I’m sure I’m not the first person to have written on this, but I’ve recently found myself wondering, ‘Why are so many Christian book covers terrible?’
Now this isn’t written to shame anyone or slag any particular books off, and it’s not my intention to cause offence but to genuinely consider why so little thought is given to the design of Christian book covers.
I suspect the biggest reason that so many aren’t great, is because they’re not given any thought. Both the authors and the publishers are probably most concerned with the content of the book and hope that alone will be enough to sell the book and convince readers to take the time to read it. That’s commendable, and probably the case for the most readers, however if you’re trying to convince people that have never heard of your book to read it, I would like to argue it’s not helpful, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
I was at a Christian conference a few days ago, and while I was browsing the book store, I saw covers of all different designs; classic, modern, illustrative and everything in between. I wasn’t drawn to pick up books of a particular style, but I was drawn to those that looked like thought had gone into them. From books on deep theological subjects, to children’s story books, the ones I flicked through all had interesting and attractive covers. However, on the flip side, the books I ignored, skipped over, or didn’t even notice, had boring and nondescript covers.
Now, it may be that the books I picked up don’t have particularly good content (I only bought a few, and have yet to start reading them), but that hardly matters. The books engaged me on an aesthetic level enough to pick them up, riffle through them, to learn more, to ask questions of the content. Whatever you may think of art and design as a practice, we must appreciate its importance, because as humans made in God’s image, it is in our nature to enjoy the beautiful.
‘You’re probably thinking to yourself, why does this even matter? The best Christian books will always be read by the widest possible audience’. You may surprised, but I agree! However, and this may sound slightly bonkers, but bear with me – I believe that it is more loving to your audience have an attractive book cover. This may sound like hyperbole, and I’m not saying that people don’t give their covers proper consideration are being unloving, but if the content is worth reading then you should do all that you can to help people engage with it. As Christians we’re to do all things well, to the glory of God, if writing a book well begins and ends with the content, then something has gone wrong.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys the tactile nature of reading. I much prefer a book in my hand than reading on a e-reader, mobile or tablet. Often I will pick up the book I’m in the middle of reading and look closely at the cover, turn it over, run my fingers over the paper (which is particularly nice if the cover is embossed, or printed on a nice paper stock), just generally enjoy it. When a cover evokes this sort of response I find that I engage with the content of the book more. I want to pick up the book and read it, I want to know what the writer has to say, and how it should affect me. A good cover matters, because it helps the reader have an emotional connection with the book, which in turn helps the content to have a greater effect.
You’re probably still thinking, ‘This is all well and good, but why do you care so much? Why does something so trivial, matter so much to you?’. Well, I think it reveals a deeper issue. I believe that so many reformed Christians are distrustful of art and design, of creativity in general. I think that many people think that at best, art and design is something that has little value in the church, and at worst, is actually sinful. I can understand this, we’re fearful of idols, we’re fearful of going down the catholic route of making icons and encouraging veneration of saints and so on. More than this we look out and see the art that the world creates, art that is often sexually graphic, spiritually corrupt, meaningless, or just weird, and we become fearful that if we engage too much, we might fall into sin.
This is something I’m going to be discussing in more detail in a future post, but generally speaking, the problem with this attitude is that it suppresses the gifts of many Christians, and makes them believe that they have nothing to offer the church, or worse, makes them believe their gifts could be sinful. The problem is this attitude robs our churches of a wide range of gifts, making them less effective at reaching the unreached.
Likewise, when this attitude is applied to the books and other materials we put out into the world, we’re less likely to be taken seriously. In a day and age that is so focussed on appearance, we have the opportunity to use the tools of enemy to against him, to use art and design to point to the most beautiful person of all, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
So if you’re writing a book, or know someone else who is, please, I beg you, think about the cover!