Court of (Bookish) Opinion: The Porcupette’s Inexpert Thoughts on Design

Reader, you know me. After several years and many, many blog posts, you are well aware that yours truly, your friendly neighbourhood porcupette, is an opinionated gal. And if there’s one topic sure to get the debate going every year around this time, it’s the topic of book covers.

The thing about book covers is that everybody has ideas about them. Most people wouldn’t advise a brain surgeon on his or her job, but almost everyone’s eager to give their amateur opinion on a book cover. I’ve fallen into the trap myself, repeatedly and without shame. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no designer, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting my two cents in when it comes time to find some fitting cover art. Of course, I don’t always (or even usually) win—and for good reason, too. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with an image that doesn’t fit the necessary dimensions of resolutions needed for a PQL book. And I have been known, from time to time, to have a “brilliant” idea that goes against all tenets of good graphic design. I know my limitations, is what I’m saying. But I do still have a few Serious Opinions on what a good book cover should—and should not do.

For me, a good book cover should have, at bare minimum, legible text. I have nothing against decorative fonts per se, but I find that I prefer a classic, readable font that doesn’t make me have to do mental gymnastics to decipher the title. Plus, size matters, too. The text needn’t be visible from across a crowded room, but it should be big enough for people browsing online shopping sites on their phones to be able to at least decipher the title. A particular favourite of mine, for example, is the cover for Barbara Sibbald’s The Museum of Possibilities—the text is large enough to get the point across and elegant enough to stand the test of time without looking tacky.

The Museum of Possibilities cover

I also think the most effective and evocative covers eschew the low-hanging fruit of on-the-nose imagery for something a little more creative. For example, may I direct your attention to Jason Guriel’s The Pigheaded Soul? I have to admit, to my everlasting shame, that early in my employment at PQL, I once proposed to Tim that he design a cover for the book that depicted a blisteringly pink cartoon pig head. This was obviously utter nonsense, and the cover that Tim designed—a much more elegant affair that made use of the texture of pig iron as a backdrop—actually suited a collection of essays, and it did a fantastic job of proving that a less obvious image often results in a much better book cover. (It remains one of my favourite PQL covers to this day and does double duty as a reminder of my own limitations.)

The Pigheaded Soul cover

I also appreciate an attempt at fitting a book cover image to the setting of the book. Making sure the cover doesn’t feel anachronistic to the content is, I believe, worth the effort, and the reason for this is simple—you don’t want to mislead your potential reader. For example, when coming up with ideas for the cover of Anne Baldo’s upcoming short story collection Morse Code for Romantics, one image we thought of was of Signal Hill, a radio tower in Newfoundland famous in the history of wireless communications. The image was attractive and had enough sky to accommodate title and author text, but it was sepia in tone and it featured a rather antique looking car parked in the foreground. It looked like a book of historical fiction. After many, many attempts at finding the right image, we eventually settled on overhead lines in a Southern Ontario field. The image looked more modern, fit the setting of the stories, and also hinted at the book’s important themes of pattern, connection and communication. (And the little bits of Morse code hidden in the title was a particularly inspired yet subtle touch.)

Morse Code for Romantics cover

These are just a few of the myriad considerations that I find pertinent to an enjoyable book cover, but there are certainly many more I haven’t had space to include—and likely many more after that I’ve never even thought of. Suffice it to say that it’s a good thing skilled designers are out there dressing books in covers that are clever, original, beautiful and legible, all for our viewing pleasure.


What are your opinions on what makes a good book cover? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section—don’t be shy!



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6 Responses to Court of (Bookish) Opinion: The Porcupette’s Inexpert Thoughts on Design

  1. Louise Kahler says:

    Porcupette. You just kill me!

  2. Steph, thanks for your thoughtful consideration of cover design. These are elegant cover designs and you’ve articulated their strengths. Kudos the PQ team.

  3. Pingback: The Porcupine’s Quill

  4. Mark Frutkin says:

    Excellent article. I see you noted Barb Sibbald’s book, The Museum of Possibilities, a book (and cover) that I loved. Thanks.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.