Unless you’re trapped in a 1953 Zenith television, your world is full of color. Whether you know it or not, you’re reacting to the hues that bombard you every second you’re awake. And, if you dream in color, the rainbow never ends for you. It beats me, but there are claims that we can discern 7-10 million colors. Now wouldn’t that spectrum make an incredible box of Crayola Crayons?
Did you know that colors have hidden meanings and not-so-hidden meanings? They do. Color actually has its own language. It’s a form of non-verbal communication, one that’s not entirely universal, however. There are regional dialects. For instance, black is the color most associated with mourning, but not in China where the color white signals death.
The information in following discussion isn’t hard and fast. And it won't be specific to book covers. But when we’re smarter about the psychology behind colors and the common associations humans have with certain colors, perhaps we can engineer our covers to tap into the key emotions or reactions we want to trigger. Sound intriguing? Let’s get started.
Speaking with color
We’re masters of words. We paint pictures for our readers with just the right descriptions to add dimension without dynamiting the flow and pace. Using an economy of words that most people have common associations with, we can deliver a message efficiently and effectively. Consider this: a coral and tangerine sunset versus a grey and steely storm cloud. Got the point? Good.
Selecting and visually applying colors can tell stories too. For instance, red and yellow are stimulating and active colors, while green and blue are considered calming and relaxing. Review the list below to see if you agree with U.S. researchers.
Black—The color of authority and power. Death and mystery. Think villains. Stylish and timeless.
Blue—The color of serenity and trust. Peaceful and calming. Think sky and sea. Can be cold. And while it’s one of the most favored colors, it’s one of the least appetizing.
Brown—The color of earth, as in dirt. Stable and reliable. Though favored by men, it can be sad.
Green—The color of nature. Relaxing and refreshing. Think growth and wealth. Brides in the Middle Ages wore it to symbolize young love and fertility.
Purple—The color of royalty. Abundance and dignity. Think luxury, spirituality and romance. Because it’s rare in nature, it can appear artificial. Purple dye was extremely hard to create, so it was a highly prized pigment.
Red—The color of love, fire and blood. Stimulating and dangerous. Think fast cars and lipstick. It’s an appetite stimulant. That’s why so many fast food restaurants decorate with red and orange.
White—The color of innocence and purity. Hope and openness. Think doctors and a clean sheet of paper. It’s the non-color that can indicate the beginning or perfection.
Yellow—The color of cheerfulness. Sunshine and attention-getting. Think taxi cabs and daffodils. Can be overpowering if overused.
What’s this mean for book covers?
Covers are our story’s calling cards and billboards. Much thought goes into the fonts and images, but how much consideration goes into the selection of colors? Now that you’ve been exposed to the natural associations humans have with colors, shouldn’t book covers leverage what attracts and communicates? Absolutely.
My recent novel, Blossom, features a cover that was strategically constructed. From the images, the potential reader can deduce that there’s sex (the seductive woman’s eyes), mystery (the fan) and adventure (the inferno).
Let’s look at how color selections further deliver the key elements of the heroine’s story. The eye is lavender, a pastel version of purple which can evoke romantic and nostalgic feelings. The hair and fan are black to reinforce style and mystery. The cherry blossoms on the fan add a dash of the color of passion. And the inferno is yellow and orange to indicate heat, energy and danger.
How does this language of color work on widely known book covers like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Hunger Games, The Help, The Great Gatsby and Twilight? Do you have an accurate sense of what you’re getting into if you turned those covers or clicked through to the story?
It’s something to consider when shopping for your next book to read. And it’s definitely something to consider when the time comes to wrap a cover around your soon-to-be-published next book!
To learn more about designing a book cover that tells and sells, be sure to read my June 3, 2015 Writers in the Storm blog.
What do you think about the covers shown in this blog? Or, go look at the cover of your favorite book and see if the dominant color that’s used triggers the correct response for the story it promotes. Would a different color or color combination do a better job?
Christopher Lentz is a matchmaker, midwife and murderer … when he’s writing books, that is. He’s a man who writes romances, a self-starter who self-publishes and a dreamer who thought growing old would take longer. He truly believes love changes everything. As a journalist, a corporate marketer and now a romance writer, his career has been all about storytelling. His first romance novel, Blossom, is now available and it’s the first book of the Blossom Trilogy. For more information, visit christopherlentz.org and blossomtrilogy.com.