Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence of book cover art on readers’ buying decisions as I now have my own book cover to consider. This has made me analyze how much cover art affects my own inclination to pick up a book.

The old adage ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ may be true, but I’m shocked to discover that I do. When I stopped to think about my own choices, I realized cover art is the single most important factor in my decision to pick up a book--or not.

When perusing the Internet, I came across a blog by four literary agents discussing the importance of book cover design. They had a selection of covers they’d voted on to determine their impressions of them. They didn’t agree on every cover, but there was consensus between them on the best and the worst. Strangely, the one they liked least was my favorite. If I walked through a bookstore, most of the covers they liked wouldn’t even have caught my notice, let alone induced me to pick up the book. This raised another interesting aspect of cover art—target market. These agents deal mainly with ‘literary’ works rather than genre fiction. I can only assume the covers they liked reflected this preference. I, on the other hand, prefer genre fiction, and the cover I liked best out of their selection was the most ‘commercial’ in appearance.

This made me realize cover art doesn’t have to wow everyone who walks past the book in the bookstore, only the target readership.

This explains why the covers I find most compelling are usually on historical romance. (My favorite genre.) When I flip through Romantic Times it’s always the lavishly dressed couples wearing (or partly wearing) Regency fashions that catch my eye—followed by the paranormal covers if they are imaginative.
Other covers I love are fantasy covers such as C.L. Wilson’s wonderful covers for her fantasy romance series. This obviously reflects my love of fantasy.

I read recently that when a UK publisher reprinted some classic novels and gave them modern covers the sales figures jumped, despite the fact the books were unchanged.

I will pick up a book with an uninspiring cover if it’s been recommended to me, or if the author is one of my favorites. Although I discovered recently that unappealing cover art can stop me buying a book even if I like the author.

I’ve read all of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and enjoyed the books. When I heard she’d written a science fiction story called The Host I intended to buy the book—until I saw the cover. The reviews for the book are good, the blurb sounds interesting, and I’m sure I’ll like the book, but I can’t get past the cover. This first edition is hardcover. I hope they change the cover when it’s released as a paperback.

What about you? Do book covers play an important part in your fiction buying decisions? How do you feel about the covers shown above?


Terry Odell said...

Often, the first thing I do when I get a book is slip it into the quilted cover my mom made. I know, now that I'm an author, I'd resent that -- but my books are trade size, so my cover wouldn't fit anyway!

And I just got a peek at the cover for my December release. It's not perfect, but seeing a cover makes the book 'real'. And if they can't modify it, I can live with it.

I'm definitely NOT a judge a book by its cover person. A good cover is probably important, but I'm a back cover copy reader.

For my Cerridwen books, I've got two covers I LOVE. One took a little revising, but they were willing to do it, a bit of a luxury. One didn't come close to my vision, but I got it 2 days before release, so not much I could do. And one is OK, but doesn't ring the bell.
(I'm not going to tell you which is which, but you can see them all on the 'available' page of my website)

I agree genre has a lot to do with it. But I would never NOT buy a book I wanted simply because of the cover art. The author usually has little if any control over it.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Helen,
I do judge a book by its cover--as we found out when I got a bit prudish with some on the blog. I'm still more than a Mom first and I just can't read anything with a very erotic cover.
That said, I love Eloisa James' books (historicals are a fave of mine, too) and I read the last one despite the heaving bosom.
My order of decision--author, back blurb; if I don't know the author, cover, back blurb.
Strangely enough, for all the emphasis on the beginning hook, I never read the beginning before buying the book.
Lot to say today, don't know why:)

Savanna Kougar said...

Ooooh, Helen, I absolutely love your cover choices! I'd be picking up those too. C.L. Wilson did get great artistic covers! While I will pick up a book with a wonderful cover to my eye, even occasionally purchase for the cover. I truly buy on the blurb and reading a page or two at random, first.
Hey, you should have posted your cover!

Savanna Kougar said...

Terry, I'm heading over to your website a bit later. Check out your covers again. Looking forward to you being with us as a guest on Thursday!

Terry Odell said...

Hey, Savannah, I'm delighted to be guest blogging here Thursday. Hope to see everyone then.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I find covers can influence my choices but sometimes I cringe taking them to the counter. ;) Some are just too tawdry for words but the story blurb sounded so good I don't care about the cheesy cover.

I like historical covers too because they usually capture the time the novel is set in. This is often hard to do with a futuristic world; however, the ones you posted are fantastic--they make me want to pick up those books!

Evonne Wareham said...

I would have said I was strictly a words first, cover nowhere person -then I remembered being put off Katie Fforde's debut novel because I hated the cover. When I got round to reading it (either they changed the cover or so many people recommended it I gave in)I loved it and have been a fan ever since. So - covers do matter - particularly when it is an unfamiliar author.

Terry Odell said...

Hi -- just popping in with a little BSP. I got my cover for my December release yesterday, and it's on my blog.

You can let me know what you think over there. What would you expect if you picked it up. (Or if you'd even pick it up. After all, I'm not the art department, and I have to go with their interpretation of my cover request sheet)