To say that humans are visual creatures is now considered a cliché. We are ruled by visual stimuli; if something isn’t visually appealing to us, we will not stop to look at it, and books are no exception. In a market based on visual stimulus, the design of book covers has become an art in itself: how do you reflect what a reader will find inside the book on the cover, without forgetting that the book must be made attractive to the buyer?
There is a paradigmatic and highly illustrative example in the history of publishing that shows us the extent to which a cover not only influences us when buying a book, but can also lead a reader to read the wrong kind of book. This is the cover of the 1916 first edition of Franz Kafka’s most popular book, Die Verwandlung, The Metamorphosis:
This cover is indicative of the horror we will find when we start reading the novel. However, in no way does it prepare us for the type of nastiness we’ll encounter (the one inside the room or the one outside?) or what the hero, Gregor Samsa, has become. This is how Kafka starts the story: When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He was lying on his back as hard as armour plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.
Who was the illustrator who deprived us of the possibility of seeing the insect Gregor for ourselves? Thanks to countless artists, we now inevitably associate the insect with a beetle. However, the first edition of the novel respected the contents of the book; hence, the importance of having a cover that is in keeping with the story.
We currently have two prestigious publishing houses that achieve excellence not only by publishing books of an extraordinary standard and quality, but also by carefully choosing the covers that have to precede them.
Nórdica Libros publishes books that are classic and essential reading from contemporary world literature, masterpieces that are necessary to understand how people behave today. From Georg Büchner to Dorothy Parker, and not forgetting Kafka who we have discussed above, the publisher offers us a journey through the stories that have defined the most recent evolution of mankind, and to do so it hires a different illustrator for each story, to capture what the authors want to tell us in pictures.
This is not only an effective strategy for adult buyers, but young readers can also be attracted by Nórdica’s illustrated books, so that they more readily access books which will undoubtedly become their favorite stories.
Viena Edicions, however, chooses books from contemporary literature that have been important for the society in which they were written and publishes them in Catalonian for the first time. They carefully choose a work of art for each book that captures the essence of what the book wants to show us; so, the story of a woman who is a victim of unbridled passion has the Automat by Edward Hopper as its cover, while Sherwood Anderson’s finest work about the Deep South is represented by Grant Wood’s American Gothic paintings of country folk.
Both publishing houses do outstanding work in choosing the right images for the content of their books; without influencing how we read the book, they offer us a visual summary of what we will find inside, a mere nod that we will only understand when we finally close the book.