Thursday, January 19, 2012

Can't Judge a Book: Thinking about Book Covers

I have two works ready to publish as electronic books, all but the covers. One is a short story, “Too Old To Play”. The other is my New Testament-era novel, Doctor Luke’s Assistant. The covers for each are commissioned. I received drafts for DLA last night via e-mail. Actually, I don’t think you could call them drafts, as they are earlier than that. I think we are at the concept stage.
That has me thinking about covers today. The old adage is “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Yet the conventional wisdom is that the quality of a cover can make or break book sales. So while you can’t judge a book by its cover, that’s exactly what the American book buying public does.

But, electronic books aren’t print books and thus don’t have covers, you say. Oh yes they do, and publishing pundits say the cover of an electronic book is just as important to sales as with a print book. So even with e-books we find the cover is a driving force with sales.

Why is this? Why can’t I just put a generic cover on my books? Something like the one here for “Too Old To Play”? Put some typical back cover copy under the title and author name, and let the buyers come. Seems that would be a much better thing for authors. And it would make the old adage true.

So I’m currently in a cover research mode. I’m finding no end of easily accessible advice and examples. The Passive Guy blog has posts on covers. That led me to The Book Designer, and this post on cover design.

After the two covers mentioned above, I’ll be needing one for In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People (unless it gets picked up by the agent I recently submitted it to). I’m planning on going to a couple of book stores tomorrow night to look at covers in the genres and get some ideas. At noon today I think I’ll go to the nearby thrift store with a large book department and see what’s there. Those will be older, and likely won’t reflect current practice.

This morning, before work hours, I browsed through covers on Amazon. I noticed a lot of sameness in what are called genre books. The quality of the covers is good, but they lack originality. Look at the covers of successive books of “bonnet fiction”. They all look the same. In that case, that’s probably a good thing, as a buyer knows what to expect in the book based on the cover.

I believe I have some decent ideas for covers, such as what my son finally produced for Documenting America, which came from my suggestions. But my mind can’t make my hands produce what my mind conceives. Now it’s all based on software. Does that make it easier or harder? In some cases easier, as described in this blog post. I like the way the text superimposed on the photo. I like the way you can play with font sizes, styles, and colors. This is all done with software, and I should be able to learn software.

Well, I have no real conclusion from all of this. Generic covers don’t work; designed covers cost, either time or money, and require both artistic abilities and skills. Research is required. Development of skills is required. And again, the whole weight of what is needed to succeed in this extra career I’ve chosen is becoming overwhelming.


Joe Pote said...

I was browsing books the other day and noticed how all Nicholas Sparks covers look the same. You can tell its a Nicholas Sparks book before you even read the title. I guess that's a good thing, once you're a well known author. Like you, I like to see some originality.

Or, better yet, could we start a movement to eliminate cover design? I'm not sure how that would work, but wouldn't it be cool? Force all e-books to use the same generic cover with the same generic font, to force the buying public to actually read the cover in order to make a decision?

Not likely to happen...but it would be pretty cool...

Anonymous said...

I created all my covers with Book Cover Pro. It was not that hard to navigate and Createspace took everything I created with no problem.. also the cost of software was very reasonable.

David A. Todd said...

Joe: That's a bandwagon I would jump on! I agree, though: hard to get it rolling.

David A. Todd said...

Anonymous: That's a software package I haven't heard of before. I'll check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.