Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why and How Cover Art Sells Books

As readers, do you judge a book by its cover?  Of course you do! It’s the first thing you look at when deciding whether or not you want to read a particular book. So it stands to reason that writers want to create an appealing cover that draws the eye of the reader.  For new fiction authors, cover art can make or break the book. What kind of front cover grabs the reader’s attention? What kind of cover art should a book display?  A lot depends on the genre of the book itself. 

The cover should be appropriate to the type of book. Readers expect it. For example, writers of romance want to demonstrate that their novel is an irresistible love story. How to do this? The clinch or embrace is a familiar pose. Bare-chested men are popular as well. Dramatic raised lettering with flourishes is always in style. With mysteries, cover art varies as to whether the novel is a light-hearted cozy, a dark thriller or something in-between.

A basic question to ask: is the book going to be sold on the shelf of a bookstore or is it going to be available only online? Is the novel going to be a hardcover, trade, paperback or e-book? Yes, it really does make a difference!

With hardcover fiction books, as with all others, the cover needs to fit the genre, be attractive, while the title should be easy to read and intriguing. The original cover art for the Five Star/Gale hardcover edition of my romantic suspense mystery thriller DEATH LEGACY did not convey the type of novel. I didn’t approve it,  thinking it would mislead readers. Cover art needs to play fair with readers so that they don’t feel cheated when they select a book. Covers for mystery or thriller novels are generally dark and boding in appearance, appropriate to that genre. Readers expect it. Fortunately, the editor was open to author suggestion. We settled on a different cover for DEATH LEGACY which I thought better fit the hardcover and subsequent Wheeler large print edition better:
 
If possible, there should be a “money” quote on the front cover of hardcover books. This can be a blurb provided by a well-known author or a partial review from a respected publication. It should always offer praise for the writer’s work. In the case of DEATH LEGACY, Stella Cameron read the initial edit and provided the following: "DEATH LEGACY is the book Jacqueline Seewald's fans have been waiting for! Seewald has a rare talent for painting her readers right into her story setting."  Since the novel received excellent reviews from both BOOKLIST and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY among others, I think Ms. Cameron’s blurb was a real help in drawing attention to the book.
Paperbacks need simplicity in covers. The artwork should also support the title and the genre. Here’s the cover art for the paperback version of DEATH LEGACY created by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery:

No reviews are offered front or back although many could have been given. Everything is kept linear. The boat on the cover, however, does relate to an important part of the mystery.

Let’s examine e-books. Online the cover is small, so authors and publishers don’t want anything too fussy or busy. The old saying “less is more” works best for a book cover that’s displayed online. A short title with a large, easily readable font and bright contrasting colors shows up well on the computer screen. Authors want to avoid covers that are complicated and hard to read. Plain, simple graphics are preferable. Here’s the e-book cover The Novel Fox created for the brand new edition of DEATH LEGACY:

What are your feelings regarding cover art? What draws or attracts you to a novel? What do you dislike or prefer not to see?
In celebration of the new e-book edition of  DEATH LEGACY, I am offering an original print copy  to a commentator. Leave an e-mail or web address if interested. Winner will be drawn at random and contacted within the week.



35 comments:

  1. Interesting post on cover art. In general I buy books based on the blurb or recommendations from others, but I have occasionally been sucked in by a fabulous cover image. I tend to discount and pretty much ignore quotes. I like a cover image that gives you a tantalizing hint about the story.

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  2. I agree that word of mouth is helpful. Of course, unknown authors must first attract enough readers to spread the word to others. Hopefully attractive cover art will help draw those initial readers.

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  3. Jacquie, this post was timely for me as I am searching for new covers for reprints. I am influenced by cover art...first, the cover and second, the blurb on the back. It is troublesome when after the book is read, one wonders why the cover? It doesn't make sense. There should be a strong connection to the text.

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  4. Hi, Betty,

    I agree with you about the importance of book covers having a strong connection to text. Otherwise, readers feel duped.

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  5. I pick up a book first by its cover art, then read the back blurb before I decide if I want to purchase it.
    For mystery books, it can give you a clue about the story just by the details on the cover.
    jwisley8@me.com

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    1. Hi, Joye,

      I only talked about front covers today. However, I agree that back covers are just as important since they usually provide a blurb/synopsis of a book.

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  6. Interesting comparison of the covers you have for the various editions of Death Legacy. Author blurbs don't influence me as reviewer's, and I really feel covers can influence a book buyer's perception.

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    1. I agree that writers are less influenced by the blurbs of fellow authors. Comments from review publications are more influential. However, it's important to be aware that those who review for the various pubs are also just offering a personal opinion which is not always accurate.

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  7. I'm most impressed with the variety of covers for one book, and the reasons for why they are so different. Very informative post.

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    1. Thanks, Susan. Different publishers offer different thoughts on what a book cover should look like. The variety is interesting.

