Do You Judge Books by Their Covers?

by Jami Gold on February 5, 2013

in For Readers, Writing Stuff

Bookshelf of old books with text: Do You Judge Books by Their Covers

I’ll admit it. I do judge books by their covers, especially in this age of self-publishing.

If authors don’t care about the quality of their book cover, it’s easy to assume they also didn’t care about the quality of their writing. Besides, we all have too many reading choices now, and just like agents and editors, we’re often looking for a reason to say “no.” Every “no” judgment we make means one less book added to our towering to-be-read pile.

Does a good cover guarantee good writing? Absolutely not. But we won’t pick up a book from a shelf or click to read more—allowing us to discover the writing quality one way or another—unless the cover entices us.

What Does a Bad Book Cover Say about the Author?

If we compare picking a book to buying a house (yes, completely different price ranges, but go with me here), we first narrow down by city, or in the case of books, genre. A neighborhood is like the subgenre, deciding between a historical romance or a paranormal romance, this neighborhood’s schools or that neighborhood’s shopping. Continuing the analogy, a book cover is the “curb appeal” that makes people willing to look inside rather than deciding to drive past the For Sale sign.

Yes, that thinking can be shallow or lead to missing out on a great undiscovered gem. But just as home owners know they’ll be judged on their curb appeal, authors know they’ll be judged by their cover.

So those who choose to put something unattractive up for sale are saying something about their judgment and priorities. And just as we might assume a house without curb appeal might not be well maintained on the inside, we are often justified in making similar assumptions about books.

The Sad Fact: In Most Cases, It’s Fair to Make Assumptions

That said, most traditionally published authors don’t have any control over their book covers. However, they did have control over which publisher they chose for their story. I can think of one publisher I’d never sign with because all their covers are crap. Another small publisher is seeing huge success, partly because many of their covers are gorgeous.

Self-published authors have control over their covers, but might struggle with budgeting. We sympathize. However, if they didn’t save up for a nice cover, maybe that means they didn’t save up to pay for an editor either.

In either case, traditionally published or self-published, the cover does reflect something about the author. At the very least, we learn about their priorities.

How Can We Learn What Covers “Work”?

Because of this importance of book covers, I love the idea of the “Judge a Book by Its Cover” contest (known as the JABBIC contest) sponsored by the Houston Bay Area chapter of RWA. Published romance authors are judged solely by their book cover.

As readers and authors, we can learn a lot about ourselves and the market from this contest too. JABBIC has a Reader’s Choice opportunity for everyone to rate the entries.

I spent a few minutes this past weekend adding my ratings to the entries, and I noticed several things about what can make a cover look “good” or “bad” to me. (Full disclosure: I’m not a designer, but I still can have opinions. *smile*) I’d recommend checking out these covers to see what works or doesn’t work for you, especially if you write romance (note that the contest, and possibly this link, will close on February 10th).

What We Can Learn from Looking at Book Covers

While going through the entries, I stopped and asked myself why I assigned a certain score. Why did I like it? Or why didn’t I like it? Some of the things I noted include:

  • Genre: Some covers evoke the genre and some don’t. The new trend for romance covers to have a simple object on a single color background (blame Fifty Shades of Grey) might get old fast because it doesn’t succeed in this respect. However, if only erotic romance uses this technique (generally to enable purchasing for Costco or whatnot), this might become the new shorthand for the erotic romance genre.
  • Cluttered Text: Covers can have too much information: blurb, “Sale,” “New,” “Bestselling Author,” “Book Two in X Series,” publisher name, publisher imprint, etc. Balance is key.
  • Cluttered Images: Some covers have too many images mashed together. A busy background takes away from the power of the title. Images with no commonality can give the impression that the story will be similarly chaotic.
  • Confusing Images: Sometimes we can’t even tell what the images are supposed to be. Or the images can seem to have nothing to do with the story. Just like in our writing, enticing is good, confusion is bad.
  • Font: Some people have an unhealthy love affair with Comic Sans. Others use unreadable fonts. Readers shouldn’t have to struggle to read the title. I’m a visual person with a photographic memory. If I can’t easily read the title, I won’t remember it.
  • Tagline: On some of the entries, the tagline created interest from an otherwise bland cover. I’m filing this tidbit under “Ooo, I need to remember that technique.” *smile*
  • Self-Published “Look”: What makes a cover look cheap or self-published to you? Bad PhotoShop? Cheesy fonts? Odd colors? Stock photographs? All of the above?
  • Publisher: Pay attention to the publisher of the covers we like or don’t like. Start a “yes” and “no” list of publishers that impress us.

