“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
It’s the old saying we’ve heard over and over again. And it’s right. We really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Just because weird things are happening on the outside doesn’t mean there isn’t a really good story on the inside.
But let’s face it – we judge books by their covers all the time. Humans are visual creatures. We see clothing that we like, we buy it. We see an attractive person, we want to go talk to them. So it’s only natural that a quality cover is going to entice us more. Even if there isn’t actual judging going on, it’s the cover that’s going to catch your eye first. It’s what will draw you in to read the back of the book or take a peek on the inside. So despite the old saying, a cover is important.
And judging does happen whether we like it or not. Though to be honest, it sometimes doesn’t come as a surprise. Whether you work at a bookstore or just happen to be moseying through one, when you see a bad cover you think, “Wow. What were they thinking?” which may be followed up by something along the lines of, “If they didn’t care too much about how the cover looked, how much work did they put into the book itself?” This is actually something I’ve seen from publishers of all sizes – including big ones. Once and a while a book will arrive in the store and I’ll just have a head-scratching moment. Did they not care enough to spend the money to make this book look good? Did they think this cover was good enough? Or do they actually think this cover is good?
In fact, we’ve all seen those sudden gear shifts a publisher makes with covers. I like Sarah J. Maas’s books as a good example.
This is the first cover. I’m not saying it’s bad at all. It’s pretty good as far as covers go, but personally it didn’t really catch my eye when it first came out and sales were less than stellar (actually, if I remember right, I don’t think we sold any at all).
This is the second cover. I believe it was the UK version as well (and remember thinking, “Why didn’t they use that one here? It’s awesome.”), and when Maas’s books went to the paperback, this is what we got. I found this to be way more intriguing and we actually sold the books this time. I’m not saying the purchases were due to the cover – for all I know people didn’t want to pay the money for the hardcover but were more willing to shell out for the paperback (which is often the case for many books – there are still people waiting for Insurgent to come out in paperback). In Sarah’s case the publishers were smart and kept going with this design with subsequent books, all of which are selling – including the hardcover versions.
Unfortunately if you get picked up by a publisher, you have very little say in how the covers come out. You’d think that by now publishers would listen to what authors have to say about covers – particularly when it comes to accuracy – but that isn’t the case. Which is why we still get “Wtf?” covers appearing on shelves from time to time.
If you’re going to self publish, this is why it’s extremely important to take time to find a good cover artist who will do what you ask and for a reasonable price. While this post isn’t a plug for my cover artist, Regina Wamba, I will say that she’s pretty damn good at what she does. (The opposite is truer; if I were smart I’d keep my mouth shut about her. Why? Because popularity may not only mean the occasional price increase, but also longer wait times for kickass covers.)
The proof is in the pudding. My first book was only an ebook and sold at just $3.99. With a 70% royalty rate, that meant I earned about $2.79 for each book sold. That cover cost me just under $400. My goal, since that was my first ebook let out into the wild, was to simply make back that money. She did the cover twice until it was how I wanted it. And yes, I made back the cover cost and added a little extra cake to the pan. Did the cover help? I’d like to think it did. The book itself was released during the final edge of the heyday that was paranormal romance. Granted, that genre is still popular, but not like it was when Twilight was in full swing and publishers everywhere were scrabbling for paranormal romance books (both teen and adult). That’s also precisely why I requested dark blue colors. That was simply the style that you would see. The Teen Paranormal Romance section of Barnes & Noble (which has since changed to just Teen Romance) was essentially a wall of black and other dark colored book spines.
The point is, don’t sell yourself short on the cover. If you have a publisher that’s offered something ugly, you can always try to fight it – your agent should be more than willing to help you because they want the book to succeed, too. They’re working for you, and sometimes a bit of a fight can work. If you’re self-publishing, even if you’re on a budget, don’t go cheap. Take a good, long look at covers on the shelves of the bookstore and think to yourself what you like and what turns you off. Shoddy photoshop? A book you realize you read and the main character looks nothing like the person on the cover? Make sure to choose a cover artist that will provide you with a cover you want and approve. Don’t expect magical sales because the cover is, after all, just the skin. It’s what’s inside that counts (among many other factors in the book world) – but at the very least you’ll have something that will make people look.