book promotion, book sales, Uncategorized

Got You Covered

Never mind any old adages you have hanging around about how not to judge a book, it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that book covers matter. In fact, a book’s cover may be the single most important factor that you, as the book’s producer, have some control over. There are certainly bigger reasons for why buyers buy—author name recognition, word of mouth, personal recommendations—but all of those exist outside your scope of influence. You gabbing about your book on Facebook probably will not create a significant word-of-mouth buzz, and until you actually are famous, your name isn’t going to sell anything.

So covers matter. Granted. But how much? A poll at Book Smugglers of 616 respondents gave an overwhelmingly positive response to the question: Do covers matter at all to you? That is, do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book? Seventy-nine percent said YES. Twenty-one percent said NO.

On the other hand, when asked whether an eye-catching cover for a book you’ve heard nothing about was enough to make you buy it, only 6% said yes. And only 3% categorized the role of a cover in a purchase decision as “dominant.” And, conversely, about 83% of readers said they will go ahead and purchase a book they are interested in reading even if the cover is “truly hideous”(this figure drops when paying for a trade paperback or a hardcover, naturally.)

Polls like this don’t tend to produce definitive marketing numbers, but they do give us a general lay of the land. A good cover helps your chances of selling a book. In most cases the difference isn’t trivial, but neither is it normally a make-or-break factor.

At its most basic level, a cover is an invitation. Open me up. Check me out. Take me home. It’s meant to intrigue the prospective reader into checking out the blurb, maybe reading a page or two (though it is surprising how few people include “reading a sample” among their decision making tools.) What works for one reader might not work for another, so most cover designers aim for somewhere in the middle, which is to say they tend to be pretty conventional. There are plenty of professional book designers out there with their own list of dos and don’ts.  Avoid clashing colors and elaborate fonts. Keep it simple and eye-catching. Make it easily readable, even as a thumbnail. Beyond question, the one piece of advise they all agree upon? Don’t do it yourself. Hire a professional.

The webpage on book cover design at iUniverse provides this handy list:

Your Cover Should:
1.  Fall within the norms for your genre but visually stand out among other books.
2.  Appeal to readers and convince them to take a closer look at your book with a strong visual presence.
3.  Reflect the content of your book and expose readers to your writing style.
4.  Convince a potential reader to invest in a literary journey with your story.

Yeah, no problem.

Your cover should fall within the norms for your genre… Fair enough. Your book cover probably ought to give readers some idea of what to expect inside. If you’ve got elves in the story, maybe you ought to put one on the cover. But the use of genre tropes can lead to a tired sameness. Generic genre covers proliferate, and while these might be a comfort to the diehard genre reader, they hardly entice anyone else, and certainly don’t make your book stand out in a crowded field.

And so the second part of the quote: …but visually stand out among other books. Great advice—only a little weak on the how part of it. Any decent cover artist is already trying to do exactly that. That’s pretty much the first line of the job description. But there’s no secret formula for success. As John Lennon said when asked why the Beatles excited people so much, “If we knew we’d form another group and be managers.”

When I think about the whole question of how a book cover sets the expectations of the potential buyer, I wonder if I didn’t make a mistake. Here. Have a look at the covers for my two books:   spark   and  ag_flightofthewren_hires

Both were created in house by Lycaon Press (now defunct), specifically by Victoria Miller. Victoria does extremely nice work, and she is very easy to work with. I highly recommend her services. Her covers are polished and professional, easily comparable to books published by major publishers.

But I’m always just a little nagged by the suspicion that they are, ultimately, not the right covers for these books. My audience for both books was assumed to be young adult. Lycaon (a YA publisher) certain saw them that way. So did I. With young protagonists and the fantasy elements, it seemed obvious that my ‘target audience’ was younger readers.

But I don’t think that has turned out to be true. I think the largest part of my readership actually comes from adults who like YA stories. And if so, are my covers a hindrance? Are they too kiddish? Do they, perhaps, turn off some readers who like to consider YA as serious literature rather than simply a fun read? I have no problem with either characterization, but I have a feeling most of my own particular group of readers probably fall in the former camp. And if so, might a more restrained—more mature, perhaps?—approach to cover art be more appealing?

I don’t know. I’d welcome any feedback, either specific or general.

As far as the bigger question goes, sure, a nice professional cover is always a plus. But unless you’re talking a faced-out cover on a bookstore shelf, there’s no guarantee anyone is going to see it unless they go looking for it. I don’t think many people browse online waiting for book covers to catch their eye. Most people still shop based on word of mouth or personal recommendations or by looking for the latest book by an author they already know. If they ever do get to your page, then it’s absolutely better to have an appealing, well-wrought cover. But getting them to that page in the first place?

That remains the challenge, folks.

Comments? Questions? Criticisms? You know what to do.

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18 thoughts on “Got You Covered

  1. mimispeike says:

    A poorly designed cover puts me off. I tend to think: amateurish cover, amateurish inside.

