Spinal Talk

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).

Slant Font


5 Responses to “Spinal Talk”

  1. Eek, book porn! Love it. Spines with pictures on them are a particular favorite of mine, so maybe I’ll have to do a photo thing for you. (Are you still accepting them, btw?)

    I also find that spines with unusual elements on them attract me, especially when I’m shelf-surfing at my library– no jackets, just bare spines (on the hardcovers, at least). The last several books I’ve gotten there have all had shiny words on a darker background, or some other unusual thing on the spine.

    See (with flash on so you can see the shiny):

    The Sutcliff books aren’t shiny or hardcovers, of course, but I really like the font and the font colors, plus they were sitting together on the shelf.

    • Whoops, I think I messed up the link. Maybe this’ll work?


    • Yes, still accepting photos… because… well you’re the first one to send one!
      But your photo brings up something else I’ve always wondered.
      WHY to college libraries strip off the paper jacket?????? It doesn’t matter what’s on the cover when your books are academic? It’s too much work to cover them?
      I have occasionally browsed in my nearby university library and I do not enjoy it nearly as much as a public library. There’s no visual feast. For me, books need to be fun to look at. Stripping the jacket leaves a cloth cover with foil stamping (often, or even usually). Do they buy them this way? Are they cheaper? Ah the mysteries of life…

  2. So interesting! I’ve noticed that my two books with pictures on the spine have sold better than the others. I don’t know if that is because the publisher gave the better spine to the better books or because books with better spines sell better. Love the diagonal title!

  3. This is so important, since this is the view most students get. I will say that since our new catalog has book COVERS posted, the students use it a lot more. Notable spines: The Charlie Higson Young James Bond books, now that they have the black and red spines. Very striking.

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