I find book spines to be much more difficult to critique than the book faceout. It’s harder to define elements that attract, when space is so limited and so much has to fit.
So what elements can we consider here? I can identify a few.
1) Background color – looking at shelves of books in my library, I found that color was a great attractor. But there’s a trick that cannot be controlled by the designer: it matters what other books surround. I saw hot pink books that jumped right out at me – and hot pink books that disappeared in a crowd of other brightly colored spines. Metallic stands out – but only if there are not too many metallic inks nearby.
2) Fonts, their color and orientation – If the title is horizontal, the font may have to be smaller and more compact (unless it’s a very short title, or a very thick book). I would have said the only other choice is vertical, usually running from top to bottom. But (see bottom photo) this past weekend I was visiting my father, an avid reader. There was a stack of books near his TV that kept drawing my eye over and over. Eventually it occurred to me that the reason why was because one of them had a feature I’d never seen on a book spine before – a diagonal title. Very difficult to do – but this works!
3) Graphic elements – A photo, a drawing, a design, lines – just something in addition to the author and title text that is there to assist in drawing attention to the book.
4) Multiples – I don’t know how else to say it. Multiple copies of a title on the shelf just catches my eye. I can’t explain it. Along with that, however, is the series effect. Series books will differ from book to book, but there’s a format that helps it to have that repeating effect.
With these defined elements in mind, I snapped a few pictures of spines that I thought succeeded in jumping out and saying “look at me!”
The McKay books above, Forever Rose, Indigo’s Star and Permanent Rose have an element that works every time for me. There’s something about a face (or just an eye) looking out from a spine. I can’t ignore it in a sea of letters and words.
The Crossley-Holland books really have that series effect, and the drawings almost do the eye/face thing.
I include Godless because the starring effect around the title, combined with the fact that there were four of them on the shelf… worked like a marquee.
The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage has a lot to work with because the books are so fat! But the designer did a lot with the faux old book look, foiled fonts, graphic elements and standout background colors. Love these!
And below, my father’s pile of books. I just love the diagonal look here. It’s so different and the slant is bound to attract any shelf-browsing eye. I have not seen any YA books that do this (hint, hint).