Judging a book by its cover – do you?

quote2When readers tell me it’s all about ‘the cover and the blurb’ when buying a book, a little piece of me dies. (Not literally, but kind of.)

Within seconds of a glancing at a cover, readers, consciously or unknowingly, decide whether they’ll pick up the book and read the back cover blurb or keep on walking (scrolling through Amazon, iTunes etc) until they stop at a book that’s shouting ‘look at me’ the loudest and are compelled to pick it up.

Most people do that.

I used to, too. Probably still do on occasion. But…

What some people don’t realise is, that as an author, (we’re talking traditional print publishers, here) you have very little control over your book’s cover – okay, most of the time, zero control – unless you’re James Patterson, Nora Roberts or God.
Except if you go down the self-publishing road, in which case the author has 100% control…YIPPEE! More about this later.
But back to print publishers and book covers.
When I first got a publishing contract with Allen & Unwin, way back when, for Lucy Springer Gets Even, I assumed I’d have major input into her cover. Naturally, Lucy would have a kick-ass cover, sell a trillion copies and I’d feel very pleased with myself.

A good cover tells you what the book is about without giving away the whole story. An exceptional cover compels you to pick the book up and begin reading…immediately.
I didn’t have a problem with the pink background but who the hell was the woman in the ill-fitting purple velour jacket?

Lucy Springer Gets Even fiction book
This wasn’t my Lucy. 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 are 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. (It WAS 2009.)
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.
When Lucy appeared in bookshops, I’ll admit you couldn’t miss her – the pink was rather eye-catching, and besides, I was finally published. Yay!
With my next book, What Kate did Next, I was anxious when A & U told me they’d found the perfect designer and she’d created ‘the perfect cover for Kate.’ AND, 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.
With my third, Claudia’s Big Break, A & U nailed it. 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! The cover and the back cover blurb didn’t lie. They presented Claudia’s story perfectly.

Claudia's Big Break fiction book Santorini  holiday
Interestingly, that same year, 2011, Lucy Springer Gets Even won herself a new title, Lucy Bounces Back and a new cover. I loved it, but still the Lucy on the cover didn’t have red hair. Que será será.

Lucy Bounces Back fiction  book
These days, I look at book covers in a whole new light. For the record, covers I’m loving at the moment include Dr Seuss, The Cat In The Hat; Rainbow Rowell, Elenor & Park; H.G Wells, The Invisible Man; Max Lucado, Fearless; Pat Flynn, Let Go; and of course, Claudia’s Big Break!
This all brings me back to self-publishing, which is what I’m about to venture into.

To rise to the top of the To Be Read pile, I need to find a kick-ass cover, one that screams ‘I NEED TO BE READ RIGHT NOW!’ So for the foreseeable future – a week at least – I will be scouring the Globe for potential cover designs. It’s a pity I am a Libran and can’t make up my mind whether to write with a blue pen or a black one, let alone handle the daunting task of choosing a book cover and title.
I realise it’s all subjective but I’ll do the best I can to make sure my sixth book gets a look in by potential readers.
So, over to you. What are your favourite covers? How about turn offs?

16 thoughts on “Judging a book by its cover – do you?

  1. I think I do most of the time. But it’s the blurb that’s most important. I can forgive a cover it the book sells itself through an amazing blurb. But to have an amazing blurb, you have to of course have an amazing story. But blurbs are hard!
    I’ve been trying summarize my story at the moment and to get it all in a short amount of words is really tough. You want to entice the reader to read more but also give them enough info without it being too much. Does my head in. Do authors usually write the blurbs or is that part of the marketing department of the publisher?

  2. Hi Jodi,
    Back cover blurbs are hard! I can only speak from my experience re writing blurbs. It’s a collaboration between publisher and author. For example, I think the back cover blurb nailed it for Claudia’s Big Break. However, Stella Makes Good (4th novel) is about the repercussions of what happens when two friends accidentally stumble upon a swingers party and see someone who shouldn’t be there. The action is based over one week and it’s all to do with secrets and lies. What happens if they tell? What happens if they don’t. The sex party happens on Page 16 but the back cover blurb makes NO mention of the party or what the novel is about. Don’t get me started!

  3. Mmmm. Interesting. I just read the back covers of both of those books (I have them behind me on my bookshelf #justsayin’) and agree. Claudia’s Big Break does nail it, but yes, Stella Makes Good doesn’t do justice to the story and events. But having said that, it obviously did enough for me to buy it! lol

  4. I really don’t like photos of real people being used as cover illustrations. I fight against it the whole time I’m reading the book, trying to banish that image from my head , because it’s usually at odds with how I picture that character.

    • Hi Gael, I agree with you. Generally speaking, the Rural Romance covers are all either female or male head shot photos. Those books sell by the truck load so readers who love that genre obviously like them. x

  5. Covers aren’t usually the grabbing point for me, but rather the title and the blurb. The title grabs me first and then the blurb either seals the deal or not.

  6. To be honest, I don’t like book covers with photos of people on it. I like to develop my own images of what the characters look like. A really good blurb on the back, or a descriptive bi-line under the title on the front cover is what pulls me in. Oh, and obviously the title of the book. I like a pretty/visual cover, something you would be proud to have sitting on your coffee table. Good luck with making your decision. If it feels right to you I am sure it will be.

  7. Guilty as charged! I always judge a book by its cover. Like the other comments above I’m not a fan of actual people on covers – I’d prefer to use my imagination whilst I’m reading the book to conjure up my own visions of the characters. Many of my favourite covers are simple with nothing but a great font. Back cover blurbs and word of mouth are what sells a book for me. I learnt something new today – I thought that authors would have more say in their cover artwork! Best of luck self-publishing and finding that perfect cover art.

    • Hi Tash, That’s exactly what I’m struggling with – ‘perfect cover art’ because if it’s crap – it’s my crap! I can’t pin the blame on anyone else. @#$%! And agree that font is very important. #NoPressure!

  8. One of my all time favourite book covers would have to be The House on Willow Street by Cathy Kelly. It’s quaint and charming with beautiful pastel colours and I wonder what it would be like to live there. That is one of the things I miss when I buy e-books. There is nothing better than walking into a book store, having a cover grab your eye, flipping it over and in a second knowing whether this is a book for me. Sorry, I know that’s probably not what you want to hear but a good cover inspires me to read the book. I don’t like photos of real people on the book as I like to create the image of the characters in my own mind’s eye.

    • Hi Shell, I love your comment and I agree. It’s hard not to pick up a book when you walk into a shop and the cover grabs your attention…there are so many books on shelf competing for your eye and you can’t pick up every one! and, yes when it comes to e-books, that’s a whole other story. You do need your book to stand out to get attention, especially if you are a first time or unknown author.

  9. I never personally choose a book based on its cover. That would make me feel manipulated by advertising. But sometimes, a cover will make me consider a book I would have ignored otherwise. So it still influences me. Ultimately, I make my decisions based on the first few pages (read in the shop!), recommendations or reviews.

    But I am happy to have my publisher choose my book covers. The one I loved was panned by librarians and kids and the ones I didn’t like were loved by everyone. So I’m not a very good judge of covers..

    • Hi Sandy, I know what you mean. Covers are so subjective…a publisher may love a cover but then have it rejected by the sales and marketing team because ‘Big W didn’t go for it’. As an author, you have to trust what your publisher is doing even when you have doubts. And yes, I try never to judge a book by its cover…however, if it’s a particularly striking cover, it’s hard not to pick it up and want to find out more about the story.

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