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  8. A terrific post, Jacquie, and I love both those covers! Looking back at various covers by traditional publishers, I find a number of them do not fit the subject, like the ripe apple tree for a mystery book of mine called Poison Apples. And someone asked if I'd written a cookbook! Another mainstream novel pubbed by Ace Books showed a hairy hand holding back a translucent shower curtain with a naked woman in the shower -- when I had no scene at all like that in the book. By and large, alas, I've had no control over covers.

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    1. Nancy,

      Those are very interesting covers! I agree with you that few publishers allow author input on cover design--a definite mistake in my opinion. Those who self-publish are likely smiling at this moment.

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  9. Word of mouth, or a written recommendation is hugely important for the sale of a book and most everything else. As a writer I would be delighted with either from almost any source. But, I completely agree with Jacquie that a cover, especially for someone unknown, is vital. I have been involved in advertising and commercial design for 40 years, creating everything from billboards to the almost postage stamp size covers available as a potential customer’s first look on most EBook sites. Along with the “Madmen” truism that it is vital to understand your target audience comes a second key truth – what you create must work within the constraints of the medium in which you present. No arguments that cover designs work best when they relate accurately to the genre of the book. And given the limited space available on EBook sites, must be clean and clear enough to convey your message in a design that works in an extremely small format. I can't get this to post with my google email address so . . . 'Hi', this is Joe Rigo @ joe.rigo@gmail.com

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    1. Hi, Joe,

      I appreciate your insights. Thanks for taking the time to offer them.

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  10. Excellent obversations. Covers are important and you make some good points. My novel from Five Star, The Splintered Paddle, was picked for promotion and giveaway in the National Examiner because of the cover.

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    1. Hi, Mark,

      Five Star does good cover art. Did you have input?

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  11. I love those covers, Jacqueline but think that the lighter colors are more eye-catching. I know a lot of self-published authors these days end up hiring some of the same designers, so the covers start looking the same. I do believe it's important to "brand" a cover, especially if it's in a series. I'm trying to do that with my short stories I've published for the Kindle. Anyway, I love the new cover for DEATH LEGACY!

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    1. Thanks, Bobbi, I'm glad you like the cover art for Death Legacy. I very much like the cover art for you short story collection as well.

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  12. Interesting post. I get a different impression of the book from each of the covers.

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    1. Hi, Linda,

      Yes, it is interesting how different publishers choose to present a book.

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  13. You have consolidated my rambling thoughts on cover art. Thank you. I needed that.

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    1. Hi, Sharon,

      I'm glad you found this post helpful.

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  14. Thank you for an interesting article about choosing the right book cover. All the best to you.

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    1. Thanks, JoAnne. I hope the article proves useful to you.

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  15. Just got the cover for my novel, so your post was really timely. My favorite of the covers shown is the one for the hardcover--very dramatic. Can you comment on why the hardcover image wasn't the best choice for the paperback? Is it because the smaller format doesn't accommodate as much detail?

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    1. Hi, Allan,

      The hardcover edition was the one I got to give my input as to cover art. So I'm glad you like it. The paperback edition published by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery creates its own covers and doesn't take input from authors.

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  16. An interesting post, Jacquie. I find that I pay much less attention to covers when I'm 'shopping' for an e-book than for a paperback.

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    1. Hi, Anita,

      Interesting comment. Is that because e-books cost less and therefore your expectation of cover art is less, or is there another reason?

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    2. Jacquie, I think even the best-designed cover isn't as striking in an e-book as it would be in a paperback or hard cover, but I guess that would depend on the kind of e-reader your using.

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  17. Super relevant as my preliminary cover art for my latest novel is a disaster. Dull, colorless, non-specific as to cozy mystery genre. Hoping the publisher will see my point and artist will re-do. Thanks for a timely blog!

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    1. Hi, Susan,

      I hope your publisher for this novel pays attention to your input. I love the cover of your current novel.

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  18. The cover is the first draw for me and then the back blurbs and first paragraph inside in print books. I could care less about covers on e-books. I read the synopsis and reviews before selecting those. On my own blog, I had several annual book cover awards and posted the covers for folks to choose the winner. That was so much fun and my blog really lit up with not only intriguing covers but traffic from people wanting to vote for their favorite author as well. Jacquie, do you remember when Drowning Pool was one of them?

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    1. Hi, Susan,

      The Drowning Pool has had three covers in its various incarnation. I think the most attractive one was the one created by Harlequin. As with Death Legacy, Harlequin sold out its paperback edition very quickly. I think your idea is a great one for your blog.

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  19. Great subject. I pick up a book by its cover or favorite author. I've been fortunate to have terrific covers that make clear what the story is about.

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  20. Hi, Carole,

    Well-known authors don't have to be concerned about cover art as their readers have a good idea of what they're getting. A good point!

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