Judging books by their covers…do you?

Book covers – ask any author and they’ll either smile and say ‘yeah, great’ or sigh with a ‘been there’ expression while raising their eyebrows knowingly.

Friends often tell me it’s all about ‘the cover and the blurb’ when buying a book.

Probably within seconds of a glancing at a cover, they’ll decide whether they’ll pick up the book and read the back cover blurb or keep on walking until they see a book that’s shouting ‘read me’ the loudest and they’re compelled to pick it up. Most people do that. I used to, too. Probably still do. But…there’s always a but.

As an author, you have very little control over your book’s cover – okay, zero control – unless you’re Bryce Courtney, Nora Roberts or God. But when you’re starting out, you assume, at least, I assumed I’d have some input.

When covers were being considered for Lucy Springer Gets Even, my first book, I was excited. I’d worked long and hard on this manuscript and was finally going to realise my dream – publication. Naturally, Lucy would have a kick-ass cover, sell a trillion copies and I’d feel very pleased with myself.

I got a call from Allen & Unwin. ‘We’re in love with Lucy’s cover and we’re emailing it to you now. Prepare to be stunned.’

Euphoria. And then I got the email.

Oh, I was stunned all right. Gobsmacked. I hated it and cried buckets. Were they trying to sabotage the book before it had even hit the market?

A good cover tells you what the book is about without giving away the whole story.

I didn’t have a problem with the pink background but who the hell was the woman in the ill-fitting purple velour jacket?

This wasn’t my Lucy, the one I’d spent the better part of two and a half years living with. Hello! My Lucy was feisty, fun and pretty (not that she was aware of it, though). And my Lucy was a red head. I didn’t want people having preconceived ideas about her, especially about the Lucy on this proposed cover. But by using a photo, that’s exactly what we were doing – encouraging potential readers to form ideas about my heroine in the blink of an eye.

In my mind, the cover for Lucy Springer was going to be a boppy illustration, along the lines of Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl.

But this one? I knew people would glance at the cover and make a snap decision. ‘I love her’, ‘I hate her’ ‘what the hell’s the story with her gruesome jacket and why is she looking so smug?’ etc and potential customers would be lost in seconds.

After I stopped hyperventilating and my sobs reduced to the odd sniffle, I rang my publisher and politely indicated that I had ‘serious doubts’. But Lucy’s cover was a done deal. I was just the author and had to suck it up.

When Lucy appeared in bookshops, I’ll admit you couldn’t miss her – the pink’s rather eye-catching but I can’t help but think more copies would have sold had the novel had a more aspirational cover.

Which brings me to What Kate did Next, my second novel. I was anxious when A & U told me they’d found the perfect designer and she’d created ‘the perfect cover for Kate.’ I was a little sceptical especially when they told me it was another photo. But when I saw the cover, I danced a very happy jig. I agreed with the decision one hundred percent. Others might hate Kate’s cover, but I was thrilled.

When A & U told me they’d be using the same designer, Ellie Exarchos for Claudia’s Big Break, I couldn’t have been happier. I think the cover captures the mood of the story perfectly. It’s light and fun and screams Santorini!

 

For my latest release, Stella Makes Good, I was thrilled to know that Ellie would again be designing the cover because I knew what to expect…something gorgeous, aspirational and above all something that would make readers want to pick the book up.

When I saw the cover it was love at first sight! I’m ecstatic (and just a little relieved). It’s divine.

Had I not had the experience I had with Lucy’s cover, I might not have had these feelings for Kate, Claudia and Stella. I would have assumed that publishers get it right every time. It’s their job, right?

I’m lucky. My publishers have hit on a designer who makes my books sing…I’ve been branded and I couldn’t be happier!

These days, I look at book covers in a whole new light. For the record, covers I’m loving at the moment include Dianne Blacklock’s The Secret Ingredient, Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story and Christine Stinson’s It Takes a Village. Interestingly, all photos.

Next time when you’re in a bookshop (and please go – they’re rapidly becoming an endangered species) pick up a cover that doesn’t necessarily appeal to you. You might be pleasantly surprised.

This post first appeared in http://bookdout.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/review-stella-makes-good-by-lisa-heidke/.

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