Cover Art: What does it say about the Book?

There’s no doubt about it: a cover’s aesthetic appeal, or lack thereof, affects readers’ purchasing decisions, even when it’s an ebook. With paperback or hardcover books, which we can leaf through, the appeal of the cover makes more sense: it is art we keep in our houses. Who wants an ugly book on their shelf, coffee table, sofa, or nightstand?  An ebook should be different—it does not sit on our coffee tables, and most of us never see the cover again—and yet the cover still matters.  It is what catches our eye as we browse the sea of possibilities online.  It is the first indicator of a book’s quality, suggesting the author’s or editor’s taste, giving the reader a sneak peek at the subject matter, and setting the tone for the book.  If a cover appeals to me, then I tend to assume that the author’s writing and the topic will likely appeal to me, too. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”**

I weigh several factors when looking at a book cover: Is it creative?  Does it seem related to the subject matter (as indicated by the blurb)? Is the type legible?  Does the art appeal to me? The cover art doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it must be interesting.  It can shock me, anger me, or pull at my heartstrings.  It should elicit an emotional response other than, “Ewww, is that used kitty litter?”

It’s a subjective analysis.  In a recent example, I thought the cover of Imperfect Bliss was hideous, particularly the Pepto Bismol color, while my sister rather liked it, pointing to its Art Nouveau design.  Someone’s art can easily be someone else’s trash, of which I am reminded every time I walk past the Cy Twombly exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where there is always a lively discussion on whether his work even qualifies as “Art.”  I imagine that even his most controversial work (which some have equated to toddler art or mere scribble) would look nice on a book cover for a certain audience, but it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for the genres I read.  Women’s fiction and Chick lit require women’s shoes (I’m joking, sort of).***

“Beauty is Only Skin Deep”

I end up buying books with unappealing cover art when the subject matter is compelling and the price is right, and thankfully, with an e-reader, I never have to look at the cover again. Sometimes It would be unfortunate to miss a wonderfully written and well-edited book simply because the cover art was “ugly,” and I’m pleasantly surprised when an ugly book turns out to be a great read.

I tend to be more forgiving with self-published books that have unappealing covers because I understand that these authors do not have a machine of editors, designers, and marketing consultants working to prepare the manuscript for the market.  It can cost hundreds of dollars for a self-published author to hire an artist/designer; that’s a lot of money to pay out-of-pocket, and I can understand when an author decides to cut corners by choosing a less expensive design.  I’d rather an author skimp on the cover than on the content.  I have a lower opinion of a poorly edited book than I have of a book with an unappealing cover.

“Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover [Alone]”

A book’s cover is only one piece of information that I factor into the decision of whether or not to read the book, something to be weighed along with the reviews, the blurb, and the price.  I’m willing to read an ugly book if the price is right, just like I’m willing to try a book that received negative reviews if it’s light on my wallet.

A low price reduces the risk involved in purchasing a book after a bad first impression, but, truth is, many people do judge a book by its cover — even if they try not to do so. Thus, an interesting cover that appeals to the appropriate audience is priceless.

*Thanks to my sister for making the kitty litter graphic

**I apologize for the use of clichés; I couldn’t help myself!

***I hate pictures of women’s shoes on covers.

21 thoughts on “Cover Art: What does it say about the Book?

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  3. RosettaBooks tends to have very flashy, very bad covers for the books that they’ve acquired from another publisher’s backlist, i.e. books that already have (usually much better looking) covers. i suppose part of the reason for this is branding — RosettaBooks have the words “RosettaBooks” plastered over them, more prominently than other publishers. So that’s another thing that I think covers try to do — to brand, whether the branding is meant to benefit the author, the book series, or in some cases, the publisher itself.

    (For an example of RosettaBooks poor cover, you need to look no further than Michael Oren’s “Six Days of War”, http://www.amazon.com/Six-Days-of-War-ebook/dp/B003XVYLDK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1351574255&sr=1-1&keywords=six+days+war).

    1. Wow, the name of the publishing company is more prominent than the black lettering of the book’s title! I wonder if books with such garish branding sell well enough to justify it. I hadn’t really thought about the branding aspect of book covers. Thanks for adding this perspective.

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  5. I agree with you 100%. I sometimes find cover art that is plain ugly, disgusting or just not my taste but a cover alone never stopped me from buying if the subject interested me. That being sad most people are emotional buyers especially in a bookshop or even online the first thing we see is the cover before we get a chance to read any reviews so it’s like a first impression of a person. It’s not everything but it’s no doubt important.

    ## I also hate shoes on a cover as well as lipstick or the Eiffel tower.

    1. I dislike lipstick or the Eiffel tower on covers, too! I definitely try to see beyond an ugly cover, but it can be tough to overlook. Sometimes it’s a very good thing that I never have to look at the cover again on my e-reader.

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  8. I completely agree, sure cover art may draw me to a book, (I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t) but if the book description doesn’t sound interesting or if after I start reading it, it’s boring…I’m done. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book on cover art alone, usually I start reading the book in the store and that’s what convinces me to buy.

    –Thanks for visiting my blog, Whimsically Yours, and liking my post Repost: Kids Can’t Write 🙂

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  10. I don’t like the shoes on covers either, but mostly because feet gross me out, even the kind that are hand drawn. I’m struggling with ideas for my ebook cover because I find it’s critical to the decision to purchase a book. I confess to not even looking at the back of a book or reading anything about it, if the cover doesn’t appeal to me. Gawd, I hope I’m not the only one like that! Thanks for the follow. Looking forward to reading your blog!

  11. Liked this post, and I plan to follow you. I’m wondering if you’d do me a favor? Would you look at the cover of my newest book, at my website? I’m curious whether you like it, ….. or NOT (sob!). Too late to do anything about it at this point, but I’d still appreciate your thoughts.

    Finally, what year are you from Yale and Harvard Law? I have two kids who graduated from Yale, and their partners, one of whom also went to Harvard Law — given the ages of your kids, you’re probably a little older, but maybe not —

    Anyway, glad to meet you!

    1. If only the “market” agreed with us! I’ve come to the point that I actively avoid books with shoes on the cover unless the reviews are outstanding and it’s well-priced. Shoes on the cover = vapid book.

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