Homo sapiens adhere to the adage, “You taste with your eyes first.” It probably wasn’t always so. I like to imagine there was some trial and error involved. The kind of trial and error that left bodies in its wake.
Imagine Homo habilis in his natural environment two million years ago. Two of these majestic half-man/half-ape bipedals prance along the countryside, frolic as they dodge danger, and gather delicious snacks to fill their bellies. One of our hairy predecessors picks a flower and looks at it – it’s beautiful. He throws it into his mouth and chews.
His friend sees this and his sloped forehead wrinkles. He says, “Ugh oog errgl aggg uc chocow bop?”
For those of you rusty in this forgotten form of communication, this roughly translates into, “Is that safe to eat dear friend?”
Chewing, the questioned man-ape looks over at his concerned companion and shrugs. A tickle springs up in his throat, his windpipe closes, and he falls over dead.
The survivor looks down at his fallen friend and makes an important realization. I went ahead and translated it ahead of time.
He thinks, “I saw Krul eat pretty flower. Krul choked and died. Pretty flower not pretty. Pretty flower bad. I crush bad flower.”
We’ve come a long way since then. At least we like to think we have. Even though a couple million years separate us from Krul and his unnamed friend, we share a lot in common.
For us writers and bookworms, the countrysides we frolic in are bookstores – both real and cyber. The pretty flowers have been replaced by cover art. Those all-important artistic creations are our first impressions.
While there is still potential we pick a pretty flower and it kills us after eat it, we often decide to taste based on what we see. Unless our prior knowledge of the flower overrides our survival instinct (i.e. we like the flowers creator, we enjoy flowers of this genus, a friend ate the flower and didn’t die).
So what makes for a pretty flower? This is a hard one for me, and something I’ve been spending a ton of time thinking about and researching. As I’m wrapping up my first book, Wastelander, and getting ready to start the companion novella, my eyes are already drifting to the horizon. I’m thinking about re-writes, editing, more editing, cover art, illustrations, and type setting.
In regards to cover art, what is important? Do you focus on a particular scene from the book? Do you take the main character and make them the central component? Do you go with abstraction, surrealism, minimalism, or some other technique?
Take The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, for example. It’s a far cry from most of the post-apocalyptic genre covers you will see. With that being said, there is a subtle beauty in the simplicity of it. Most importantly, in my view, there is a whole story in the image.
Much like studying great writing makes you a better writer, studying a wealth of cover art is a good place to start generating ideas. Here are some places I’ve been visiting to study the the pretty flowers. I haven’t eaten one yet that’s killed me. But a few have left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Gloria Hanlon (a fellow WordPress Wizard) wrote the post, Book Cover Design Tools and Inspiration, the same day I wrote this article. In it, she offers some amazing insights and tools. One example she provides looks at 9,999 pieces of cover art and examines how even the color of the cover could have some subconscious impact on the reader. It’s a very interesting read.
I‘m still playing email tag with a couple artists for my cover. I already have a concept in mind, but the more I research cover artwork, the less confident I feel.
Also, there are some issues with explaining the requirements (size dimensions, dots per inch for print, pixels per inch for digital, the list continues) to an artist that doesn’t specialize in creating cover art. But hey, that’s a topic for another day.
What pretty flowers appeal to you? What is about them you enjoy? Are your desires based more on context or feeling? I’m very curious, and honestly, a bit in the weeds. That’s it for today. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!