(not as good a post about book spines as our designer would do, but maybe she'll be encouraged to write a better one herself?)
I saw the paperback cover for Howard's End is on the Landing this morning, and it's lovely! I thought for a moment that it actually was just a close-up of a bookshelf. I haven't actually read this book or heard of it before ever, but yay it.
Which brings me to the thing I actually wanted to talk about: the spines of books.
(Conversation Warning: being that I am in Marketing and not Design, this will be a lot of conversation about utility factors and not a lot about prettiness.)
Take a moment to look at your bookshelf. If you're 99% of people, what you're going to see is a lot of spines.
This is one of my bookshelves. I think there's maybe one book that's face-out in it? (Face out: the front of the book is facing out, rather than the spine.) And I'm pretty sure that was accidental, because it's in the wrong place.
If you think back to last time you were in a bookstore or a library, you will realize that most of the books you encountered at that point were shelved spine-out (ie, with the spine facing out, rather than the front or the side or whatever).
The reason for this is just practicality: if you shelved all of your books with the covers facing forward, you would have a lot less room for books in your shelves! But the one of the results of this shelving strategy is that the piece of books that most people encounter first is the spine.
So take a look at these book spines. They're totally pretty, right? They're fun and colorful and all those things.
Also they're not very useful on a marketing level.
Optimally, every spine you come across should be telling you something like this: "Dear Reader, I Am So Awesome, You Just Must Pick Me Up or You'll Be Missing the Best Thing to Come Along in Books in Centuries, Sincerely Me, Most Awesomenest Book Ever!"
But they also have to convey some information whilst doing that.
So the #1 most important thing to have on every spine is a title and author. Because people looking for specific books should be able to find them by looking at a bookshelf, instead of picking up every single book and examining the front cover or the title page or whatnot. Imagine if you were in a library and looking for a copy of Cake Pops so you could make delicious cup-cake-popsicle treats for your book club but had to find the book by actually picking up every single book in the library! That seems like it would be less than optimal. Even if you could limit your search to cupcake-colored books.
Here's the spine of a book.
(Please note that this is not actually the best possible example, just the nearest book I grabbed off of google imagesearch; clearly this edition normally has a jacket, and therefore this is not the spine that anyone is going to look at.)
It has on it both the title and the author.
Now, you may know who George R. R. Martin is, because he is sort of famous. But if you are one of the people who has not encountered him before, you may look at this spine and go, "?" because it is unclear from this spine if this is a non-fictional book about the War of the Roses or a space opera set in a distant Mongolian-derived empire or an Arthurian adventure for small children or a graphic novel about politics in present-day Europe. Or maybe the kings are metaphorical and it's some sort of yoga meditation piece?
(It is not actually any of the above options.)
So the #2 thing that it is useful to have on the spine is: something that makes the book look like the kind of book that it actually is inside.
This book? Definitely looks like it is a weighty tome about criminal law from the spine. (And it turns out it is! Amazing.)
But what about these books? Can you tell what any of them might be about from their spines?
Luckily, we have a very excellent sort of designer who works that sort of thing out for us here at First Second. Mostly she works it out through putting fun art on the spine, but I understand that such things as fonts and color choices also come into play.
#3 thing: we enjoy putting our logo on the spine. Because we're proud of the books we publish!
In short (and in conclusion): spines = the first parts of books that most people see! Making them pretty and also conveyances of useful information about your book can only help attract more readers.