What is the purpose of a book cover? An alternative view

02 September 2017 by Suyen Hu

A book is a total piece of art that brings readers to a new world. Every reader can have their own feelings and thoughts derived from the stories and ideas in a book.

When a book is designed for commercial display in bookshops, it goes through all the usual routines with all the usual paid advertisements and a marketing plan as part of a series in the general market for booksellers. Rarely is the book designed by the author. Indeed, in the past, books were sold without any covers at all. Whatever the cover design may be, it is not the key to make a best seller. Readers choose books for various reasons: the fame of the stories, the reputation of the authors, the topics published by well-known publishers specialized in their fields, the prices, the needs of the readers, and so on. If a publisher is not famous enough -- or does not pay! -- to have a whole table in a bookshop to display and promote their titles of the year, it’s unlikely that people will discover a book from the shelves and read and recommend it to friends and make the book a best seller. That’s reality.

On the other hand, if a book is designed totally for an artistic reason, without taking account of the routine publishing and bookselling in a commercial market, then the book cover would be a very first thing for an author or a designer or an artist to try to share some personal messages with their readers. Usually these kinds of books would sell if the authors have built a good relationship with readers and the readers are happy to share the books to their friends with true hearts; then the books would emotionally make a deep bond between the authors and the readers, which would be a dream for some authors who don’t aim to be famous when writing books, but do have a desire in their hearts to meet ‘friends’ through their little piece of art: books.

“When the sky is blue, the whole world looks bright and beautiful.” This was the idea of having a blue sky for my very first book. Dear Su Yen, and it’s the reason why I drew the blue sky as a background picture for Snowflake Books, which attracted professional passers-by in book fairs to look at us and talk to us when the company was still very young and attracted individuals to pick up books from our stand and to listen to our stories in the book fairs all over the world. We would like to carry over these good experiences from the physical world to the digital world and hope to reach more people online rather than exhausting ourselves with too much traveling to other countries.



The design concept for Snowflake Books shows the way I see troubles and deal with depression in my life. All the pain we experienced would disappear at the moment when the sky comes blue. All the difficult topics and dry facts are like gray clouds and heavy rain, which are not as attractive as the blue sky, but if we can create a blue sky and turn all the difficult topics and dry facts about a culture and history into something colourful and cheerful, just like everything appears beautifully in the blue sky, we possibly would be able to bring happiness to people through our works. Dear Su Yen’s cover expresses my happy optimism as I traveled to England. I really felt I was in a colourful and light balloon, floating away from all my troubles. I was a little sad that I had to leave my turtle behind, for he was for a time almost my only companion. In Chinese belief turtles are one of four magical animals; along with the dragon, phoenix and unicorn, and they are the only one in the real world. The turtle is the symbol of persistence, determination and endurance. So I had to put my turtle in my picture too, although he was only in my thoughts.

As Shakespeare’s Polonius said, we cannot be true to other people until we are true to ourselves. Art aims to give universal meaning to individual experience, whether fictional or true. I love design, I love drawings, and I love words; I also love to put words and pictures together to create another piece of work, such as a book. A book for me is like a statue or an architectural model.


We need to think about all the details from each angle when we build a model. Above all we need to consider how to make this piece of art in the way people read a book, while trying to express our emotions or to tell our stories through words, whether with or without colours, forms and images. Different from a statue or a 3D abstract model we make to express our emotions or ideas, words can be more specific if a work comes across with important facts and history we would like to share with our audiences from all ages. If you see books as works of art, you wouldn’t want to design a book to fit the market rather than express yourself.

A child once said to me: ‘I love books with words; of course I like pictures, but a picture book without words would make me bored because I love words and would like to know about the story of the book from words.’ When I heard this, I feel the child shared my mind.