Thursday, February 3, 2011

Should you judge a book by its cover?

I recently made an acquaintance through an online critique site. After the initial hello's were over, she invited me to check out her book at her website. When I clicked on the link, I realized that I'd been there before, because I recognized the cover of her book.

Now, to be honest, I didn't like the cover. In addition to this, I could tell several things right away from it.

• The author had self-published.
• The artist who had created her cover was not a professional artist.

The unfortunate result? I had no desire to open the book and find out what was inside, because I'm a visual person and the cover was an immediate turn-off.

I would suppose that this is one of the hazards of self-publishing. Almost no writers who self-publish are also professional artists. Also, if they are self-publishing, it's not likely they know any professional artists or illustrators who work in the publishing industry who can offer either help or advice when it comes to a cover. Because of this, self-publishing writers have to either create a cover themselves, get one from the vanity press/independent publisher they're working with (I don't like some of their covers, either), or rely on artistic friends who are willing to help out.

The truth is, even though the book might have been a great one, I wasn't likely to go past the cover in order to find out. Since the cover looked unprofessional, something in me wondered if the writing in the book was going to turn out that way too.

Today I read that 70 percent of books published don't earn back their advance. Wow. That's a lot of money that publishers, even with their marketers, distributors, editors, proofreaders, and professional designers, aren't getting much of a return on. Yikes. If you're self-publishing, you're competing against people like this. Can you afford to come up with a cover that doesn't give a potential purchaser any reason to pick up your book?

How about you? Do you judge a book by its cover?


  1. Yes. I purchased a book written by someone in my writers' group. It was a historical novel, but the woman on the cover had a modern hair style. It bugs me to NO end! I'm into details. The book cover should be like a beckoning finger you can't resist.

  2. So true, MommaMindy. Hopefully the book itself was good anyway.

    We have several self-published books by my husband's uncle. They don't have the polish of traditionally published memoirs, but the stories are so unique that I'm glad he published them anyway. However, the covers (and in some cases the interior illustrations) don't do the content of the books justice.

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  4. I had to rewrite my comment because it was guilty of bad grammar!

    Here is my edited comment:
    Laura said...

    A poor title is as bad as unprofessional cover art. I just finished reading a good book that I didn't initially want to read because it had a really lame title. Details ARE important. Packaging IS important. This is where publishers and agents are so valuable.

  5. Good point, Laura. I've spent the week researching publishers for a finished picture book manuscript. One publisher was a smaller publisher, which is not a bad thing when you take into account that a new author can get more help in marketing from a smaller company, since they have a bigger vested interest in each author. However, the book titles were wordy, and it made me wonder if they knew what they were doing.

  6. Good post, thoughts! Though now I remember a good thought a friend of mine (who studied book-publishing and marketing) told me a few years ago - The worst illustrations are made by professional artists... I remember how disapointed I was by the illustartions of a professional artist of The Hobbit (the Bulgarian translation I mean). they had almost nothing in common with the characters of the book! The hobbits had such long nails on their toes that they could hardly walk, their faces expressed nothing else but greed and hatred, the warriors among dwarfs, men and elves looked more like poets or scientists who couldn't hold a sword straight, etc... I remember also other books which covers were made by professional artists and had almost nothing in common with the characters ;), like The Four Lords Of Diamond: Lilith: A Snake In The Grass, the main character had no beard and moustache and not a single hair on his chest... though in the book he looked quite differently...
    Well, I don't want to say that all the covers should be made by their authors and amateur artists. I also like good, professional covers when they are made really professionally. Being a self-published author for the present, I myself prefer to make the illustrations and covers for some of my books. I guess otherwise my main characters Mountaineers could be clean shaven, weak, or look greedy, etc? Or my fiery men would look more like fires not like fires with the shape of men? Or my korks will have eyes and awful teeth, when they are actually "blind" and orientated with the sounds from their mouth and eat only vegetables and leaves?
    Though the cover is the first impression, I think more important is the content one could find in a book? Actually, there should be balance between content and good illustratiuons, cover?

  7. Good point, Allanbard. There are some pretty bad professional covers out there, too, but I think they are in the minority at this time. The number will grow as we see more self-publishing, small house publishing, and ebook publishging. The trend is definitely going that way.

    When it really comes down to it, most of book sales happen because of word of mouth advertising, and that will always be based on content. If the writing is quality and word can get out about it, the sales will follow accordingly. But a good cover doesn't hurt. It helps the writer get his foot in the door!