Got You Covered

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much a visual being. Most of the information that I collect about the world around me I gather using my sense of sight. Yes, I have a nose, ears, a tongue and sensitive little finger tips and they all function quite well, but it’s my eyes that are working overtime.

So what do I see? There is of course a fundamental visual aspect to the mass media surrounding us. Your first impressions are often visual. Take music, for example. Back in the days of vinyl record albums, the album cover was generally an integral part of the package. Even though you were purchasing music, sounds produced for your ears, an interesting cover could easily seduce you into buying music that you’d never even heard before. The first King Crimson album was iconic and sold a lot of albums on face-value alone. In theory, the album cover would ideally reflect the musical contents: WYSIOWYGI – What You See Outside Is What You Get Inside. With Zappa you were getting your face ripped open by weasels.

CD’s are of course smaller in format and the visual aspect is proportionally downgraded. With mp3’s nabbed off the www you are often left with only the music itself. Sad affair.

So what about books? This is a book blog, right? Yes, there’s the worn-out axiom; ‘you can’t trust a book by its cover’, but that’s pretty much what we do in a book store if we’re just perusing the shelves. And the publishers know it. Don’t they ever. Take a look at almost any chick-lit novel and you will more likely than not see a brand-type style of book cover. Whimsical fonts and don’t forget the shoes and shopping bags …

Science fiction looks totally like … science fiction; spacecraft, aliens and all manner of futuristic crap.

And least we forget, what romance novel would be complete without the half-naked brute clutching the swooning heroine, muscles rippling out of his torn shirt.

So who decides this stuff?  After landing a deal with a publishing house, most authors don’t really have much of a say concerning cover design of their own books. After all, you’re a writer, not an illustrator. Leave the cover to the pros. Unless you are J.K. Rowling, of course. She probably gets anything she wants, including mint juleps for brunchfast on Wednesdays.  I’ll be sending her a copy of TBA, btw, as a public service. Anyhow, nowadays, in the brave new digital world of micro-presses, self-publishing, Authonomy and CreateSpace, not only does the author have a say in the matter, the author, or his sister, is often the cover artist and designer as well. What’s more, with the advent of online book shopping the tiny thumbnail covers are in a completely different format than a large hardcover book; a design that works for a handheld paperback could easily fail in thumbnail format. What to do, what to do.

Now I’m not actually an artist, no matter how much I might portray myself as one. I know my way around a box of watercolors and which end of the pen has the ink, but had I been a real artist I would not be staring into dual 24-inch flat screens five days a week, cleaning up messy university databases. Of course I’m not really an author either, but at least I’m in good company there. It has recently been estimated that there are now more wannabe authors on the planet Earth than there are stars in the Milky Way. Way more.

Anyhow, I can’t resist the challenge of designing my own book cover. And it’s not an easy task, I tell you what (see above). Oddly enough, I didn’t draw the illustration that I am planning on featuring on the upcoming TBA cover. I wanted a childish, naïve kind of picture, but with the crushing acknowledgment that I’m an old fart came the realization that it would be a lot easier to go directly to the source – a naïve child. I like easy, so I tricked my son into drawing me a hognose Ouroborous for my birthday. I believe that’s referred to as plausible deniability. I catch any flack for the illo, I blame the kid. Btw, he’s innocent – I put the Mary Jane leaf in the middle. Prior to my current effort(s) I was using a self-doctored version of M. C. Escher’s Slangen that will forever be dear to my heart, but probably wouldn’t have lasted a day out on Amazon (Copyright Scheiße).

So … I think it’s safe to maintain that the cover can be an important link between the potential reader and the written contents of the book. What I’m wondering is just how important is it for you. Have you ever bought a book because of its cover? Or been put off because the cover repelled you? What do you think makes a book cover successful? Are testimonials important to you? If Thomas Pynchon raves about it, am I guaranteed to like it too? (My answer: Uh, no).

Let’s talk covers.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Covers are VITAL. They connect with your audience. I had a graphic example of this on the Omnilit site, which caters mainly to female romance buyers. I have 2 SF romance books – “The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy” and more recently, “Morgan’s Choice”. MC became a best seller, while IAC, which is probably more of a romance than the other, languished. Why? MC has a dark, hunky MAN on the cover. IAC has not. I would bet my mother’s chittlins that’s what sold it to the girls. Mind you, both books are really SF with a romance arc but we decided it would be easier to sell the romance (which is a huge market) than the SF. There you go.

    Have I bought a book for the cover? No – but I’ll take a look at a book on that basis. And no, I don’t care if Stephen King says it’s a great book. I make my own decisions.

    Reply

  2. Spot on. Covers can be the kiss of death or the initial/final purchasing decision. We had a really really fab cover for a YA, everyone cheered ‘Great Job!” and it went … nowhere. So my graphics designer went hunting for a really cute, kinda dangerous looking dude, slapped him and a castle on the cover and tah-dah, sales are taking off.

