Sunday, 24 August 2014

Do YOU Judge A Book By Its Cover? - Liz Kessler

Next year is a big year for me, in terms of my books. At least I hope that’s what it will be, and not the end of my career.

As some people know, my first ever YA book is due out in the spring. It will be my fifteenth book to be published, but was in fact the first I ever wrote. And it’s very different from all the rest. But I’ll talk more about that another time.

For now, what I want to talk about is the cover.

As anyone in the publishing world will know, things usually have to be done a LONG way in advance of publication – unless you are an overnight celebrity whose publisher needs to catch the moment before you return to your relative obscurity and appearance on ‘Celebrity’ reality TV shows. Or unless, of course, you are self-published. (Quick aside: I was amazed last month when I shared a train journey with a friend who was putting the final touches to her picture book layouts, and whose book launch – for the same book – I attended a couple of weeks later! Incredible!)

Anyway, I’m not a celebrity and I’m not self publishing this book – which means that we need a cover kind of now-ish. We have nearly got one, and both my publisher and I are working hard to make sure that we get this absolutely right. With a book that’s taking such a leap away from everything else I’ve ever done, making sure we come up with the perfect cover, and achieve the impact we want, is quite a challenge.

In the course of all of this, I’ve found myself wondering, exactly how important is the cover? Is it crucial? Can it make or break a book’s fortunes? Or in this day of social media and electronic everything, are there many, many things that are way more relevant to a book’s fortunes?

With my monthly ABBA post coming up in the middle of all these thoughts, it seemed an ideal place to ask these questions. So, that’s what I’m doing, and I would love to know your thoughts. If you have a minute to answer this question, I’d be extremely grateful.

So…how important is a book cover to YOU? And in the style of a good old Jackie magazine quiz, please pick the answer that is closest to how you feel about it. (And feel free to add comments too!)

a. Massively important. An appealing cover is one of the first things you look for when buying new books and you have often bought a book purely (or mainly) because of its cover. If you didn’t like the cover, it could put you off buying the book.

b. Important but not crucial. If you’re in a bookshop, you have sometimes picked up books that have caught your eye because of their cover, but it’s not the most important factor in your book-buying decisions.

c. A nice cover helps but it’s like an added extra rather than a reason to buy a book – and if you didn’t like the cover, it certainly wouldn’t put you off buying the book.

d. In this electronic age, you don’t browse in bookshops all that much. You either read mostly on an e-reader or choose your books from online recommendations and are rarely even aware of what the book’s cover looks like. It has no influence either way on which books you buy.

Thanks so much! I look forward to hearing people’s thoughts!

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adele said...

I'd say important but not crucial! I'd also add that sometimes what I think is a brilliant cover turns out NOT to be! Eg the cover for the hardback of my novel Facing the Light which was mainly white and matte turned out to be a fingerprint magnet! And I've had dozens of gorgeous covers in my life without troubling the best seller lists! Other things are also at work!

Sue Bursztynski said...

It's not that a fabulous cover will take you to the bestseller lists, but an awful one will definitely lose sales. Juliet Marillier's Australian cover for her YA novel Shadowfell looked like that of an old-style Puffin children's book. It didn't sell as well as it deserved to. If she hadn't been such a big nae writer, they might not have published the rest of the trilogy, I'm thinking. But the other two covers were much better. And her fans read them anyway.

On the other hand, my children's book on crime has a wonderful cover designed by a top artist and never earned back its advance, for reasons unconnected with the quality of either book or cover.

I do know that a good cover will at least make a book more likely to be picked up. Your publisher surely knows that too.

Penny Dolan said...

Interesting question, Liz.

I am attracted & influenced by covers quite a lot - on kindle, I usually Go To the cover of a bought or sample book to begin, even though the text is the first thing viewable - but the cover is only one aspect of my choice. I also like covers that tell me that this book is like another by that author.

