Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, and yet the hordes of us unfastidious and eclectic readers alike, who walk into bookshops or slide our facile forefingers on nifty tablets, are wont to swoon over alluring, sometimes even racy, cover art, going to the extent of acting on impulse and picking up an unheard-of book solely on account of it. Of course we also freely judge men and women by their shoes, but that’s an entirely different case to contemplate another time.

In a market where anyone who has ever typed a bunch of words together in a Word Document can turn, virtually overnight, into a self-published author who can sell their eBook at the ecumenical, economical $0.99 price, where DIY book making and cover designing tools are available at little or no cost on the internet, how significant, really, is a good book cover? In a world where creative folk are not only eccentric as they’re known to be, but also given to settling for a fling with art rather than endeavoring to make a labor of love out of it, where being artsy is more fashionable than artistic, how many discerning eyes, even those of critics, stop and stare to appraise true esthetic value and good taste?

The answers are as diverse as the field of the creative uncommons can dictate, perhaps, and as antithetical as the obloquy that surrounds it could possibly be, and thankfully so. I say so with conviction because I spoke to renowned cover art designer, George Foster, who had some very fascinating points to make. Here’s a rundown of the six-fix I had him pin down, if you will:

1) What do you think is your toughest challenge, in these times of self-publishing indie authors who are typically on limited budgets to be able to afford exclusive book cover designs?

The cover must sell the book or it is not worth much. The cover design’s purpose is to add substantial perceived value and help the viewer desire the book. It causes an emotional response. My clients know this so I keep busy all year and have designed the covers for many bestsellers including ebooks. Requests for ebook covers at a discount are happening more and more so I will create a simple fee structure for it soon, less than for printed books.

2. What would you say is the best part of your job, and the worst?

The best part is the challenge to do something powerful and new, familiar but fresh, within that small space of a few square inches. The worst part? I think the same answer applies but I can go further with regard to digital. Designing to succeed at a tiny thumbnail size is pretty tough. In such a context, the most basic rules of attractiveness mean everything.

3. What has been your greatest achievement and why?

My greatest achievement is that I have been self-employed as a graphic designer since 1982. For a guy like me, it is a dream job. Back in the nineties I designed the cover for Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul before I even thought of myself as a book cover designer. They came back and I designed the cover for Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. I still didn’t have a clue. So this career really chose me.

4. What’s your preferred genre of books to design covers for?

Gosh, if I had to choose then maybe fiction. The entertainment must begin right there on the front cover and that is always a challenge (see answer #2). I have designed for many bestselling non-fiction books, though, and I look forward to the next one. That has its own satisfaction.

5. What according to you draws the line between paper book and ebook covers?

Print is viewed in daylight and ebook is on a screen but the same principles of design apply and each format has different advantages. Content is still content.

6. What do you make of the changing trends in the publishing industry, where the art of formatting and designing covers and everything between them is fading into the depths of digital oblivion?

Book publishing has evolved for centuries, of course. Right now is a fascinating time to witness its move to digital but I believe there will be a continuing market for printed books. A well-designed printed book has its own charm and value. If you want to know the time you can check your phone but traditional analog watches are still around and people are buying them. They were not replaced by digital, were they? For both formats, good solid design remains always fundamental and there are winners and losers based on just that factor, right?

As someone who is not only an avid reader and writer, but also willfully steeped in the workings of the publishing business, I couldn’t agree more — good, solid design (and writing) remains fundamental, indeed. In fact, just like anything else in life, quality is the one thing that endures and the rest, is, well, like a bad book cover — easily forgotten. What was the last book you picked up that was as good on the inside as the outside promised?


Ranjini Rao


George Foster is an award-winning book cover designer, often touted as the best in the country. To learn more about his work, visit his webpage at: