Justine: Looks Can Kill

book covers, eight ladies writing, justine covington, sarah maclean

A well-designed cover for “One Good Earl Deserves a Lover” by Sarah MacLean.

In this era of self-publishing, where anyone can sell their book on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, etc., it’s important to differentiate yourself from the masses. To separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. A key way to do that, aside from writing a freaking fantastic book and paying for professional book editing, is to have your cover professionally designed by someone who knows what they’re doing. That last part is key and bears repeating in big, bold letters:

by someone who knows what they’re doing

At a recent local RWA chapter meeting, we heard a talk by long-time agent and now publisher, Steve Laube, who discussed the changing nature of the writing industry, including how self-publishing has evolved. He said one of the best ways to shoot your book in its proverbial foot is to have a poorly designed cover. A bad cover can literally kill book sales. He then told us about lousybookcovers.com, a site where folks nominate and weigh in on lousy book covers, pointing out what makes the cover bad, and really…some of the covers featured there are BAD. As in the-feature-image-still-has-the-stock-photo-watermark-on-it bad (FYI, not purchasing the rights to stock photography is not only cheap-looking and unprofessional, it’s illegal).

On the flip side is covercritic.com, the sister site to lousybookcovers.com. At Cover Critic, writers (or cover designers — really, anyone) can submit a cover for critique by not only the site owner, Nathan Shumate, but anyone who wishes to leave a comment. I checked out several of the submitted covers and while I’m not a designer by any stretch of the imagination, I think most of the comments are right on the money.

A great cover is also necessary for traditionally published authors. As the author, you should have input on your cover, even if the publishing house is designing it. Make sure it’s great! Remember, looks sell! You want your book to stand out from all the rest on the shelf (or on the screen), but you also want your cover to clearly indicate to the reader the genre, tone, etc.

So, how do you know you have a good cover? Go into a bookstore or look online at the thousands of book covers in your genre and pick the ones that appeal to you. Make notes about what on the cover draws you in. Is it the color? The typeface? The image? That’s what you’re aiming for.

When it comes to hiring a book cover designer, find out who designed some of the covers you liked when you scouted for your favorites. Those are the people you initially want to contact. Try to avoid using good friends who say they know a little bit of Photoshop and will do it for free. Now if your good friends are also professional graphic designers (or, even better, book designers), then by all means, use them!

Folks may complain about cost (a good custom cover can run you $500-1200, including the cost of purchasing stock artwork and/or doing a professional photo shoot), but there’s an old saying that to make money, you have to spend money, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to book cover design. You can either pay good money for a professionally designed cover and make up that cost with book sales, or you can save money and design the cover yourself at the risk of little or no book sales. Ultimately, it’s your choice.

So…a little poll. Hopefully you’re game. Be honest with yourself (and us) and answer the following question:

Does a book’s cover influence your browse-and-purchase buying habits?

NOTE: This question doesn’t apply to books you’re seeking out because of good reviews, recommendations, etc. Only ones you’re browsing.

Give us your answer in the comments. One lucky commenter will win a $15 iTunes gift card!

I’m going to take a poll of my chapter mates in my local RWA chapter and I’ll report my findings (and the gift card winner) next week. Good luck!

8 thoughts on “Justine: Looks Can Kill

  1. I don’t really pay much attention to the book cover since the covers often don’t seem to have anything to do with the actual stories. I’m more interested in who the author is and how interesting the story seems from the blurb on the back or the first couple of pages.

  2. The internet has really changed my habits, Justine. I don’t browse any more, because I can find all the new books I need from recommendations and reviews. Mostly I download e-books, and I always know what I want before I turn on the kindle storefront. If I like a new author, then I’ll binge through her entire catalogue. If the book is memorable, I’ll remember the author’s name. I’d love the title to be memorable but often they aren’t. I have an old-fashioned kindle, so I don’t really see the covers, even thumbnail-sized.

    I think covers are very important for readers who browse, and especially for those who buy physical books. I’ll be very interested to see the results of your poll!

  3. Well, of the three respondents to the post so far (Elizabeth, Jilly, and me), it’s interesting to see that book covers aren’t important to any of us to make purchase decisions. I also make purchase decisions because someone recommended it, or I read the first page.

    I think book covers register as a sign of competence, so if you’re looking at books that have covers that are likely to show up on lousybookcovers.com, you might think to steer clear (although I often look at books like that for the laugh factor). That said, I’m in the process of getting one of my self-published (and self-designed) book covers a professional redo. That cover was never good, and it needs a refresh, and it might as well get a good one.

    • I completely agree with you on the sign of competence. Maybe it has something to do with my background as a tech writer, but when we put together training materials, we always made sure they looked professionally done (even though we were the ones doing them). No second-hand photocopies or anything like that. Professional printing every time.

      Same holds true for me re: covers. A well-designed cover tells me that the writer thinks enough of themselves and their writing to make sure it’s appealing to a reader in every way possible (not just good writing) and that they can “see” things from the reader’s point of view.

  4. Well, these days I rarely browse when I am book buying. I usually have a specific book or author in mind, but on those rare occasions when I am browsing for something to buy and read, whether in-store or online, the cover matters. A good and interesting cover can grab my attention and get me to read the description, which holds the most weight in my decision making. A so-so or bad cover can cause me to pass it by for something more intriguing.

    • Funny, but I don’t select books very often based on reviews or recommendations. I’m definitely a browser and like you, the cover is my initial draw. If that appeals to me, then I’ll visit the back cover and read the blurb.

  5. I’ve been thinking about covers a lot recently. Both in terms of thinking how my book would sit next to others on the shelf (what am I aiming for? how can I sell this to an agent/publisher?) and because I’ve got one eye on the self-publishing route further down the line (as it seems to me that more and more of the bigger publishers/agents are using the self-publishing as the slush pile).

    So with that in mind – a few months ago I would have told you that I didn’t really pay any attention to the cover (beyond noticing if it looks homemade, which is a big turnoff), but since I’ve been studying this, I’ve realised that subconsciously I pay an incredible amount of attention to the cover to check if it’s the kind of book I want to read. You can guess pretty accurately what a book will be like (not just between genres but within genres) by its cover. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t read a book because I didn’t like the cover – I also read a lot through recommendations – but it would give me pause for thought.

  6. I don’t really use the cover for purchasing, although cute covers like the Mindy Klasky ones have led me to buy books.

    I love the chick-lit vibe of the covers for the Queen Betsy series (MaryJanice Davidson), too. Cute, and they promise a fluffy but smooth and professional adventure.

    What I do love is a good cover for re-reads, and with the internet, I’ve been very tempted to print out some fan art and cover my favorites (which have very dire, architectural and dystopian covers) with something that means more to me. I love figuring out who is who on the cover after I read the book. The cover just isn’t a marketing tool. It’s an integral part of the book that can guide the reader in making the right analysis of the book.

    I think it’s a good idea to make your own covers as part of the process — sometimes a picture can help guide your own ideas about the book, and it makes good reference. Something like pinterest can hold the individual images. This is similar to the old collage idea. The art department may not want to look at your efforts at all, but I think it can have some personal benefit. (-: I know my efforts do not belong on the cover of anything that people are paying money for. I was not born under a visual star . . . .

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