After we put this knowledge together, we’ll have an idea of what we like and what we don’t. For those who self-publish, becoming aware of our tastes and “what not to do” can help us develop covers we’ll be proud of. For those who traditionally publish, we’ll be better able to evaluate publishers for their ability to deliver a great cover.

We can continue this evaluation by checking out our genre at Amazon. Maybe even gain insight by analyzing how covers correlate with sales figures. At least with a great cover, we know we won’t be turning potential readers off before they even get a chance to see our brilliant writing inside. *grin*

Do you think it’s fair to judge books by their covers? Do you judge books that way? What aspects make you like or dislike a cover? What makes a cover look self-published to you? Are there publishers you would or wouldn’t want to sign with because of their covers?

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51 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Roni Loren February 5, 2013 at 7:16 am

I absolutely, without a doubt judge a book by its cover. If a book has a bad cover, I only buy it if I’ve had a recommendation from a source I trust. The only exception is that there’s one e-publisher that I’m usually not in love with the look of their covers but they’ve proven to put out consistently good stories, so I buy those.

As for my own covers, my publisher just recently re-branded my covers from the sexy couple in a clinch pose to something much more subtle (a la the trend 50 Shades has spurred.) I worked closely with my editor when I got the first versions of the news ones. I was not in love. And with big publishers, sometimes they take that into account and something they don’t, so I was happy that my editor worked with me. The background on one looked too generic and the font was self-published looking (kind of a scroll-y, calligraphy look) whereas my previous books had a more modern font. Font is hugely important in my opinion for setting tone. My books don’t fit with scroll-y script IMO. So they made the changes and I’m happy with what I have now. But believe me, I was in a panic for a few days there because I know covers can make or break a book. 🙂

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

Hi Roni,

Great point! Yes, I’d look past a crappy cover if I had a trusted recommendation about the quality inside.

I was thinking of you and your post about your latest cover when I explained why some publishers are moving to the non-genre-look covers. So I get your worry. 🙂 I’m glad your publisher listened to your concerns about the font. I agree–font should match the tone of the book. I hope the technique works for you! Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda S. Collins February 5, 2013 at 8:01 am

Hi Jami,

Oh, this is such an important topic! Do I judge books by their covers? Yup! Do I think it’s fair? No, but only to a certain extent. As you’ve pointed out, many self-published books with horrible covers say a lot about the author. If you’re going to venture into self-publishing, then you need to invest in it the way you would any other business. I wouldn’t open a store front with a crappy sign. That’s not going to entice my customers to walk in the door. So taking the time to design and build a store sign’s that enticing and welcoming is an absolute must! I think the reason why some of those books don’t have the greatest covers – and this is in traditional publishing as well – is because they’re in a rush to get the book out there on the shelves and in front of readers. In my opinion, nothing that’s ever been rushed has been as good as it could’ve been if you’d taken your time. *Patience, patience, patience!*

Font that’s hard to read is a BIG turn-off for me when I’m looking for a book and perusing by the covers. That and covers that have too much going on, like too many images that don’t quite fit, too much wording with blurbs, bestseller mentions, and the like.

I really, really like the covers the covers from Penguin authors – all of their lines. The Elder Races series by Thea Harrison, BDB series by JR Ward, the Demonica and Lords of Deliverance series by Larissa Ione, and the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness are some of my recent favorites. Each of those covers enticed me in some way, and they represent what I’d want for my debut novel. 🙂

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Melinda S. Collins February 5, 2013 at 8:05 am

I actually have some clarification to add – Larissa Ione’s publisher is actually Piatkus Books, not Penguin. Didn’t mean to make it sound as though she were with Penguin in any way. So on that note, I do love the covers with that publisher as well!

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Hi Melinda,

Thanks for sharing some of your favorites! I’m not familiar with all of those so I’ll have to check them out. 🙂

Great point about how we have to invest money in our writing as a business. I know that’s hard for many of us. But we have to decide: Are we writing and publishing just for ourselves or to get customers (readers).

