by Will Viharo
The recent Internet hullabaloo about a dress that was either white and gold or black and blue depending on who was viewing it inspired a heated, global debate about the very nature of ocular perception, as well as the veracity of colors themselves.
How could one person’s blue be another’s gold?
It turned our conception of visual uniformity on its axis. If we can’t trust our own eyes, what can we trust?
And how does this impact our eBook sales?
I’ve written before about eBook covers, and why they matter. But it can’t be emphasized too much. It’s a definite priority from both an aesthetic and commercial point of view. According to reader surveys like this, book covers are one of the most significant choices an author (or publisher) can make. And part of that decision should focus on seemingly superficial, cosmetic details like color schemes and font styles.
A book needs to not only grab a potential customer’s attention, but it must convey a clear, instant signal of the contents via a strategically chosen palette. If the story is dark and morose, whether a modern noir or a gothic horror tale, blacks, browns and grays will naturally beckon readers who are seeking work that is perhaps more challenging, if not downright depressing, than typical escapist fare.
Conversely, bright, cheery shades of yellow, orange, pink and blue will communicate a sense of light fun, alerting the shopper in advance that this experience is likely to lift their spirits, rather than confirm their nihilistic viewpoint or just plain bad mood.
Sometimes pastels can be used ironically, like if your story is a gritty crime thriller set someplace tropical, like Miami or Mexico. Remember Miami Vice? This is where font styles come into play. For instance, Miami Vice famously combined Art Deco aesthetics with gruesome drug war violence, and even the main title logo was designed in a retro “Broadway” style font. The popular crime fiction of Florida author Carl Hiaasen offers a similar dichotomy of style vs. substance, since his wild novels can be both whimsical and wanton, often at once.
Provide Balance or Context With Other Elements
By that same token, a black comedy may have a bleak cover, but playful or deceptively plain font would indicate the internal angst is not to be taken too seriously, since it’s a satire meant to provoke thoughtful debate, not necessarily inspire nightmares. An example of this would be universally celebrated works like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, or George Orwell’s Animal Farm, both visionary masterpieces that provide rather harsh commentaries upon and critiques of modern society, but within a fantastical, often darkly comical context.
Even the absence of color makes an artistic statement, as perhaps most famously proven by The Beatles’ White Album.
And color can also be applied to faces, since visages of actual people often populate book covers. This article accuses certain Young Adult novels – one of the industry’s bestselling genres, especially for indie authors – of being unintentionally racist due to the consistently Caucasian complexions of their front cover protagonists.
Bottom line: it’s the combination of ingredients that counts when concocting your particular word stew. How it looks should give readers a strong, immediate sense of how it will taste.
Do colors have specific connotations for you when you’re browsing virtual bookshelves?
PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES