The Importance of a Good Cover

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by JandenHale, Feb 23, 2012.

  1.  
    JandenHale

    JandenHale Litus of the Red Helm

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    With the availability of Smashwords, Lulu, Createspace, et al, I feel it's important to stress a few things in regards to presentation. Because it actually pains me to scroll through the catalogue of self-published books and see that 99% of them don't give a damn at all about what the cover looks like. It seems as though people just don't think it matters, that it's not important. That whole "don't judge a book by its cover thing."

    But that's kind of a stupid thing to hope for.

    You're not trying to teach people a lesson in being non-judgemental. You're trying to get people to read/buy your book. As such, you can't rely on the benevolence or reason of the people browsing through the catalog of books.

    The first reason is there are SO MANY BOOKS TO WADE THROUGH. Everyone knows none of these books have been vetted by a traditional publishing house. Everyone knows we do everything ourselves. So what does a potential reader do? Does he/she painstakingly read the description of every book in the catalogue?

    Probably not. They most likely browse through the specific category/subcategory they want and toggle through the covers and the titles until they find something that seems interesting. They may not WANT to have to do it that way, but we leave them no choice. It's no secret that a lot of self-published books are poorly written, full of errors, bad grammar, poorly formatted, not edited, and/or have absolutely hideous covers. So how is a fella/gal supposed to quickly vet the book to weed out all the chaff?

    Presentation. That's the first thing. The first thing they see is the cover. Or the title and immediately after the cover. The thing to remember is that they aren't judging the book's contents on the cover, per se. But when you see a half-assed cover, most people just assume that the rest is the same. However, if you see a professional-looking cover in the midst of a pile of really bad ones, it speaks volumes about the attention to detail and the care of the author. It makes you want to find out more. Subconsciously you associate it with quality, so your brain assumes it's more than likely a good book. I don't make the rules.

    So do yourself a favor and find someone to design you a nice cover. If you don't have an artist, find one. Browse pics on DeviantArt and find someone whose art you like. Contact them. I've found artists that do some spectacular work for anywhere from $20 a piece up to $100, which is what I paid to have the cover for my latest story designed. It doesn't have to be expensive. It just has to look like you care.

    I'm curious to know what you guys think on this, though. There are always exception to the rule, but it hurts me to see all those awful covers, both as an artist and as a self-published writer.
  2.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I agree whole-heartedly. However, even though you mention DeviantArt, I don't think this is really a Writing Resources thread, more just plain Publishing, so I'll move it over there.
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    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    I definitely agree. Not judging the book by its cover is a myth. I draw the parallel with getting a job.

    When you go for a job interview it is important to look your best, because the first impression the employer has of you, the very first moment they see you walk through that door, is the most important part of the interview. They will judge you based on your presentation.

    Books are the same. The cover is the first impression, its your chance to catch the customer's attention, to make them interested in buying your book. If you blow that first impression by slapping a poorly designed cover on your book, you are throwing away potential chances of making a sale.

    Everyone judges a book by its cover.
  4.  
    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    I think you are right, but I also think that too many people starting out in business (be that writing or anything else), have some odd views about marketing. Your point about a good cover is to make the book stand out. Quite right. Yet you also talk about Smashwords et al - forums (fora?) which will ensure that your book does anything but stand out - it will be one of an ever growing corpus of cobblers. It's like spending money on a really eye-catching newspaper banner advert for a service which is overwhelmingly sold on the basis of reputation or recommendation. It's not targeted or clever marketing.

    Smashwords - and services like it - are easy and cheap. They are therefore a highly attractive option for writers who want exposure yet are unable for whatever reason (financial, lack of skills etc) to market themselves. My view is that these sites will end up offering little more than a digital vanity publishing service. There is the theoretical possibility of any one author doing a Hocking, but it's vanishingly small and getting smaller every time another bad book turns up on the site.

    These sites are effectively passive. A good cover is indeed an example of active marketing, but only a small one. You need to create a buzz, which for most folk involves actually writing a good book. A no-brainer, you might think, but a quick trawl of self published work will show otherwise. My guess is that a whole generation of writers have been brought up to think that all one needs is self belief and one is capable of anything. I see an increasing number of aspiring writers (not in here, thankfully), who assume that a rejection means there is a problem with the agent, not with the book. After all, a book is art and no-one is entitled to argue that there may be an objective standard by which art can be measured. Saying "pah! Another agent who isn't suitable to work with me" might tick a lot of the Mindless Positivism boxes, but it ignores the elephant in the room - or "the room, in which was stood an Elliphant", as most of these "writers" would express it. I blame relativism.

    I realise I have ranted on about self publishing a fair bit in the last few days. I should perhaps make it clear that I am not against self publishing per se. For some folk, it is clearly the right thing to do. What I am against is the publication of dross. Unfortunately, about 98% of self published work seems to fall into this category.

    Regards,

    Peter
  5.  
    JandenHale

    JandenHale Litus of the Red Helm

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    Indeed, Peter, everything you said rings true. Ideally I would suggest doing everything the way it's been done before, but if you did have to use some other option, well, this is where I started my own rant. I could have mentioned a few handfuls of things to make a book not suck, I just wanted to start with a good cover. And I do think people assume that as soon as their book goes up on Smashwords, Amazon, BN, etc, that it will magically just proliferate itself across the internet. There's enough stuff we could mention on this whole subject to fill a few books. I guess maybe I focused only on the cover is because, yeah, it's the first thing I notice, so I wanted to help other people out. I just hate to see someone decide to do their book self-published, spend a year or more on the book actually trying to make it good, then screw the pooch on the cover and inhibit their chances of people finding the beauty inside.