If we’re doing it for ourselves, then covers don’t matter. If we’re doing it to get customers, then we have to treat it as a business that needs start up funds, even if that means saving up over years or finding investors (such as family, friends, and/or Kickstarter). Writing as a business isn’t fundamentally different from any other business. Thanks for the great comment! 🙂

P.S. You might have inspired a longer post here too. 🙂

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Constance Cedras February 5, 2013 at 8:27 am

I absolutely judge a book by its cover and it’s one of the aspects of my current venture to self-publish/e-publish a series of novels that concerns me the most. Judging the covers in the same subgenre (romantic suspense) was very revealing because the direction I and my co-writers were heading got, at most, 3-4 from me. So, some re-thinking or re-calibrating is in order.

I’ve always been turned off by covers that have too many elements and those that mix photos with cheesy graphics that look cut and paste just SCREAM self-published. Simple and/or bold always catches my eye. That said, the current trend with erotica novels has gotten so boring and repetitious that I barely glance at them anymore…and at first they were the ones that always got my attention. The early adopters in that trend definitely were the luckiest.

This was an excellent exercise, Jami. Very revealing for me. Thank you!

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Hi Constance,

Ooo, interesting! Yes, sometimes what seems like it might make logical sense doesn’t really work for us. I hope you find something that works for you. 🙂

I’m with you in that the new trend for erotic romance doesn’t appeal to me. From a marketing perspective (being able to stock the book in new places), I understand the reasoning. However, I wonder if there will be backlash from readers who didn’t realize what kind of a book it would be when they purchased it. The back cover blurb becomes even more critical in those cases, both to entice and to explain what kind of story it is. Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee February 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

There are some aspects of cover design that are a matter of opinion, some that are a matter of genre, and some that are a matter of taste. Also, culture influences it.

So while I can be quick to say “Ooo, I like that cover!”, I’m more reluctant to call a cover objectively bad. (Unless it’s badly Photoshopped or downright illegible, but even then, I try to bear in mind that a cover can look great at its proper resolution and terrible once the e-book vendors mangle it for display pages. For example, I still can’t figure out why my cover for this short story is so fuzzy.)

Some of my “worst” covers, ones that do things that I’ve seen people hate on, have gotten “Ooo! I love that!” comments from my actual readers.

Covers are intended to attract the intended readership. I’ve ended up reading books I very much enjoyed—books I never would’ve picked up, from the cover—but that’s because the cover was aimed at a different readership.

For example, I recently read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Beyond the cover being the sort of thing that doesn’t catch my eye, the cover on B&N is crimson. I hate crimson. I got my hands on the book because I read the first 4 chapters on the author’s website and wanted to continue, after an author I follow recommended the title. If those sample chapters hadn’t been available, I would’ve eyed the cover and slunk away with a shrug. It isn’t that the cover’s bad. The cover just seems more focused on the story’s comparability to Bourne Identity, while the story caught my attention for the urban fantasy.

That’s why I don’t see anything wrong with sometimes rebranding your covers entirely, to reach for a different audience, be it in genre or nationality.

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Hi Carradee,

Great point! Yes, I’ve seen the comparisons between a U.S. cover and a *insert other country here* cover for a traditionally published book. It’s interesting to see how genre expectations, picture elements, etc. all change.

Thanks for sharing the example of a cover that didn’t work for you and why you read the book anyway. You’re absolutely right that much of “like” or “dislike” is subjective. That’s why I focused on learning what we like and why rather than “this is good and this is bad.” 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins February 5, 2013 at 9:29 am

Jami, I’m of two minds on this issue. Do I think covers are the be all, end all? No.

But have I gravitated to books based on the cover alone? Sadly, yes, but let’s be clear, I always read first pages before I buy ANYTHING.

As someone who is known to be too knee-jerk about things, I try with all my heart to be open to possible new developments in this business, but it’s HARD to hear about all these interesting and semi-proven ways to expand one’s career that either requires connections I don’t have, trips I can’t go on, and cold hard cash I don’t have.

It’s easy to say “Make the investment” as some above have commented until you start crunching numbers…

I thought just affording freelance editors was the biggest barrier to entry in self-publishing (Which it frankly, in part, IS for me…), but rivaling that is cover design. Everything I find starts from either 500 or 1,000 USD (And UP, of course…), and while that’s “small change” to some, not in my world.

As impatient as I am, I know how vital first impressions can be, and I don’t want to make one that gives the impression I’m cheap and full of myself. This is a BIG part of why I get frustrated when well-meaning beta-readers (Many of which are writers who have or are going to self-publish themselves) suggest I self-publish when they know of my “Trying to get traditionally published/get an agent” saga. I tell tell the story if they ask or their questions about my writing warrants me to tell it.

This post confirms it, Jami. I have to write the “Lack of Money vs. Lack of Will” post on my blog THIS WEEK!

