Book Covers: Do They Matter?

While reading an article about self-publishing, I happened to stumble upon this fact about book covers:

“75% of 300 booksellers reviewed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) recognized the look and design of the book cover as the most important part. They agreed the jacket is prime real estate for promoting a book.”

I struggle with this, because, to me, I fundamentally disagree that the cover is the “most important part” of a book, but on a marketing level, I supposed I understand. When I go into a bookstore or search shelves virtually on Amazon, I generally already have an idea of what I’m looking for. It’s either a text that my teacher assigned, a sequel to a novel I’ve been obsessing over, or perhaps something entirely new. But even when I purchase something new, the first thing I do is grab the book, turn it over, and read the description. I don’t see a pretty picture of a bird or flower on the cover, or maybe even a woman, whose back is mysteriously facing me, as is so common in chick-lit these days, and automatically decide the book is for me. But maybe there are readers who do.

In fact, I’m sure they do. As Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, points out in a recent article from The Huffington Post:

“Our brains are wired to process images faster than words. When we see an image, it makes us feel something.”

Or as Naomi Blackburn, top Goodreads reviewer, states in the same article:

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it. If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

To be fair, an author might give away the responsibility of cover design when they choose to work with a publisher. If you ever plan on writing your own book or working in publishing, here are a few things to keep in mind during the design process.

For one, it’s important that the cover doesn’t give away too much.

…like the ending.
…like the ending.

It’s also important that your cover doesn’t give readers nightmares.

90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?

Some of the best covers have used custom font, which has since become iconic.

It's best to incorporate lighting bolts, if possible.
It’s best to incorporate lighting bolts, if possible.
The_Bell_Jar_Bantam_8139
Most of the covers for The Bell Jar feature these little curlycues.

Fans become so accustomed to these designs that changing them can even cause outrage.

The new cover for The Bell Jar
The 50th Anniversary Edition of The Bell Jar

From The Guardian:

“both the image of a Mad Men-era woman applying make-up and the bright red backdrop are laughably inappropriate for a work tracing a descent into near-suicidal depression (had the designer read past the early, jollier chapters?)…”

What do you think? Does the cover of a book affect your decision to purchase it?

– Melanie Figueroa

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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Comments

  1. Melisa

    I agree with Naomi Blackburn. But it’s not always the case, though. There are books that look great outside but not inside.

    I think book covers are very important and should match the title and the book’s theme.

    I love this one: “It’s also important that your cover doesn’t give readers nightmares.” 🙂

  2. hillarysangel

    I’m looking for a cover image at the moment and getting despondent. Most of the images out there remind me of cheap paperback covers from the sixties – kind of soft-porn stuff.

  3. Publishing Insights

    Great post! There have been more and more discussion about whether or not we should “judge a book by its cover”, but the truth is people do, and that does affect their (un)willingness to purchase a book. Look forward to more discussion about book cover design!

  4. Pingback: The Visual Factor: Judging a Book by Its Cover? | Publishing Insights

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