Book Design, Publishing Hacks

Why You Need Irony on Your Book Cover

A great story hook is almost always ironic. In fact, most great stories are framed around a central irony. Readers find irony irresistible. So why not put that hook front and center on your book cover?

Now, there are two things that sell better than irony. You know them already: sex and violence. So let’s start with a basic rule set:

  1. Sex sells
  2. If it bleeds, it leads

Now, if your book contains hefty amounts of sex or violence, you’d be well advised to make that your cover hook.

But if, like me, you find yourself struggling to come up with a book cover concept for a title that’s not terribly sexy and not full of violence, what do you do?

I propose rule #3:

3. Irony is irresistible

My own covers have been somewhat hit and miss in this regard. For instance, this title has an irresistibly ironic cover that has generated lots of reader interest:

Food-Free at Last

For most people, this is ironic. Except for a small number of readers who actually think eating air is possible (you’d be surprised at the kooks who’ve left negative reviews–“I was looking for a howto book on prana eating and this isn’t it!”), most readers will look at this cover and be like, how can you eat air? That’s crazy! I just have to read this now.

Or that’s the hope, anyway.

Here’s another example of an ironic cover. I am especially pleased with this one.

A Terrorist ConvertsDoes it get any more ironic than that?

I’ve only just published this book about a month ago, so the jury is still out. But I have high hopes for this one.

Now let’s take another one of my covers, which fails to offer sex, violence, or irony–and as a result, has provoked little interest from the reading public:

Death on Taurus

Now, this is a well-designed cover that establishes genre (Science Fiction) and a bullfighting theme. Which is a fair description of what the book’s about–it’s a science fiction bullfighting space opera.

But where’s the girls in short skirts? Where’s the smoking gun? Hell, at least give us some irony!

This was, ultimately, my bad as the author.

If I ever redo this cover, I’d go for something ironic: an image of a matador with a bull’s head (a bull who’s a matador? What’s that all about?), with some additional element to indicate it’s science fiction.

So remember, kids:

  1. Sex sells
  2. If it bleeds, it leads
  3. Readers find irony irresistible

And don’t forget that the best of all is the above three elements combined. Think Oedipus Rex: A man kiills his father and marries his mother, and gouges out his own eyes when he realizes what he’s done. It’s got 1) Sex, 2) blood, and 3) lots of irony. What more could you ask for in a story–or in a book cover?

Written by: J.M. Porup

Novelist J.M. Porup is An American Dissident in Exile. Read More


Leave a Comment