Writers need to know the difference so they don’t needlessly lose friends and explode at folks who don’t get there’ s more to self-publishing than “taking control” of a book, that control requires more money (Time and Research are a given, IMHO) than you think.

In my case, I can make the time, I do the research, but it always comes back to money, and I know for my budget, I could save up for YEARS and at best, only afford either a nice cover or great freelance editor, both requires thousands of dollars I just don’t have, that’s different than saying “I’m so great, I can coast by with bare bones effort” and I wish more writers would get that.

It’s why I felt what you replied here was such a paradox-

http://jamigold.com/2012/09/the-high-bar-of-finding-an-agent-or-publisher/#comment-38097

http://jamigold.com/2012/09/the-high-bar-of-finding-an-agent-or-publisher/#comment-38113

(Just noting, I’m not at all still upset about our initial correspondence above, just using the links to broaden my views, in general, okay?)

For those ideas here to work, I’d have to assume potential readers would give me a break, but I don’t think that likely will be the case. Even you admitted you pass books by if you gauge the quality’s low, just on face value of the cover.

I’ve done the same thing as a reader. Why should it be any different for me as the writer versus when I’m the reader?

All that said, I do have preferences for cover design, and like Jami, I’m NOT a designer of any professional sort, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an eye or preference for visuals, though I don’t have a photographic memory (Do you REALLY, Jami? I only ask because I’ve been known to take jokes as fact by accident at times…)

Okay, rant over. Now onto cover love-

I’m getting through “The Wainscott Weasel” by Tor Seidler, love this author like mad, and I highly recommend this book, first and foremost for the STORY (I could’ve read this in ARC or Galley form with NO illustrations and still be satisfied), but the art makes it extra special. It’s old-fashioned yet feels semi-modern without sacrificing warmth, and many of the illustrations are in COLOR!

I love well-done black and white drawings (Charcoal, pen and ink, etc) but when artwork is really detailed, it often screams to be in color, despite the added expense of color art, which is also estimation to how gripping the art is in black and white.

It’s an older book (NOT 21st century), but regardless, it’s an engaging book, and if you’re willing to be open to a more subtle story, this is a book to consider.

And the Cover, Gosh, it’s not often I geek out over a cover as I do this one. But the cover art for this book brought out the “Animal Fantasy” geek in me (Hence the focus for my blog, which has been on hiatus prior to this post, but will be updated soon).

I have to do a feature on T.A.A. about this. I just have to make sure it’s fun and not just a rant on my part, I don’t want to annoy/bore folks on purpose, not in my brand, LOL…

I’ve got to go, it’s laundry day, and it’s LONG overdue.

Take care,
Taurean

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Hi Taurean,

I understand. I included the reference about money being an obstacle in the post specifically because I thought of you and others in similar situations, where it’s a question of money and not a question of will. In cases like yours (and I’m not saying this will work for you, but I’m generalizing to budgeting difficulties in general), I’d suggest seeing if skills could be traded. Like if someone skilled at editing made friends with someone skilled at cover design, they could trade services. Or seeing if friends with the skills would be willing to discount at least. Or trying to learn the skill ourselves.

Again, I’m not saying that any of those would work in your particular case (or that you haven’t already tried those methods), I’m just letting you know that I’m aware of the issues. I don’t have endless money by any means either, and if I choose to self-publish, those are some of the options I’ve thought of for myself to try to save money and I’m just listing my personal ideas. 🙂

Thanks for sharing a cover that worked for you–and I can see why that appealed to you! Hmm, that cover actually just triggered another thought (and again, this might not work for you, but I wanted to share my idea). I wonder if a talented high school student would be willing to do a drawing like that cover for you. The art teachers might be able to make introductions. Being a high school student, they might be willing to do it in conjunction with an art contest entry or an art class assignment, for no cost to you–especially if they think it would be cool to get credit in a book. 🙂 Again, maybe you’ve already tried that route and it didn’t work, but just in case it would help, I wanted to let you know. 🙂

As for my photographic memory, it’s not perfect and it’s fading as I get older, but yes, I passed many tests in high school and college by closing my eyes and picturing the page from the textbook or my notes that had the answer I needed. 🙂 My memory isn’t what it used to be, but my visual memory is still better than average. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins February 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

I am still trying to find students who are open to that idea, but it’s a SLOW process, and much of what I find is not what I’m looking for.

It’s either not the right level of quality/consistency, or it’s not the right style, and I say that in the most flexible and open-minded way possible. Or the starting price is again out of my reach.

