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What is a Dust Jacket?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dust jacket, also known as a dust cover or book cover, protects a book's case from wear. The case includes the front and back covers along with the spine. The dust jacket is made from paper with two flaps that fit over the front and back covers, wrapping around the spine to encase the entire cover. The jacket is normally detachable and is typically covered with acetate, a clear, thin, plastic-like material that increases longevity.

In addition to protecting a book, a professional dust jacket is also used to promote the book. The cover is typically illustrated and includes title and author. It might also feature a tagline — a short sentence meant to entice a would-be reader's interest by capturing the theme or tone of the book.

If the author has had a previous bestseller, the words "#1 New York Times Bestselling Author" might appear next to the author's name. In fiction writing, an author's name will adorn the top portion of the dust jacket if the author has had noted successes, with the book title printed in the middle of the dust cover or somewhat below the middle. The names of unknown or marginally successful writers appear at the bottom of the dust jacket, giving the title more attention.

The inside flaps of a dust jacket also provide valuable real estate. The front inside flap might contain a synopsis of the plot or book content. The back flap might continue from the front, or provide personal information about the author in the form of a mini biography. The back of the dust cover typically lists snippets of praise from other known authors, critics or media outlets, and might also have a plot synopsis. If this information appears on the back flap instead, the back cover might be illustrated with a professional photograph of the author.

Books can be protected by adding a dust jacket. For short-term use, such as on a schoolbook, a dust cover can be made by cutting a large paper bag into a rectangle, making the height slightly taller than the book, and the length, slightly longer. The book should be placed roughly in the center and the top and bottom folded up against the book, making a crease in each case. The book should then be removed and the top and bottom folded along the crease. After replacing the book in the center, the paper should be folded over the book from left to right, with the book adjusted to bring the ends of the paper together. The end-flaps should then be creased against the book cover, then folded in flat, and the book's case, top and back covers, inserted into the flaps.

For longer protection and a nicer look, dust jackets can be purchased in packs. Some covers feature designs, while others are clear. Dust jackets are also available for paperback books. Ready-made dust jackets should be checked so they are the proper size for the books they are intended to protect.

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Discussion Comments

By anon151684 — On Feb 11, 2011

I totally agree with Charlie89. Dust jackets are meant for the dust-bin. Dust jackets are a real nuisance. They slip, they tear and generally are a bit of a pain. The first thing I do is slip off the dust cover and put it where it rightly deserves to be. The dust bin.

By zenmaster — On Sep 08, 2010

When I was studying graphic design, we spent a few weeks on dust jacket design, and let me tell you, it's harder than it looks!

There is so much information that you have to cram into that little space without making it look crowded, and still making it interesting enough to pick up and read -- it's really quite unreal.

A lot of fun though!

By galen84basc — On Sep 08, 2010

If you thought the rare book market was crazy, look into the prices on some of those first edition dust jackets!

Those things sell for hundreds of dollars -- I once saw a vintage Nancy Drew dust jacket go for 500 dollars.

Of course, a lot of people make dust jacket reproductions too -- especially of famous dust jacket covers.

To me, it all gets a little extreme...

By Charlie89 — On Sep 08, 2010

Now I may be the odd one out, but I really hate dust jackets. They always get in the way when I'm reading, and they slip, and get bent and torn and all kinds of things.

So honestly, I prefer no dust jacket -- I want my books to look read, so there's no way I'm going to put some fancy mylar dust jacket protectors on them!

Personal libraries should have character; at least that's my opinion.

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