    A striking cover gets my attention, I have made color copies of great jackets at work to hang on my wall. Would they get me to buy? No, not likely. For that I need an enticing blurb.

    Of your two covers, I like Spark best. It makes me wonder, what’s this about? The pretty face, we’ve seen it and seen it.

    Both your covers are YA, for YA tales, full of YA people. It makes no sense to try to portray otherwise. But I would have tried for an edgier look. For this audience, that may not help to any great degree, but it can’t hurt.

    I know you write beautifully. In a bookstore, I would pick these up for that reason. Another author, I’d pass them by. But both may be exactly what they should be, in terms of YA.

    My answer is: I just don’t know. Neither piece excites me. But I’m not your demographic, by a long shot.

    Liked by 4 people

    • atthysgage says:

      Fact is Mimi, I don’t know either. In some ways I am not my demographic either, though I am entirely proud of both books and would read them with pleasure. But would I pick them up? Not sure. Probably not.

      Anyway, thanks for the chime in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If people were not prone to judge books by their covers, there wouldn’t be an adage warning us against it, would there?

    I am drawn to anything with the pallette on your books’ covers. Golden oranges, especially if they have an almost metallic sheen to them, will attract me from across a bookstore. The dust jacket of The Martian is a perfect example; every time I walk past that book I have to fight the urge to pick it up and lick it.

    Beyond that, I suggest Spark’s is more YA in tone, and Flight of the Wren’s cover borders on the New Adult / Adult edge of YA. The luminosity, particularly her backlit blond hair, lends the impression she’s an angel. Is this about the Afterlife? Angels on Earth? It is pretty, but it doesn’t really communicate anything about the story. (The electric glow, swooping across Spark’s cover is also particularly attractive.)

    Similarly to Mimi, if I didn’t recognize the author’s name, I would read the blurb, the liner notes, and at least the first two paragraphs of story before deciding to purchase or pass.

    I think it’s important for a cover to be eye-catching in thumbnail, even if you can’t tell what it says. Red, black, and white are visually arresting. My eyes have been arrested by that combination in thumbnail more times than I care to admit, only to discover upon magnification, yet another trashy romance — which then turns me right off. But they got my attention, so they must be doing something right in the cover department.

    Liked by 4 people

    • atthysgage says:

      It’s funny Sue. I loved them both when they first came out, and I still think they are well done, but I’d do it differently next time. I think they’re both fairly eye-catching, and I’m not ready to blame my minimal sales on the covers, but I think going with such a decidedly YA look was a mistake. I never really thought about the idea that someone might think Wren was about an angel, but you’re certainly right. Spark probably does work better, just because it has a little bit of Sci Fi feeling about it, which does fit the story pretty well, though it also has a horror look, which really doesn’t.

      Liked by 3 people

      • What are you thinking would be different? Leave off a human figure entirely? I can’t help but wonder why you didn’t include even a tiny suggestion of flying carpets — maybe at a great distance in a sky — for Wren. Certainly not common, it would make me pick it up. Most of us love the idea of being able to fly at will. 🙂 (The angel impression was reinforced for me by the text across her hair, with its lighter background — in a fleeting glance, it seems to be a halo.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Perry Palin says:

    I won’t buy a book because of its cover. I’m more likely to buy on a blurb, or on a review, or on a preview of a few pages. But for others the cover may matter.

    Of the two covers pictured, I prefer the one for Spark. Without the face there’s more mystery, more to be learned with a reading. Sue has interesting comments on colors. My own preference is for more muted colors. Maybe that’s a gender or generational thing. I’m an old man.

    I had to suggest a cover image for my first book of short stories. I knew the core of my target readership, and many of them knew me. Many of them had read some of my stories. I chose a wood block print landscape by an artist who is a member of our larger group, who is respected and liked by my readers, and his print and his name helped, I think, get people to pick up the book. I also had three early readers publish unsolicited and very positive reviews. Once 50 or 100 people had the book, the readership grew through word of mouth.

    With my second book of shorts I had to go back to the same artist for the cover. That was an easy decision.

    Now I have a novel. It’s a different kind of a project. I don’t know what to do about a cover. If the book is picked up by a traditional publisher I’ll have some help. If I self-publish I’ll have to find my own way.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. GD Deckard says:

    No doubt book covers matter to most people but that doesn’t necessarily mean they matter most. I suspect that the top selling books of all time sell based on their title. And that best selling authors sell based on their name.

    As Atthys says, “…until you actually are famous, your name isn’t going to sell anything.” But getting people to read beneath the covers and to so like what they read that they share your writing with others starts with the opening paragraph. A good cover can get them there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • atthysgage says:

      I agree. Ultimately, we like the idea of our covers reflecting the contents in a complimentary way, and it’s great when that happens. But ultimately, as my first cover artist told me, you just want them to pick up the book. Once they start reading, it’s up to you.

