Friday, February 24, 2012

Judging a Book By Its Cover

by guest blogger Mary Sutton

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard this phrase before. Usually we hear it from our mothers and it’s usually a reference to not judging other people by skin color, race, or other external features. And usually that’s good advice.

But I have a dirty secret: I judge books by their covers all the time.

Oh, not in reference to people. In reference to, you know, books.

Here’s a recent example. I follow Linda Rodriguez on Twitter. For a couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing tweets about her upcoming book and how it won an award from Malice Domestic. I thought that was cool, but I didn’t feel compelled to check out the book.

Then Linda tweeted an image of her cover. That I looked at – and I liked it. So I Googled the title and found the synopsis. Murder in a college town? Sign me up. I preordered the book.

Let me repeat that chain: cover à jacket text àpurchase.

I distinctly remember wandering the library or book store growing up, looking for interesting books by cover art. I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, when I posted about this on social media, a friend of mine said, “I used to do that all the time, roam around the aisles of books and picked up what grabbed me, if I liked what the back said I got it. But I wouldn't pick it up unless it had an intriguing cover.”

When I mentioned this topic to my SinC sibs, one of them immediately mentioned a new app –Flipbook. It allows her to see images related to posts on Facebook or Twitter, like a magazine. If the picture looks interesting, she can read more.

All three examples have something in common: interest starts with cover art, with a picture. Yes, the story has to be good, the old “Content is King” concept, but we humans seem to be hardwired for images. We authors know this. Otherwise, why would we obsess about the cover art for our books? Why would we get so excited about it?

Yes, a beautiful cover does not guarantee a great book. I am sure there are copies of Moby Dick with gorgeous cover art; that doesn’t make the story any better. But a great cover does something incredibly important in the process of selling books: it makes the reader pick it up and (hopefully) read the jacket blurb. This is no less important in the e-book world, which is why authors such as Joe Konrath are so insistent on self-pub authors not skimping on the cover art.

A lot of readers will never hear about the Edgars, the Agathas, or Malice Domestic. But they will see your cover. That image might be your only chance to hook them. Why not make it great?

So what about you? Do you judge a book by its cover?


C.L. Phillips said...

Me too! Covers draw me in. I'll even overlook bad blurbs for great art. Of course, it matters less post-purchase on the kindle now for me, but the cover still draws me, even when considering a kindle e-book purchase.

Great post, Mary! WhooHOOO. I've got something to think about now!

Jenna said...

Hell, yeah. And I've just managed to reduce another cover artist to tears and threats to quit, too. Other than extensive distribution, a good cover is the most important thing. A fantastic manuscript runs a distant third. Plenty of books have become bestsellers on distribution and cover alone.

Annette said...


I do wonder about personal preference. Tastes vary. A cover that attracts one person might not interest another. Art is subjective, after all.

Mary Sutton said...

C.L: Glad it gave you something to think about.

Jenna: I agree. A really great book will have a great story, but the cover is your first impression.

Annette: I think personal preference is huge because you're right - what is appealing to one person might repulse another. But even then, an initial reaction has been drawn based on that art.

Thanks for having me back!

Patg said...

Artists are like writers in their creative world that can't please everyone all the time.
However, if I browse, I do look for a good cover because, then, I haven't entered a store with a book in mind.
For free or 99 cent eBooks, it has to be a cover that grabs you because who has the time to read 1000 blurbs.
Jenna, I'm glad to hear you have input about covers, some don't. In my case, I was told I'd get suggestions and I told them I knew exactly what I wanted. The first artist quit and handed me over to another one.

Mary Sutton said...

Pat - good points. I liken browsing for a 99-cent ebook to looking for paperback at the airport. I've got a limited amount of time - grab my attention.

NL Gassert said...

Nope. Covers are lost on me. I buy after reading a review on a site I trust or hearing about the book on a social network. Often there’s no cover to accompany the snippet I read. Before the bookstores in the area went out of business, I would stand in the aisle with my head cocked at an unnatural angle, reading all the titles until one caught my interest. Then the synopsis. Then I thumb through the book, reading pages here and there (never the first chapter). Covers seem to have lost even more of their importance with e-book purchases. I don’t even see the covers on my Kindle; they are so tiny (and the library is sorted by name not cover). So, no, I was never a cover girl, but I understand I’m in the minority.