I wish I had skills to trade.

I wish I could offer homemade meals or sweets, in exchange for good art, if not freelance editing services, cooking and baking’s my only other skill that’s as strong as my best writing.

I thought about being a freelance editor, but I don’t think I’m good enough yet to put out my proverbial shingle in that direction, you know?

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yes, I hear you. Publishing has been a slow process for me too. And every time I decide on a direction, the rules of the game seem to change. I hope something works out for you. I’ll let you know if I have any other ideas. 🙂

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Stefanie Nicholas February 5, 2013 at 11:24 am

I DEFINITELY judge books by their covers! My TBR list is endless, and I love to read free ebooks by authors. There are too many good books in the world to read ones I don’t like, and like you said, bad covers sometimes mean bad writing. I’ll only read a book with a bad cover if it has lots of exceptional reviews. Even then, I probably wouldn’t pay for it.

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Hi Stefanie,

Exactly! I don’t have time to read books that won’t be enjoyable for me. And for me and my grammar picky-ness, poor craft will diminish my enjoyment.

Like I said in the post, on some level, we’re all like agents and editors, who look for an excuse to say “no” sometimes. Sometimes, it will be a genre or subgenre we’re not fond of, sometimes it will be the premise, sometimes it will be the craft, and sometimes it will be the cover. A glowing recommendation from someone we trust could overcome that initial gut “no” reaction, but word of mouth is a harder thing to achieve with poor covers. Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda February 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm

The cover is what gets me to pick up the book in the first place! And then if the back cover is full of praise for the author’s work and doesn’t say a word about what the book is actually ABOUT, I put it right back down again.

I’ve seen some truly lovely covers on self-pubbed and small press books (anyone seen the cover for Kit Rocha’s BEYOND SHAME? Gorgeous!), and I’ve seen them on traditional pubbed books. Ultimately, if I’m in a bookstore or see just the picture online, the title and the cover are what gets me interested in reading the back cover. But when I read the blurb and it says “newly updated and cleaned up” (as one high-selling self-pubbed book recently boasted) I’m going to run far, far away.

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Hi Amanda,

Cover is definitely one of the things that gets me to pick up a book (others being author name, price, and recommendations). And great point about the back cover needing to have a description! Like you, I don’t care for back covers that are nothing but review snippets. I want to know what the book is about! 🙂

Thanks for sharing a cover that worked for you. Oh, and I haven’t seen a blurb proclaiming that “newly updated” message yet, but I’m sure there are plenty out there. I always wonder in that case if they gave the updated version away for free to all their previous purchasers. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Zack Kullis February 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Jami, great post.

Yes, I judge a book by its cover. Even if a book has good reviews, a bad cover will turn me off and I most likely won’t read the book. About the only time I pay no attention to the cover is if I have read killer reviews on the book, from sources I trust, and then I don’t pay attention.

Oddly enough, I’ve yet to pick up a book with great reviews that had a cover I didn’t like. I think the time/attention spent on a cover is indicative of what you find in the book.

Is it fair? Fair is a word that stopped being part of my vocabulary some time ago. This is simply the way things are. My second book is about to come back from a professional editor, and the cover art is nearly done. I didn’t take advantage of a professional editor in my first book, and I can see the difference.

In the mind of the reader/potential reader, perception is reality.

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Hi Zack,

“Is it fair? … This is simply the way things are.”

LOL! Great point! Yes, “fair” isn’t part of the vocabulary of business unless someone’s being taken advantage of. 🙂 And you’re absolutely right about how others’ perceptions are their reality–that was pretty much my whole point with my branding posts last week.

Like you, if I have a great recommendation, I’ll barely even glance at the cover. But if I learn about a book from other sources, or just from browsing, cover becomes more important. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins February 6, 2013 at 9:58 am

Jami, I do get what Zach’s saying. In fact, it’s a BIG part of why I never wanted to even consider self-publishing in the first place.

Just the idea of being judged and passed by before I’m even read is just SCARY.

But for some of us, it’s really not that cut and dry, and I do think we need to have more discussion among writers about lack of money vs. lack of will, and while Jami has said on a reply to a previous post she doesn’t feel up to the task, I do, I’ll let you know when it’s finished and on my blog. If it helps others half as much as many of your blog posts help me (If only to say I’m not the only one who feels frustration about this) I did something important.

I still think we need to respect the fact that it’s not always as simple to do as it is to say. Especially for those of us with tight budgets, and I don’t think giving glib statements is helpful and can do more harm than good.