Adele mentioned her white cover problem. I had a lovely cover with a dark moonlit interior scene - beautiful in the hand but then a bookseller broke my delight with a sigh and comment that it was a pity. Why? Such covers don't stand out well enough on the shelves to attract passing browsers.

Jenny Alexander said...

It's c for me Liz. The cover wouldn't influence my decision to buy, but a lovely cover does enhance my enjoyment of the reading experience. What I've learnt from my own recent experience is that it's not so much a question of a good cover as the right cover - the one that says subliminally what the book's promise is, and will appeal to the target reader.

Heather Dyer said...

For me, firstly reviews. But if I'm browsing, it's really the title. Especially since most books are only seen spine out on the shelf. (Note: Check that your title is legible on the spine from a good distance!)

Susan Price said...

I agree with Heather that titles are very important - but, for me, probably not as important as the cover. Cover first - and then if the title's good and apposite, extra brownie points.

With your score system, Liz, I'm sort of between (a) and (b). A and a half! A beautiful, striking cover will certainly make me look twice on Amazon, and pick a book up in a shop. - But if I don't like what I read with a bit of browsing, I won't buy it. (But my brother, the artist, has certainly bought books simply because he admired the cover so much.)

A really bad cover will put me right off, though. I once had a second-hand copy of Gawain and the Green Knight, which I wanted to read, but couldn't bear to open it because I HATED the ugly cover. (I'd bought it despite the cover because it was only about 20p, but I still couldn't get past that hideous cover.) - And, as others had said, it was partly because the cover didn't reflect anything about a medieval poem. It seemed to be a crude collage of a knight (I think, it was hard to tell) made from dish-cloths. Horrible.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Actually, Susan, I once bought my first book by Mack Reynolds despite a dreadful cover because it was only 20c and science fiction. And a quick browse inside that told me it was better quality than the cover suggested. But for that price I was willing to take a chance and was very glad I had. I bet you were glad you read Gawain despite the cover! :-)

Nick Green said...

My pseudonymous legal thriller, with a courtroom scene on the front, absolutely tanked... Proving that a book should never be covered by its judge.

Stroppy Author said...

b, probably, for things I wasn't previously aware of. If a book has one of those obviously book-club oriented covers, I won't look at it. If it has a paranormal romance cover, I won't look at it. If it has an unusual or intriguing cover, and the title appeals, I'll pick it up and read the blurb. So the cover won't sell it alone, but the cover can certainly lose a sale.

Stroppy Author said...

b, probably, for things I wasn't previously aware of. If a book has one of those obviously book-club oriented covers, I won't look at it. If it has a paranormal romance cover, I won't look at it. If it has an unusual or intriguing cover, and the title appeals, I'll pick it up and read the blurb. So the cover won't sell it alone, but the cover can certainly lose a sale.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Nick, ouch! That was a dreadful pun! :-)

Richard said...

It has to be a terrible cover to persuade me not to look further, but it can be done.

What turns me off is when the blurb is nothing but a list of reviews, worse still if they are reviews for the previous book. I don't care how many people like this story and I certainly don't care how many liked a totally different one. Tell me about this story. Even if it is non-fiction, tell me what makes it worth reading.

Nicola Morgan said...

A) Massively important. I am unlikely even to pick the book up if it has the wrong cover. By which I mean a cover that suggests to me that it's not the sort of book I like reading.

C.J.Busby said...

Shallow though it seems, I think I agree that it's somewhere between a and b for a book or author I've no reason to otherwise like or have recommended. If I know I love the author, I'll swallow the awful cover, but if I don't know the author, I'd avoid the book.
A lovely cover, on the other hand, will draw me in enough to read the first few pages and flick throughout the rest of the book/read the blurb,and if the rest lives up to the cover, I'm more likely to buy it. I bought Frances Thomas's ebook, Helen's Daughter, recently, and I'd say the cover was at least 50% of the reason why I bought it. (The other 50% was Kath Langrish's recommendation and the blurb).