      I’m certainly not advocating using a misleading cover. I think that’s a dumb idea. But not many people, I’d suspect, put down a book in disgust because of the disconnect between cover and content. They put it down because they don’t like it. They might feel like the cover was misleading, but that person probably wasn’t going to like your book in the first place.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    Many of my books have no cover, they lost their dust jackets long ago. A good percent have no known-to-me name. I look for style above all else, that I can learn from.

    There are exceptions. I just brought Bitter River by Julia Keller home from work. I give it a tumble solely on the basis of the author having won a Pulitzer Prize. I sampled three or four places, my usual method, and was left cold by the prose. But she got a Pulitzer, there’s got to be something marvelous about it. If I judge not, I can always take it back to the conference room.

    Story actually matters little to me. It’s the method of telling the story that hooks me. If you can please me in both ways (for instance, A Fool and His Money, a PhD dissertation on the fourteenth century era history of a town in Southern France. I reread it every year or two for inspiration), my heart is yours.

    I googled Ann Wroe, tracked her down to the BBC (she wrote the piece thirty years ago) and thanked her by email for the pleasure I get from her superb prose style. That’s how wowed I was. I have her permission to borrow some yummy details of the borderline Pyrenees landscape. (I’ll mess with it a bit, of course.) I give her effusive credit in my gleeful footnotes in Sly.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Like others, I find the Spark cover the more intriguing of the two. I’d never really thought about having to fall within the norms for the genre – isn’t that rather restrictive? I know as a reader I’m attracted to anything that looks a bit different from the norm. Otherwise I’ll think the writing won’t step outside of the norm either. To answer your question, I agree that the covers seem very YA to me, while the stories are much less so. They’re not exactly misleading, but I’m not sure they do a great service to the content, nor indeed to the writing itself, both of which are better and more original than the standard YA fare.

    Liked by 3 people

    • atthysgage says:

      I appreciate your saying so. I sort of wandered into YA territory because the characters happened to be teenaged people. I tried not to let it inhibit the story or the writing.

      You make an interesting point about the genre-norm covers being restrictive and I agree entirely. Again, I can’t blame Lycaon. They were simply playing safe to what they assumed the bulk of the audience would find appealing (and maybe comforting? Familiar?). And like I said, they’re good professional grade covers, but—particularly Wren—not the best choice I could’ve made. I don’t think I’d have a girl on the cover of Wren at all, if I had it to do again (though I do think the face has a certain haunted quality which I like.) Ah well. There’s no easy answer.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    These pretty covers have no personality. The stories are, sort of, fantasy meets problem-solving/coming of age.

    I think that illustration would have done a better job at getting that across.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. atthysgage says:

    I tend to agree. WHAT illustration, of course, is a wide open question, but especially with Wren, I think something a little more abstract might be more effective.

    Like

  9. atthysgage says:

    Sue. The illustrator was pretty convinced a girl’s face (someone for the readers to connect with) was the way to go. Faces, of course, are commonly regarded as good hooks. It looks at you, you look at it. Naturally, that makes an actual flying carpet a hard fit on the cover. (She did include a little Persian carpet sort of motif in among the clouds and birds, which was a nice touch, but lost on most viewers of course.)

    Anyhoo, I sort of picture a shoreline with the sky beyond, and distant (but hopefully distinct) the figure of someone flying away on a carpet. It would have to be small to work, meaning folks wouldn’t catch it a casual glance. Such a suggestion would be poison to most cover designers, due to the lack of grab. I think it could work. It wouldn’t be eye-catching, but maybe that’s just not what I ought to be aiming for, you know?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What you describe is what I envisioned. If that had been the cover, I think the first attraction would have to be the colors, title font and size, that sort of thing, because I think you’re right that the image itself doesn’t have to be the hook. In Wren’s case, your suggested image would have guaranteed I’d open it.

    It seems we all agree that the purpose of a cover isn’t to sell the book, but to get readers to pick it up and look inside.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. mimispeike says:

    This is a very interesting problem. I have researched ‘Flying Carpet’ and find that most of the images that surface have the feel of the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Yet your character is thoroughly contemporary. This takes some thinking about. I don’t fault your cover designer for going with quick and pretty.

    I have the feeling I’d try out a blue-jeanned girl holding a partially rolled up rug, looking at it quizzically, a bit of the woven pattern showing and in that pattern we see a smiling hint of a face. The title filling the cover behind her. Block letters, little daylight between the letter-forms. Three lines filling the depth of the cover, the girl on the right, just grazing the type. A few small figures (silhouettes?) flying on their carpets in and around the type, one of them, slightly larger, encroaching on the F in FLIGHT.

    FLIGHT
    of the
    WREN

    You never know for sure until you try it. That’s the direction I’d go in, for starters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • atthysgage says:

      I don’t fault her either. I couldn’t really, since I approved whole-heartedly at the time, and the work is very good. I appreciate your thoughts on cover design, since you obviously have a fine eye for it. Producing a new cover isn’t high on my priority list, but it’s nice to have some input from all of you.

      Like

  12. Pingback: Got You Covered – Speak More Light

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