Besides, let’s not forget something, while most of the comments have been about self-published authors making sure cover design and blurbs are doing their job, in the traditional landscape, new authors especially don’t always get any say in these matters, so let’s not cast stones too harshly.

I don’t say that as an excuse, but a simple fact, so I do feel for them if the design the publisher uses is not reflective of their book, either at all, or in the right way, I know of some authors who had that experience, and these are NOT all new or small companies, but from commercial publishers most of us know.

For those of who go the indie route, you can only afford what you can afford, and I’m not saying we (Writers or readers) should lower our standards, but we need to respect that there can be a big gap between lack of money vs. lack of will. That’s what I think is core to this whole discussion.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yes, I didn’t post this as a call to cast stones. 🙂 If I had, karma would stick me with a sucky cover at some point, I’m sure. LOL!

But like I said, even traditionally published authors have control over who they sign with. So I guess my point was more about don’t sign with a publisher that always has crappy covers and then complain about a crappy cover. 🙂 In the cases where the publisher usually has great covers, and they get stuck with a lemon, I absolutely feel for those authors. As you said, the whole idea of putting our work out there–no matter which route we take–is completely terrifying. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins February 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Thanks for replying, Jami.

Oh, I know what you meant, and I know you didn’t post about this topic lightly, this is just something I have strong feelings about, even when the issue is not specific to me, I know too many dedicated writers (Who like me, have limited funds) to deny the fact that but assuming we signed with a great publisher to begin with, there’s still that level of faith, you know.

Especially when it’s your first time, either period of with a new publisher from the writer’s perspective, and you have no past experiences or references from writer friends to base it on. That’s what I was framing my reply in.

Anyway, my point is that sometimes you need more than blind faith to see you through hard times. That normal feeling gets mistaken too often as childish impatience.

There’s NOTHING childish about better wanting to know you’re getting better.

Do you think I’d have worked on my last book for 8 YEARS before I ever queried it if I was so devoid of substance and humility?

I was trying to craft something worth reading BEYOND the freaking query letters (Which are another skill entirely, and those who say they’re the same are either gifted or thoughtless), and it ultimately took longer than 8 years, but you get the point.

My biggest frustration right now is figuring out how much is enough, since agents and editors know more work is to be done before publication (As much as I’m sure they’d love to get something near done. Which goes back the writer giving them few reasons to say “No”).

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Hi Taurean,

I understand. From what I’ve seen of you, no one should question your dedication. 🙂

By the way, I took a stab at that will vs. money post we’ve talked about, but from a different perspective. Basically I explain the problem and ask for ideas on how to do self-publishing on the cheap. We’ll see if others have good suggestions. It goes up tomorrow (Thursday). 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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E.B.Pike February 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

It may not be “fair” to do it, but I think it’s hard to help yourself. We’re visual creatures –something enticing on the page is going to make me want to pick it up.

If I ever get published, I sure hope I have some say in mine! 🙂

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Jami Gold February 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Hi E.B.,

Yes, and I’m a visual learner too, so if someone wants me to learn (remember) their book, the visuals have to appeal to me.

As for your wish about having some say, I say “Ditto!” LOL! After this post, I’d hate to be stuck with a bad cover and have everyone say, “But Jami, didn’t you say…?” 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena February 6, 2013 at 7:54 am

Haha yes I judge books by their cover too. But usually it’s the recommendations from friends, other authors, etc. that attract me to the book so no matter how mediocre the book looks, I would still read it, lol.

As for self publishing cover designing…yeah hiring a professional designer is super expensive! It seems to be about $700 USD or something, eek.

But one interesting thing I want to say is: my books tend to be very focused on the main character(s) (even the titles are more often than not simply the name of the protagonist(s), lol); and so I like to have them on the cover. However, I like to draw my characters myself, because no matter how amazing the hired artist is, they will NEVER be able to see how EXACTLY my characters look like in my imagination. Hehe maybe I’m just picky, but I want my characters on the cover to look 100% accurate. 🙂

As for the design outside of the character illustrations, I have a friend who’s very good at photoshop help me. Right now we’ve designed something that really looks like a sci fi cover and it really pleases me. What matters to me most is not the beauty of the cover, but if the ATMOSPHERE and STYLE of the cover is a perfect representation of my story inside. And I do have very specific ideas about how exactly the cover should be designed to convey that JUST RIGHT atmosphere. 🙂

