When the Book Cover is Your Only Clue

“What looks good?”

You’re browsing the shelves in a bookstore. You hope a book will capture your imagination and beg you to take it home with you.

But before it can capture your imagination, first it has to capture your attention. How can it do that?

I had to adjust my thinking when we first started to design the cover for Happy Landings. I already know Emilie Loring and what’s in her biography, but the bookstore browser isn’t looking for her. She only knows that she wants a book to enjoy–“Maybe a biography?” she wonders– and the cover has the job of getting the browser to look its way.

To grab your attention when you’re not specifically looking for it, a book can:

1. Be different.

Our focus automatically goes to the different, the unexpected.

The unexpected shape grabs our attention.

But books differ little in shape. On a shelf, we see slim rectangles, maybe of different heights and widths, with different styles, colors, and sizes of titles.

It’s hard to stand out on a shelf.

There’s no clear attention-grabber here, although my eye settles on This Book in yellow lettering. Were you attracted to a different one?

What happens if we change the color of the book jacket?

Among blue book spines, this red color stands out.

Before reading a word of the title, a book’s color can attract our attention. I make a mental note.

Then I come across this group of literary biographies. Notice anything?

Past lives are so often illustrated in black-and-white or sepia tones that it’s hard sometimes to imagine that their subjects really did live in color. And oh, these books look so serious! I’m not getting a sense of amusement or light-heartedness, are you?

Staid and somber

Their book covers are clearly not going for color contrast. Instead, they have something else going for them.

2. Be Instantly Meaningful

We pay attention to things that we know. Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, James Joyce… If you know these authors by reputation, you might grab their biographies off the shelf to investigate further. Because you know Emilie Loring, her name on the cover of her biography will be meaningful to you.

If you didn’t already know about Emilie Loring, but something about the book’s spine made you pull it off the shelf, what would keep it in your hand?

Maybe there’s a photo of a sailboat, and you love sailing. Maybe there’s a beautiful garden that you would love to enter. If you are a writer, seeing that she is an author may encourage you to look further. If you can identify with something on the cover, you may flip the book over and read more about what’s inside.

Maybe it’s not identification but mystery that keeps your attention. The prospect of something or someone entirely new, unexplored, or unexpected can be enough to seal the deal. Let’s turn this book over and see what it’s about…

These covers entice me to look further, before knowing what they are about.

The Promise

By title, description, or artwork, every book makes a promise. “Ten Ways to…” “The Untold Story of…” “The full and unedited…” “First time in print…”

Is the subject of a biography intrepid, creative, rebellious, trail-blazing, funny, wise, remarkable?

Will you get to “travel” to a time period you’d like to experience? Learn a secret you would like to know?

There is so much that goes into the design of a cover. These books by some of my friends in the Boston Biographers Group show how widely the results can range, even within the single genre of biography.

We enter the worlds of the books that we read. Remember Emilie’s comment that she spent the better part of a year in the environment of the book she was writing, and she preferred to be in charming surroundings?

In photos, artwork and lettering, the cover of Happy Landings will convey the cheer and optimism of the title, which makes several promises.

Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom

Happy Landings – This is not a glum book! You can expect a happy ending.

Emilie Loring’s – It’s about her.

Life – It’s a biography. You can expect to learn about periods, places, and people in her life.

Writing – Her writing process, her works, and her celebrity are part of the story.

and Wisdom – There will be take-aways, ideas to keep for yourself that may benefit you.

Closing the Deal

If the spine attracts and the cover appeals, it is the job of the jacket’s back cover to close the deal.

This is where the book will be framed for the reading and buying public. Who was this person? What did she accomplish that makes her interesting, perhaps important? Who is the author, and how reliable is the information? What is the “buzz” about the book? Do reviewers love it? What kind of experience are we likely to have when we read it? Is this the “good book” we came looking for?

Has it captured our imagination?

Here is a little taste of the Happy Landings description:

Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing and Wisdom is the uplifting, first biography of this best-selling author whose books have sold more than thirty-seven million copies in a dozen languages. 

With never-before-published photographs, privileged access to the Loring family archives, and twenty years of meticulous research, Patti Bender reveals a woman who lived as she wrote, with intelligence, humor, and wisdom.

“After all, living is the greatest thing we’ll ever do. Why not make an art of it?” (Emilie Loring)

Partial draft of the Happy Landings jacket description

The Proof is on the Book!

I am so eager to show you the cover of Happy Landings: Emilie Loring’s Life, Writing, and Wisdom and share the full, jacket description! The moment is drawing nearer. Remember to put it on your calendar:

Emilie Loring’s tea set

Our Emilie Loring Tea and the Happy Landings Cover Reveal

You are cordially invited to a very special Emilie Loring Tea 

on Thursday, July 7, 2022 at 4:00 p.m. in your time zone.

Full details can be found here. (Send a photo!!!)

Do plan to join! It won’t be the same without you!

What will you serve this year?

Happy Landings, everyone!

9 thoughts on “When the Book Cover is Your Only Clue

  1. Not sure my first comment showed up. Will you be offering the book on a pre-order basis once publication is ready? I’ve been following along on this journey and am eager to read the book once published!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Terri, you can reserve an autographed copy from me now, and I will collect payment closer to shipping. There’s a separate page for it now. You will see it in the Menu. Progress!


  2. Very exciting! I am looking forward to seeing your book cover and being able to pre-order the book. This such an exciting time. I am grateful to have been able to share these past few years with you (via this site) on your journey.

    What an effort you made to put together this post as well! I enjoy David McCollough books. I have not read the one for the jacket you posted. I will have to add that to my list…after Happy Landings!

    Looking forward to the tea as well.

    Best wishes going forward!
    Happy Landings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s coming! I have to get myself set up for the autographed copies I’ll send out—payment, state tax collection, etc. Simon & Schuster is distributing the others, and we’ll get onto the usual outlets.


  3. Aloha! Your jacket description is exciting. I love the quote you chose. Very appropriate. I look forward to reading the references to her wisdom. Looking forward to the “ reveal” also. Thank you for letting all of us in on your journey. Almost to the finish. I wonder what you will do next? When I am working on a painting, as the finish nears, I am already thinking of the possibilities of the next painting. I wonder what your next work will be? Have a wonderful week, aloha, pam

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pam. It’s been fun—and important—to share this journey with others who love EmilieLoring. My next will be a quick project: a small tour guide, “Emilie Loring’s New England,” complete with maps to her places and to the places we all know from her books. I’ll do a blog post on this soon. Thanks for getting my thought processes going on it!


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