’s work for him. The cover might not be a timeless work of art in its own right but readers will know exactly what to expect.
Things become more complicated if the title contains a concept: a dead body we can see, but death itself is invisible. Leaving bodies to one side, what would happen if Luciano di Resta called his latest book ‘Democracy’? Can we expect an image of a polling booth or ballot box on the cover and, if so, how effective would it be? And word in the street has it that the provisional title for next novel in his series exploring contemporary society is ‘Justice’. What can we expect on the cover of that: a woman in a blindfold with scales?
If we stick to the representational in our response to a title, we can easily end up with the visual equivalent of a cliché. The meaning comes across, but in a tired way. So sometimes it may be better to mirror the abstraction of the title with abstract art.