The cover of Brain Thief

I’ve always been irritated by writers who post the covers of their upcoming books with remarks about how much they like their covers.

So I should probably feel more embarrassed about posting the cover design for my upcoming book and telling you how much I like it than I am.

But I will disguise it as a bit of an essay on cover semiotics, and also as a marketing pitch: I’m showing you this so when you spot Brain Thief out of the corner of your eye at a bookstore, you will forget whatever else you were there to buy and grab it immediately. I understand why you might even want to shove people out of the way, but please refrain. Jablokov fans are goal-oriented, but laid back about it. Looked at this way, showing you the cover now is just a public service!

A cover is an ad for the book. Its goal is to get you to come over and pick it up. Once you’ve picked it up, its job is done, though it might well have post-purchase signifier work to do (“I am the kind of person who reads books like this!”), signifier work that, as has been much discussed, the Kindle will not perform for you.

But, key to this, the cover should accurately signal what kind of book it is, so that the right person picks it up. Time and attention are scarce resources. It is the responsibility of everyone presenting the book, from author to bookstore, to use these resources wisely.

You’re looking over the New Book area. Some books strike you as books you'd like, others not.  All sorts of things go into that decision:  title font, subject matter, the style of the illustration, whether it has people in it, etc.  You reach out...and pick one up.  You glance at it and use your second order analysis--blurbs, reading the first page, reading page 117, whatever.  But if that analysis reveals that this is completely the wrong book for you, then the cover has sent you the wrong signal and wasted its efforts.  If it sent you the wrong signal, it's sending the wrong signal to people who would like it, and they don't pick it up, an even greater loss.

Making these choices isn't easy.  This cover, for example, is making some claims, about style, about mood, about quality.  The book is suspenseful, full of cool stuff, and somewhat creepy.  It's also funny, but that's hard to convey when the book isn't actually a comic novel.  The somewhat pulpy suggestion I made for the cover would have conveyed the humor, but missed the other important information.  So, yes, I do like the cover!