Thursday, October 15, 2015

Judging a book by its cover

What's in a book's cover design?

Lots, according to 15-year-old Alyssa. "I think that's cool," she said, looking at the cover art for Destiny's Pawns.

I'd just received the jacket (see left-side column), loved it, and was showing it to nearly everyone. Alyssa was my latest viewer.

"They say not to judge a book by it's cover," she continued, "but everyone does. If the cover is brown, or something, it makes me thinks it's sort of old."


Maybe it's because I'm 45, but I've liked my some of my green and brown covers over the years. (After all, when you start your career writing golf novels and move to books set in northern Maine, you get lots of greens and browns.) And although 45 is only 20 in athlete years (but that's for another post), I see her point. In fact, Alyssa's comments produced a watershed moment for me. She is, I'd say, a pretty typical reader: she wanders through a (physical or virtual) bookstore and buys a book that literally catches her eye. Then she sees if she likes it and wants to read more by that author or in that series. So her comments made me sit up and take notice.

I've written nine novels and haven't been jazzed about all of my covers, believe me. "Something bright," I e-mailed my editor last spring. "Maybe teal or green or even orange." I don't usually get all that involved in my cover designs. (Rick Blechta, given his design expertise, is probably cringing at that statement.) However, this time, at the end of a three-book contract, I had time to engage in the design process and made some thoughtful recommendations.

I've spent my writing career with independent houses, so I can take care of some promotional items. I set up signings and usually an annual tour. But I'm no expert in the area of self-promotion. Truth be told, I enjoy the process of starting a book, seeing its characters and conflicts evolve, and finding the resolution far more than I do the business side of the venture. By the time I get the cover art for a book, I'm usually knee deep in the next project.

How important is a cover art in terms of sales? There's a lot that goes into why a book sells well and why it doesn't. And I hope writing has something to do with it. There's no comprehensive quantitative data (that I could find) to prove one way or the other that a cover can make or break a book's sales record. But I do think Alyssa speaks for many book buyers. And I'd love to hear the opinions of my Type M colleagues on the subject of cover art. Has anyone noticed sales spikes or dips from book to book based on the perceived correlation to a cover design?

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