Getting Judged: Why a Good Book Cover Is Important

There exists the old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover. This is quite true, as the inside of a book can be excellent but the cover doesn’t do the story justice. Yet at the same time, having a good book cover is very important. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a big publishing company or self-published; a top notch cover can be surprisingly helpful.

Working at a bookstore, I see all sorts of covers. Some are amazing pieces of artwork whereas others, well, you kind of wonder who thought that was a good idea. And while we may continue to tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be judging books on their covers, there are several aspects to what a cover looks like that should be taken into account when it’s being made. Unfortunately, authors whose books are with publishers don’t have much say in what the cover ultimately looks like. But self-published folks are in total control, often finding and commissioning artists to craft a cover. In which case, you may want to take note.

1) Marketing. First and foremost is the simple fact that if your cover catches someone’s eye, they’re more likely to look at it. This happened to me with Beth Revis’s Across the Universe and Victor Milán’s The Dinosaur Lords. Each one drew me in and got me to read the book’s summary. From there I ended up reading the entire book. Think of a book’s cover as a marketing tool; if it looks good, people are going to notice it more. The more people notice it, the more they pick it up. And the more people you have picking up the book, the better your chances are at landing purchases. That doesn’t mean they’ll ultimately like what they read on the inside (this, too, has happened to me), but that happens to every author.

Think of a book’s cover like a movie trailer. It’s the first thing that people see and, whether or not you like it, they will make snap judgments, with the initial one being whether or not your book looks interesting. In the end you’re playing a numbers game; more eyes, more purchases, more (hopefully) positive reviews, which rolls right back into more purchases.

2) Effort. When I see a poorly done book cover, I have to ask myself; does the author think this cover is acceptable? If not, why are they allowing their book into the wild as such? If effort isn’t made to craft a solid cover, then what sort of effort actually went into making the book? Likewise, the cover is the trapping that represents an author’s hard work. It should be treated as an equally important part of that work. If an author isn’t willing to go that extra mile to find a good artist/photographer to hire I tend to question their dedication to what they do.

For authors who are stuck suffering at the mercy of their publishers, I feel for them. I know several authors who have argued with publishers over the cover design but were unable to make any changes. It’s never clear why some publishers are okay with certain covers they put into the world. Suffice to say, as much experience as they have in the world of book publishing, even they can make mistakes as to what they think will sell and what won’t.

3) Jumping on the bandwagon. There’s nothing inherently wrong with mimicking a cover of a popular genre or sub-genre. As long as it’s not a blatant ripoff of someone else’s cover, it’s not a bad marketing idea. This is because a people can use covers in order to find new books similar to their current tastes. For example, a lot of 80s fantasy covers had the same style or concept. Or how a lot of teen dystopian books used basic symbols on their covers rather than characters or places. Pros and cons should be weighed when considering this possibility; as the opposite may become true and the book simply might get lost in the mire of the current trend.

So what constitutes as a bad book cover? A lot of how a cover is perceived is subjective — what I may think isn’t great may be considered fine by someone else. I’m not here to fling mud at anyone’s books either. But I do think a few general standards do apply, such as poor PhotoShopping, awkward font use or placement, bizarre color schemes, and did I mention bad PhotoShopping? If you search online for bad book covers, you’ll find them in spades.

Just remember not to judge too harshly.

7 Comments

  • Weasel of Doom August 3, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Talking about authors not having control over their covers, Ilona Andrews’ “Hidden Legacy” series come to mind. At least for the last book Avon put a t-shirt on the guy…

    Reply
    • Shara White August 3, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      I resisted that series for SO LONG because of that first cover. Thank god for Kindles…. read it there and fell in love.

      Reply
  • Nicole Taft August 3, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Yep. There’s that whole “make it like all the other covers thing.” You wanna be in romance? Better get that hot, shirtless dude on there. Or, the other end of the spectrum because of 50 Shades, inanimate objects that may (or may not?) have anything to do with the insides of the book against a plain color background.

    Reply
    • Lane Robins August 8, 2017 at 10:15 pm

      What I love are the surprise covers. The ones that are just so weird, they come out awesome. Right now, I’m obsessed with the cover for Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. It’s not like anything else and it made me think “lurid” was a good thing. Plus, I spotted across the store. To be fair, it was on my list of books to buy at some point, but it was so bright and shiny and had that perfect satiny feel in my hands that I never put it down.

      Reply
      • Nicole Taft August 9, 2017 at 4:56 pm

        Yeah. Sometimes you come across a cover and just have a moment of, “Ok, wait, what the heck is happening here?” My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is definitely one – the paperback is super 80s eye-catchy.

        …Also highly recommend his other book, Horrorstor. xD

        Reply
  • Nicole Taft August 10, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    My Best Friend’s Exorcism

    Reply

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