So in sum, I care more about the suitability of the cover in expressing what’s inside. The closer the match, the better. I don’t like it when I see a cover that attracts me and then I read it and realize that the story is completely different from what I expected and wanted…lol

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Hi Serena,

Agreed–if I have a trusted recommendation, the cover doesn’t matter. And like you, I like it when the cover is a representation of the story in some way. I’m even one of those who pages back to the cover on ebooks so I can start it properly. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins February 6, 2013 at 6:22 pm

I agree it’s annoynig to see things on the cover that have nothing to do with the book, thankfully most of my favorite books don’t have this problem, and do have nice covers,

I think it’s hard for those of us who don’t have much clout with a particular publisher or part of the industry to add one more thing to scrutinize. While Jami makes the valid point of picking

How far can you go in being selective until you’ve backed yourself into a corner?

Just because I know quality, doesn’t mean I can get that level of quality, if you can’t self-publish, and unable to attract an agent, how picky can you allow yourself to be?

It’s frankly hard enough to find publishers who will take new authors seriously, if at all, and while no one wants horridly done cover and/or interior illustrations (Common in children’s books, my specialty), you do reach a point where you have to ask yourself. What can you settle on? Where can you compromise?

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Hi Taurean,

“How far can you go in being selective until you’ve backed yourself into a corner?”

Good question. I’m realistic about the publishing industry, but I’m also uncompromising about certain things. So I don’t know if I’ll find a contract I can live with or not. I’ve limited my “things I won’t compromise on” list to “things I’m willing to walk away from a contract for.” It’s a tough situation no matter how we look at it. Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins February 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm

From the opposite spectrum, I get so annoyed with titles that are describing things that aren’t in the book or movie at all.

I was so disappointed when I learned “Dances with Wolves” was NOT about either-

Dancing Wolves (I was thinking of Disney’s Fantasia)
Wolves learning to dance
Wolves and dancing period.

At least with “Peter and the Wolf” there was a boy named PETER and there was an actual WOLF. Maybe that’s just the animal fantasy writer in me, and to be fair, I was 8 at the time.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Hi Taurean,

LOL! Good point. 🙂 I’ve read some books, and by the end, I still don’t have a clue why it had that title. *shakes head* Thanks for the comment!

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Jordan McCollum February 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

This all reminds me of a scene on Phineas & Ferb, where 15-year-old Candace is looking over her mom’s library books:

Candace: Boring, dull, stupid, lame, heavy-handed and derivative.
Linda (her mother): Oh, thank you for those insightful reviews of books you haven’t read.
Candace: Mom, that’s why books have covers; to judge them. I mean, why did you choose these books from the library?
Linda: They looked interesting.
Candace: So…
Linda: Point taken.

Let’s be honest: book covers are MADE to judge books. The aphorism dates from an era when the cover choices were black, blue and red, with gold or silver lettering.

I’m not a graphic designer, but I thought about studying graphic design in college, and I still dabble a little (very little). I design not-publishable-but-okay covers for my books to help with inspiration.

Typography and the general image are the first things I look at. There are fonts that are overused in trade publishing (or all media), but they’re generally the “safe” ones, so it’s less of a big deal. However, for some reason, there are certain fonts (perhaps like the scrolly one Roni mentioned; I know I have a picture in my mind of a very specific scrolly font I associate with self-publishing) that say self publishing to me.

Like I said, this happens in all media. Movie posters have used Trajan to death. Semi-cutesy company logos fall back on Black Jack. Papyrus, Comic Sans, and probably Times should pretty much never appear on a book cover.

I also see stock photography being repeated in trade covers, too. There’s a blog that’s devoted to (or at least blogs about) tracking these shots and these models being used over and over, in trade and self publishing.

I wish more independent cover designers would arrange their portfolios by genre. I agree that comparison is really important. Of course, when your book straddles two genres, or has an unusual voice for your genre, the degree of difficulty goes up 😉 .

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Jordan McCollum February 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

(If the image itself is appropriate, then I start getting more technical, like looking at focal planes, shadows and edges in the image. Bad photoshop, bad or inappropriate cartoon figures, poor color depth–man, I’m picky.)

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Hi Jordan,

Yes, those edges, shadows, and lighting are what usually scream bad PhotoShop to me. 🙂

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Taurean Watkins February 6, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Considering how expensive that program is (There are luxury phone plans less expensive, but at least you only have to buy it once, and pay for less pricey upgrades as needed), and how taxing it is on the average non-supercomputer, that’s kind of sad.

