We All Judge Books by Their Covers
This statement is true. Don’t deny it; you’ve been in a bookstore and glanced across the aisle. Something about the cover catches your eye. Maybe it’s the handsome bloke on the front of the cover, or the snazzy dragon. Maybe you saw a splash of red on white, and like the predator you are, you must investigate. Perhaps the title is printed in big, bold yellow letters, and you have a penchant for big, bold yellow letters.
Whatever the reason the book stood out to you, slowly you cross that distance, reach out your hand, and brush your fingers across its spine. Gently the book is withdrawn from its snug niche, and you turn it over, looking at the cover and the words. The pages are there, quivering in your hand, and after reading over the back, glancing back at the cover to see if it still looks as impressive as it lays in your grasp as it did on the shelf, you began to thumb open the pages. Your eyes seek the words that will capture and keep your attention. You long for the connection with the story that only a well-written novel can provide…
Did that start to sound like a cheesy romance novel? I liken books to relationships. If we find ourselves attracted to it we might ‘date’ it. And if the first date goes well, we might ask for another.
Although we would like to say that we don't judge by appearances alone, be it which brand of boxed mac and cheese to buy, the cars we spend tens of thousands of dollars on, or even…each other, we all do it. We judge by first impressions. It is basic human nature to look at something or someone, make a quick assessment, and decide whether or not to move forward with our relationship with said item or person based on that initial judgement.
I have bought books with a spectacular cover and description to find it to be utter garbage about two pages in. Much like a blind-date-gone-bad, the package just didn’t deliver on the promise. I have also picked up a thirty-year-old, tattered copy of Roger Zelazny’s book (pick a book, any book) and dove into a reading delight that I might not have found in today’s Big Box Store.
Why Should an Author with a Great Story Care about Appearances?
It is important to have a good cover to catch the reader’s eye, get them to read the back of the cover, and hopefully, join you in a grand adventure housed between the first and last page.
Because, honestly, who wants to pick up a book (or go on a date) if the first glance doesn’t intrigue you? (I know, I know…not PC to say such things. I’m a person always described as ‘cute’ and ‘she has a great personality’, so I know from experience. Sue me for being real). If you cannot get that first date with your reader, there will be no second date, or third date, or wedding and white picket fences.
There is also that first date with your reader that just bombs. Much like a romantic first date, some authors try too hard. They labor over how to introduce their character, how to pick up the pace or slow it down, and fret over word choices so tediously that they are so focused on how they are saying things that they forget to say the things that need to be said. That is another blog post– today we’re focusing on the appearance of your book.
You want to catch the reader’s eye. What does that mean?
We Want What We Expect
Humans want consistency. Since most of our readers are humans, we should try to give our readers what they expect. If a reader is searching for a high fantasy story about dwarves, elves, humans and orcs, they don’t necessarily want you to plop them into a dystopian, gritty human city with aliens and glittery vampires. And if they want a dystopian, gritty human city with aliens and glittery vampires, you don’t want to send them back to Edwardian Britain filled with court intrigue and the Black Plague, with no vampires in sight. Our readers are seeking a specific kind of escape. They are trusting us to deliver.
How to Deliver What the Readers Want
Get thee to a bookery.
If you can’t get there (COVID is a thing right now), then get thee to an online search engine, and look for book covers in your genre. You’ll start to see certain themes arise: romance novels feature shirtless hunks with dainty women in their clutches; war books are dark, and feature scenes of aircraft and tanks, or soldiers covered in grime; fantasy books have characters or symbols on them; books about vampires feature scenes of mysterious scary places or vampires looking like the hunky men in romance novels, draped in dark clothes and the broody allure of the undead. And so on, and so on.
Gather images of the kinds of books in your genre that grab your eye. Just as you should write what you want to read, you should pick a cover design that personally appeals to you. We might all be individuals, but our commonality is what ties us together. If you like it, the high potential is there that readers who like your book will like the cover as well.
Have Fun – It’s Your Book
Gone are the days when a publisher controls every aspect about your novels. Yes, they provide invaluable insight on marketing data, getting books into the public eye, and promotions. They can spot which books will make great movies and rake in the money. They have close ties to the movie industry and can make even the most skeletal story draw in fortunes despite its flaws.
Today we live in a society where anyone can share their story if they are determined enough. Homer did not have to send The Odyssey out to three or four hundred agents before it was printed. He penned what he wanted to say, and thousands of years later we are still reading that great work and basing our own stories on it. Just think what a shame it would have been if that ink had never touched parchment and made it to the masses. In just the same way, your stories may not be an instant hit on any Best Seller lists, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t sold well.
Best Seller lists are manipulated to increase profits, not to tell people which books are actually good. ~ Read that again.
What does that mean to you?
It means, my friend, that if you care about sharing your stories with the world, then you should be willing to let it grow on its own. Publish it. Or, as a wise man once said, ‘put it out in the universe,’ and let it spread its wings and fly. Pick a cover you love. Publish your book before you work it to death, and have fun.
Rose Bishop is one half of the husband and wife writing duo who created the Legends of Cyrradon world. Their debut novel, Storm’s Rising: The Call, was released in May 2020. Book two, Storm’s Rising: The Ascension, was published in October 2020.
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