The Importance of Book Covers

It’s happened several times to me, I admit:  I skip over a book, probably a classic, just because the cover is boring.  Years later I see another edition, this one with a much more interesting book cover.  Usually, I then proceed to devour the book.  Funny how book covers change our perception of what is inside.

A while ago I was reading a post on a Christian speculative fiction talking about a novel that was published by the secular market, but kept its messages, reportedly without compromising.  Interesting in its own.  As I read on, the premise hooked me.

Then I scrolled down a little further and saw the cover.

It featured a slinky model with a low neckline, heavily made-up eyes, and a skin tight shirt/dress.  A graveyard and gargoyles made the background, though the review made it clear this novel was science fiction.

If I’d seen that book on the table in the book store, I’d have walked on by without a second glance.  Slinky models and graveyards aren’t my thing.  Slinky models and graveyards don’t even sound like that novel’s thing.  Later on I even learned that this novel is from the male protagonist’s POV.  I would never have guessed that either, judging from the female on the cover.

That’s the problem.  We all know covers hook readers and are the first thing to draw them in.  But covers do more than that.  Covers deliver promises.  This cover’s promise, suggesting a horror genre and, er, strong romance, was not fulfilled by the content.

Say I was a completely different person and liked horror.  Say I saw this novel in a bookstore.  Say I could see how the synopsis could be a horror novel.  Say I bought it and took it home and read it. . . and found it to be completely different genre.  Bingo, unhappy reader.

I can’t imagine what the publishing house was thinking.

I know, unless you are self-publishing, you may not have much to say about your novel’s cover.  But if you do self-publish, or if you are just making a book cover for fun promotional purposes, keep in mind what your novel is about.

Things you should put on book covers:

~Main characters who look like the book says they should
This doesn’t just mean “Don’t use a blue-eyed model if your main character has brown eyes,” although that is certainly true.  This means, “Don’t use a model in high heels if she spends her time on the run,” and “Don’t use a serious model glaring at the camera if your main character is happy-go-lucky.”

~Significant inanimate objects from the book
They key word here is significant.  “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase” (yes, that’s probably a Nancy Drew title) will probably feature a passageway or stairs on its cover.  Unless it is integral to the plot, keep it off the cover, no matter how awesome.

~Proper background
If it’s set in a generation ship, by all means put stars in the background.  Or metal halls.  However, if the book is set in New York, countryside should probably me left off the cover.  A background is also often used to set the mood of your book:  dark, exciting, cheery, etc.  The setting often determines the mood of your book as well, so the two may be one and the same.

If you are reading this post, may none of your books ever sport misleading book covers.

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About Kathrine Roid

I'm an science fiction and fantasy author living in Texas with an undead parakeet and teleporting cat. Think about that for a moment.

Posted on January 24, 2011, in On Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I hope mine come off as ok. How it Did Fall has a pic of a crumbling building, and How it Did Crumble has a statue on it. Both old, and the first because it was old and crumbling, and I imagined rome when I thought about it, 2 empires that both fell, or crumbled. 🙂 I hope that doesn’t mislead anybody if I get published/use these covers where someone might see.

  2. I completely agree! You’ve got a good point there. Just like the first lines and paragraphs of the text establish a certain kind of promise, so does the cover. I know I probably shouldn’t, but I find myself judging books a lot by covers too. Nothing is more annoying than assuming a book is fantasy by the cover, buying it and feeling cheated at home.
    You’d think making sure the cover and the first pages of a book were in top notch condition before publication would be obvious to publishers, but I guess it gets overlooked and underrated far too often.
    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it! 🙂

  3. Abby aka PrincessoftheKing

    Great post!

    *Thinks she needs design a cover for her book*

    Though it might be helpful to figure out photoshop first. 😉

  4. ~
    Well, Louisa, those don’t sound confusing, especially if part of your book deals with or takes place in ruins.

    ~
    So The Monkey does read my blog. 😀 I completely understand your frustration! I actually spend thirty minutes reading a book before buying it. 😉 Call it. . . a trial run.

    ~
    Thanks, Abby! Yeah, that would probably help. 😄 Seriously, though, I’ve seen a lot of pretty covers come off photoshop. I really should get that program. . . on second thought, no, I’d waste to much time.

  5. Nope. I want it to talk about the way of life and how most of the people died in the prologue, and then come to the present (future, since it takes place 2020) where they have to live amongst humans. Yep. 🙂
    And you would waste too much time, Kat, I know it. 🙂

  6. Ha ha! Of course the monkey stalks the Kat’s blog =3

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