THE old proverb urges us not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it every time we walk into a bookshop and start browsing.
Publishers know this and rely on it when deciding how to jacket their latest releases to maximise impact and sales appeal.
Hours of research, design and discussion go into every book jacket in an effort to secure a prominent position in stores and in turn, ensure it leaps off the shelf to grab the eye of the right readership – who might then pull out their wallet and take it home.
"The purpose of the jacket design is to give the reader some idea of what kind of book is inside and whether it might be a book they would like to read," Duffy explains.
"For example, if we've established that the readership for a book is more likely to be women between the ages of 20 and 40, that will influence our choice of cover design. If the book is more likely to attract male readers who like history, for example, we'd choose a cover that we'd hope would appeal to that market."
Text Publishing's in-house designer W.H. Chong – shortlisted for two titles in the 2009 Australian Book Design Awards – is more scathing about the adage, describing it as "ridiculous".
"The whole point of book design is so you can judge a book by its cover," he says.
"Judgment isn't a science. Judgment in this case is about somebody, this person you are guessing the identity of, reading the signs that you are putting on the cover and hopefully you are communicating in the right signs," says Chong, who uses words like "sublime" and "delightful" to describe his job and "joy".
"Whether or not you can tell whether a book is well written or not, according to this cover, is another question.
"Whether or not you can tell if you're going to love the book and it's a guarantee of it . . . yes, that's the trick really."
Jacket design is a complex process that can take months per book, with publishers often working on more than 20 books at a time, depending on the size of their operation and the number of titles they publish each year.
Not all houses have exclusive in-house designers, like Chong, instead drawing on the skills of about 20 freelance book designers working in Australia and very, very occasionally venturing overseas.
Generally, weekly cover meetings are held between publishers, designers, sales and marketing personnel where briefs are compiled for the designer to work with. Their subsequent concepts and drafts are discussed and finessed until the final design is approved.
Henry Rosenbloom, founder of Scribe Publications, says the brief will consist of basic information about the book, the probable target market and the "overall feeling" the jacket should have.
"Basically you are giving the book designer as clear a message as you can as to what you're looking for without telling them to do this or do that," Rosenbloom said.
Several drafts and variations can be produced, before the favoured design is forwarded to the author for comment.
While publishers hope the author will be happy with what they've come up with, and their opinion is considered, the final decision rests with the publisher.
"The publisher has the final say on covers – nearly all publishing contracts say that, with the very good reason that the publishers are investing the bulk of the money," Rosenbloom explains.
"Obviously you hope to have a happy author, it's not pleasant to be going ahead with a cover the author hates. Most (authors) will say what they think but will defer to our expertise."