    Me? I’ve been known to collect a staggering number of books at writers conferences based on the cover alone … research, you understand.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Noelle Pierce on 13/07/2011 at 14:38

    As a wannabe graphic designer, I agree wholeheartedly. I look at books because of their cover, and their back blurb only second, and it drives me batty when I can’t see a cover properly because of thumbnail size. It’s difficult to get a book cover right, too. Text over an image is hard to do (well, provided you want to READ the text), and you want the design to grab attention. People don’t realize that we can tell when they slapped something together.

    (And I wondered about the copyright issues with the Escher drawing–it’s one of my faves!)

    Reply

  4. Yes, I’d agree that I’ve never bought a book *because* of its cover… but I certainly pick ’em off the shelves based on that.

    Sometimes I like simple & familiar stuff – like John Irving’s covers, which are all harmonious with each other and, as such, give me a warm fuzzy feeling. I’d hate it if he presented a new book with a different style of cover.

    Other times I’m utterly intrigued by the cover of a book by an unknown (to me) writer and it’s that which causes me to reach the book from the shelf. Here I remember especially the cover for “Woman’s World” by Graham Rawle (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Womans-World-Graphic-Graham-Rawle/dp/1843543680/ref=tmm_pap_title_0) which is a graphic novel – something I’d never thought to try before – but which I bought on strength of its blurb… but only *after* being lured completely by its cover.

    I love the pictures you’re using on your book – but I hate that font!! Think it should GO!

    Also whilst I love your pictures I don’t like them on the stark white background and think a nicer shade… here I shall stop, for fear of sticking in my opinion where it is neither wanted nor needed! You ARE an artist, despite your oh-so-humble claims otherwise.

    Reply

  5. Posted by mandyeward on 14/07/2011 at 00:15

    Covers are important – they’re the window into the book. That’s why Noelle Pierce and I took so much trouble with The Tower & The Eye Covers – we really wanted to show that the book were linked as well as showing the story in some way.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Son of Incogneato on 14/07/2011 at 01:37

    Greta – Did your Dutch mom make you chittlins? Learn something new every day. But indeed, your two recent novels would be a case in point. Know your audience! As for Stephen King’s top picks; I’ve been burned before, following the recommendations of my hero’s (yeah, Pynchon actually came out of his hole and wrote a book cover blurb once). However I will listen to my friends.

    Diane – Case number two; revised cover boosts sales. I’m thinking a cover doesn’t change the quality of a book. A duh. It’s just as good or bad no matter what’s on the front cover. But assuming we’re talking about quality writing here, the trick is to entice the prospective reader to pick up (or click on) the damn thing up and page through it to see if it’s to their liking. Um, about that research … why do you hide them under your bed?

    Noelle – ‘People don’t realize that we can tell when they slapped something together.’ Interesting point: as soon as I see a slapped together cover I think ‘self-published, in all probability a slapped together book: next, please!’ That might not be fair, but when inundated with titles who has time to sort through the dross?
    As for Escher – International Copyright laws protect all of the work of M.C. Escher: http://www.mcescher.com/Copyright/copyright.htm.

    Sandie – ‘… utterly intrigued by the cover of a book by an unknown (to me) writer and it’s that which causes me to reach the book from the shelf. ‘ Indeed. In a flooded market you need to get them to reach out and take a gander of YOUR book. After that you are on your own.
    Please, nothing better than honest criticism: your surly Brit opinions are both wanted and needed! By the way, I’ve uploaded several different covers (see Beau Covers). The latest is anything but white …

    Mandy – Are the books in a series? That raises a whole new set of questions. Does one have to slavishly follow the style and format in a series of books? I’d have to say that do anything else would be literary suicide. What about authors have a cover style? Something instantly recognizable, like a trademark?

    Reply

  7. I actually just posted about series covers on my blog today (every Wednesday I do a “judge a book by its cover” feature):http://noellepierce.com/blog/2011/07/matching-covers-for-series/

    As far as Mandy’s covers, this is what we came up with. Cohesive but different enough to indicate it’s a different book (with one overarching cover in case Pfoxmoor combines the novellas into one book): http://www.flickr.com/photos/noellepierceromance/sets/72157626963186007/

    Going to check out your book covers now! 😀

    Reply

  8. A former professor of mine had a novel published and explained (only half-joking) that the difference between a literary novel and a genre novel (in his case) was the location of embossing on the cover. Was it his name, or the heroine’s bosom…

    Reply

  9. Oh I LOVE the last one – the psychedelic imagery… also think that font great – like it’s been snipped from newspaper – but think the font should be WAY bigger.

    Surly Brit?? SURLY BRIT???

    😛

    Reply

    • Posted by Son of Incogneato on 14/07/2011 at 13:41

      I knew you’d like the surly Brit thing.

      Glad you like the psychedelia but I fear it’s too late to change the fonts without redoing the whole thing. : (

      – B

      Reply

  10. Posted by Sue on 24/08/2011 at 12:28

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. As you might have guessed, I agree with yours, too! In my lovely local bookshop this week, I picked up loads of books because the cover drew me in. The subjects were diverse, from the Battle of Britain to undiplomatic letters from diplomats. While none of them floated my boat, my interest was certainly piqued by the wrapping. I’d almost buy them just to stroke the cover! Conversely, a poor cover will put me right off. If the publisher didn’t have the confidence to employ a professional, why would I part with my limited cash?

    Reply

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