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  • Writer's pictureColin Durrant

Captivatingly Bad... The Best In Bad Book Covers

WORDSWORTH CLASSICS WAS FOUNDED IN THE EARLY 90'S. They're called Wordsworth Editions and are a UK-based publisher. They are notorious for their low cost books. With that comes drawbacks. Poor paper quality and typos are just a few of the consequences of buying cheap. The other, and probably the most prominent, are their book covers. There are about 270 classics on offer and all of their covers follow the same format in design: black background, with a block image and white headed font. Not very creative, although straight to the point. In their opening paragraph on their homepage, they state that they aim…

“To produce the best quality books that we can at the lowest possible price.”

Which, in fairness is true. The keywords here being the lowest possible price. I suppose this is a classic example of you get what you pay for. You can’t expect too much from a paperback costing a mere £2.50. “Do these books sell?” anyone who’s involved in writing will know that a cover can break or make the book. It’s the first port of call for a potential reader. The doorway into your world, your story. However, the selling of these classics draw upon their notoriety and previous success in their many formats over the decades. Jekyll & Hyde, Macbeth, A Christmas Carol… we already know the name through years of intermittent exposure in one way or another to those stories and so the cover that promotes them now becomes almost irrelevant.

But whoever or whaever designs these covers should inject a little pride in those designs to maintain the integrity of the work that those covers represent. Where’s the love? Below are just a few of the covers that Wordsworth has churned out over the years.

"Should the quality of the prose reflect that of the cover which promotes it?"

Okay, so I guess the dog's seeking the cat and perhaps both are a metaphor of some kind. Prey and predator. The woman is the protector. The concept is sound; the execution is not. The font is about as bad as it can get.

Generally yes. You want the reader to stop at your cover and think wow! I need to know more. It needs to reflect the genre, the tone and style etc.. It could be argued that the sole purpose of the book is to correctly convey the nature of the story and to compel a would-be reader to stop and take a look. Great book covers do that…

But, so do really bad book covers.

So, both great and awful covers share that stop to stare factor. And, just as many really bad covers have been shared across the internet as those great covers. So, to an extent even those awful covers and doing some of the work that great covers achieve.

Book 4 of this series is below. At least some attempt to find a similar model was made.

A comedian cracking jokes amid a laughing audience. If those jokes are great then the audience is laughing at them. If they are awful then they are laughing at the comedian. That’s the context here. The covers may be attracting attention but that will not extend beyond the viewer doing exactly that.

THE ADVENT OF INDI-PUBLISHING has seen the author, becoming an editor, and marketer and cover designer. The control of everything can be in the hands of the author. There are many courses out there that focus on each step from the initial concept of the story right through to publication and marketing. But, there are so many authors who see a book cover as an aside, a box-ticking exercise to get through as quickly as possible. Throw a few images together in Paint and – Pow! All done. Not quite.

Great book covers are a perfect balance of colour and tones, textures and imagery along with type, shading etc etc. Some of the following covers really do provoke that What the F were they thinking reaction when none of these elements come together or when they are just so haphazardly thrown onto a 6x9 in the hope that it will past muster.

Ideas need to be organised in coherent ways to ensure that the relationship between elements is understood. It may be clear to the writer but to the potential reader it may appear to be a collection of random images just thrown together.

"Design is equal parts idea and craft"
----Allan Peters


There are those covers with design flaws regarding structure and placement of elements. The designs themselves and not that bad, quite good even, but reveal an unintended narrative that at best is slightly awkward and worse grossly inappropriate. Here are a few cringe-worthy covers where a host of people were not clearly paying attention when they signed off on these covers for commercial release. Some of these covers are vague in their intention and we’re left wondering if those innuendos are intended.

Chuck Connors is way too happy here in this image of... well. It kind of speaks for itself. You have to ask yourself if this obvious innuendo was intentional. It's hard to believe that this managed to get by the photographer, the designer and a whole host of others wihtout the implication of this design being realised.

But, if that is the case then there's something even more disturbing about the possibility that this design was intentional.

One Sexy Daddy...err...excuse me. I thought about Googling this to gather more information but to be honest, I was concerned about the search results so decided against it!


Sunday Pounds Me In The Butt. make matters worse this is just one book in a series of [ cough cough ] ...Pounds Me In The Butt books. There's one for every day of the week. I love animals as much as the next perso... actaully, clearly not as much as the naked woman in the cover below. Morningwood...enough said. And, WTF were the Hardy Boys up to in this book.

"What's your pleasure, Sir?"


There's darkness in us all, latent desires just waiting for a trigger to bring them to the surface, to stir them to a frenzy of uadulterated consumption. These types of covers focus not so much on the design to sell books but the denotation of lust and sex and the licentious inplicatation of bestility that most of us would pretend to fail to notice. But it's there, and there are readers who snap these top shelf stories up, ashamedly turning their screens from the view of their partners while pushing the Add To Cart button.

ANIMAL MAGNATISM. This is just one example of this type of cover. Whoever the author, whatever the specifics of the story, the concept is the same, the design the same. Woman meets disnasaur... well, you can gather the rest. the implication of bestilty here is not exactly suble and the mind shudders at the thought of the secnes that would encompass this type of story.

If anyone purchased this in paperback, it would sit not on the bookshelf alongside a copy of a literay masterpiece but under the bed between a couple of editions of Playboy.

Not alot of thought goes into these sorts of covers. Take a wild beast, a pretty woman and slap them on some random panaramic backdrop with no thought to blending and composition. And the thing probably doesn't make too much difference to sales. This type of story is very... niche - of what I am unsure. But it caters to very specific interests that verge upon taboo and so the cover needs only to do enough to entice a very paricular type of reader... of which a part of me hopes is in the minoroty.

The more I look at this cover, the more I actually like it. It immediately captures your attention and peaks your curiosity. Looking at those hands sends the mind reeling with the potential graphic content of the story.

The reason that I regard this as a bad cover is that generally you need to fit in with what works and what’s familiar within your genre. The shear audacity of the design, title and even the subtitle goes against that. This author and designer certainly weren’t playing it safe when it came to this cover.

“Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many.”

This is not a bad cover but it’s rendered so by the inappropriate placement of the price tag. The title is supposed to read “Our Great Canal Journeys.” But, well as you can see it reads something far less innocuous. I don’t know if the assistant ( or assailant ) at the book store realised what he or she was doing when slapping a price sticker but others certainly noticed.

Just goes to show how dramatically the message a cover conveys can change by the obscuring of a single letter. I wonder if anyone purchased this book hoping for some geratric porn only to discover that it's something entirely different.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. My research into this has been equally amusing and shocking at times. Feel free to leave a comment.

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