    Also, Judge, thanks for placing this thread where it belongs.
  6.  
    thaddeus6th

    thaddeus6th Active Member

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    I agree with this. Took me a while to find artists I felt were both good enough and did the sort of thing I was after.

    Now I'm waiting for a response. Ho hum.
  7.  
    Mouse

    Mouse roar

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    Sometimes you can tell when stuff's self-published just by looking at how crappy the covers are.

    I also had mine done on DA. :)
  8.  
    David Evil Overlord

    David Evil Overlord Censored Member

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    Just on a marketing note -- I read somewhere recently (damned if I can remember where) that the sales of Raymond Feist's Magician series went up when the fantasy cover art was replaced with just a symbol or two (eg the cover "art" was nothing more than a black crown on a gold background). The theory put forward to account for this was that a lot of people were too embarrassed to read a fantasy novel on the train, if the cover showed their fellow commuters that they were reading about elves, dwarves, goblins, etc. in graphic cover-art detail.

    I know some "fantasy", particularly paranormal romance and old pulp fantasy novels, can have cover art that should not be allowed out in public where small and impressionable children might see it. But, seriously, should adult sci-fi and fantasy fans need to hide their reading behind the marketing equivalent of a brown paper bag?
  9.  
    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    And also because the new covers for Raymond E. Feist's books just look amazing, they are so much better designs than the old covers. Just shows that sometimes simple is much more effective than flashy.

    If I was a customer who had never read Magician before and two copies were sitting on the shelf side by side, one with the old cover, the other one with the new cover. I'd pick up the new cover version, without a doubt. So much more eye catching.

    But getting back to the question. No I don't think we should be worried about hiding our reading interests, I'm not, but it seems the outward world associates Sci-fi and fantasy with "geek".
  10.  
    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    Cover Design is Key

    An article, posted on The Publetariat blog in regards to covers. Good read. I believe it was written by Ty Johnston? Kinda hard to tell, but I think so.

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    Dozmonic

    Dozmonic Member

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    Covers make a massive difference. I wonder if this is related to food, where chefs place so much emphasis on presentation that it borders on OCD and ridiculous. Whereas I'm happy with one pot cooking (yes, I'll have a fudge cake beef casserole please!).

    As an example of how much better books can be:
    [​IMG]
    vs
    [​IMG]

    There's nothing really wrong with the first one, but for a book about enlightenment, the second is far more captivating. For anybody who has no idea what the book is about, it's hard to be drawn to the first cover, even with the slightly curious text-as-pyramid design.

    The current incarnation of Harry Potter covers are pretty bad when you compare them to the modern competition such as Percy Jackson...

    [​IMG]
    vs
    [​IMG]

    That's intentionally not putting the film tie in cover of Percy Jackson on, because that's a step ahead again :)
  12.  
    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    I'm sure the older covers for Harry Potter looked better than that, didn't they? What were they thinking...

    Edit: They did a good job on these ones though...

    [​IMG]
  13.  
    Dozmonic

    Dozmonic Member

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    They looked a lot better, yeah. If you already have the exposure and reputation, you can do what you want :)
  14.  
    Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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    Weren't the Harry Potter books done with two sets of covers at one point? With the plainer, won't embarrass adults reading this in public version coming in later.

    And by the way, if you are going lush and paying for paperback printing, make sure the spine is interesting in its own right.
  15.  
    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    Yes! Quite often in bookstores the spine is what the customer will see first, which means a good title is just as important as a good cover.

    Yeah, that pic I showed above was the adult market version of the harry potter books, released at the same time as these:

    [​IMG]

    Both versions are good though, so not sure where the idea for the one Dozmonic linked came from...
  16.  
    Dozmonic

    Dozmonic Member

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    The one I linked is what we currently sell in Smiths for the kiddy versions. The whole lot of them are like that, distinguished primarily by colour. The spine of each is the colour of the text on the front, dark green for Deathly Hallows. It's a shame that they don't do the books justice really
  17.  
    JandenHale

    JandenHale Litus of the Red Helm

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    I'm kind of glad I brought this up, because a few folks have pointed out that simpler covers that aren't quite as in-your-face sci-fi or fantasy might do better with the closet fans than a more elaborate one. Something I had never thought about. I'm probably going to be designing more covers along those lines in the future.
  18.  
    thaddeus6th

    thaddeus6th Active Member

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    It may matter less as e-Books become ever more popular. However, I do agree that it's a good topic for discussion.
  19.  
    spider from mars

    spider from mars New Member

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    As a buyer for a bookchain I really can't stress enough how important the covers are. And not just for self-published guys (although really, it won't even get through the door without a decent cover) - if one of the big fellas presents a book and we don't like the cover, we ask them to change it. Sometimes that's the difference between us ordering 500 or us ordering 2000. If you're self-published and the cover isn't good, to be brutally honest we're not going to spend the time coaching you through it - it just won't go anywhere.

    And it's not just about a cover being good. I've loved covers, but upon reading the book (or heck, even just reading the blurb) have realised that it doesn't tell you anything worthwhile about the book. The cover needs to appeal to the person who's going to enjoy the book the most; it needs to tell the customer what they're getting. So no point putting a mass market thriller cover on some literary fiction, and if you've got some good solid sword and sorcery fantasy, then for god's sake get a sword or a shield on the cover somewhere.

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