I think I’ll stick to studying typography.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Hi Taurean,

Very true! Some schools have the program on their computer lab machines, which might be an option for some people. Otherwise, yikes! Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Hi Jordan,

LOL! At the Phineas & Ferb snippet. (Why do I feel my blog has reached a new milestone? I have Phineas & Ferb on my blog! 😀 )

Great points about fonts and stock photos. And even with exclusive photos, some models are overused in general. Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Glover February 6, 2013 at 11:03 am

Like you, I tend to conclude that a bad cover may indicate an author who didn’t take enough care with the content inside either. My peeves? Busy covers–too much going on; fonts that are difficult to read (make sure you look at them as a thumbnail, since that’s how potential readers now see them on an ereader); and cliche covers–which happens over time (e.g., how many YA covers with girls in super-fancy dresses can there be? Sometimes it makes sense, but…).

I hadn’t thought about considering publishers based on their cover art, but that’s certainly something to look at. I will often pick up a book based on its cover, then read the blurb. If both catch my eye, I may shell out the money to buy.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Hi Julie,

Yes, I hadn’t consciously noticed the publisher angle before either–other than one who had really turned me off several years ago when I checked out a friend’s books. (She’s now with a better publisher. Yay!) But seeing so many covers one after the other for that contest made me pay attention to the publisher more closely. Many of them have, as you said, cliche covers. That might help if you expect sales off the imprint itself (like many category romances), but otherwise might not be doing you any favors. Thanks for the comment!

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Charlene Newcomb February 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

DBW had some excellent pointers on book cover design, http://digitalbookworld.com/2013/my-online-date-with-the-almighty-amazon-algorithm-part-3-of-3-beauty-is-only-thumbnail-deep/. It’s important to keep in mind the ‘selling ribbon’ where a book buyer might find your book because ‘others who bought X also bought…’ Our covers need to be eye catching from those little icons in the ribbon.

Great post, Jami. Do check out my book cover on my website. I’d love to get your impression! 🙂

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Jami Gold February 6, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Hi Charlene,

Wow! Great article–thanks for sharing! 🙂

I think your book cover looks great, very clean and professional. Good luck with it and thanks for the comment!

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Vanessa February 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Hi Jami,

I have judged books by the cover. Most YA paranormal romance have abstract covers to make it catch a person’s eye, then some will have a cover not relating to the book. If you think about Twilight, the cover of the book had an apple, but by looking at the cover, a person couldn’t tell the book was about vampires.

With self published, I tend to be more picky. On some self published books you can see very closely on some of the covers the outline cutting and just pasting it on a background and simply adding fonts and making it look unprofessional and amateurish.

Thanks for Letting me comment!

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Jami Gold February 8, 2013 at 10:31 am

Hi Vanessa,

“Most YA paranormal romance have abstract covers”

Yes, that’s why I think these “object” covers for erotic romance is so odd. Fifty Shades of Grey stole the concept from Twilight because that’s the book it was based on, so there it made sense–just continue the stealing. 🙂 But now other erotic romances are following suit. So we have “object” covers for YA and erotic romance. Yeah, that’s not going to cause issues. *sarcasm* Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Vanessa February 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Hi Jami,

Good call on the stealing. It’s pretty easy to tell the genre the books fall under. If you look at early editions of Nicholas Sparks novels, they were simple nature images, a person would not be able to tell the book was romance by looking at the cover. Now and days most small presses use the stock images of a couple kissing to define the book as contemporary romance.

Thanks for letting me comment!

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Jami Gold February 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Hi Vanessa,

Yes, there’s definitely a good and bad aspect to sticking with a genre-standard cover. The good–people know the genre and will pick it up when they’re looking for the genre. The bad–the covers themselves become cliches. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laurie Evans February 12, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I don’t like covers that have lots of “clutter”, or bad fonts. Some fonts are just too hard to read. I’ll check out a sample if a book has good reviews.

I found a book that I loved, but it had an awful cover. When I recommend it to people, and they see the cover, they say “Ugh, really?” I tell them to just ignore the cover.

I’m not sure how I feel about the erotic romances that have just an object on them. I like the sexy covers, but I guess I can see why they do it.

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Jami Gold February 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Hi Laurie,

Ditto on all accounts. 🙂 A bad cover will prevent me from browsing to a book, but if I’m already on the book’s specific page (usually from a link), the cover won’t prevent me from checking the blurb, reviews, or sample. Thanks for the comment!

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