Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Judging a Book's Cover

Reading Eleanor’s post at Aqueduct made me want to write a little bit about my own experience with cover art.

Thanks to having known Eleanor before I broke into publishing, I understood that authors don’t often get a lot (or any) input into the cover design. Even so, I was very, very surprised when the second email I got from my editor after having sold Archangel Protocol (the first being the standard “welcome to Penguin”) was the completed cover art image. Unlike Eleanor, I was absolutely thrilled. The cover art is cooler than anything I could have imagined or suggested, and Bruce Jensen is a superb artist. The image, too, if not precisely in the text of the novel, absolutely reflects the spirit and theme of the book.

I was lucky.

I also actually got asked to suggest a scene that might be good for the cover of the second book. The question took me so off guard that I hardly knew how to respond other than, “You’re asking ME??” After pulling myself together, I suggested the scene in which Mouse and Dragon have tea on/in the LINK. They ended up just showing the dragon on her own (and, technically, the wrong color), but I was happy if only because I always wanted to write a science fiction book with a dragon on the cover. By the fourth AngeLINK book, I actually emailed Bruce Jensen a copy of the novel. I have no idea if he read it before he drew his interpretation of the main character, Amariah, but he’s awfully accurate IMHO. But I’m cranky about the fact that for some unknown reason (trying to boost sales?) the publisher completely changed the format of the book in terms of font and those little details that tie a series together. In fact, after the book came out, a lot of readers asked me of Apocalypse Array was part of the series or something new.

That was frustrating and I think it backfired in terms of boosting sales. (But there were other problems, like the fact that publisher decided not to promote the book at all.) And now there are readers of my work who have to contend with the fact that the last book doesn’t look the same when spine-to-spine with the rest of the series. A little annoyance, perhaps, but the kind of thing that makes us bibliophiles insane.

With my new pseudonym, I’ve been happy with my cover art although I think it’s more misleading than the covers of my SF books. The style of art they’ve chosen is very light and fluffy. The books are meant to be humorous, but they’re not as light as some of the other books with these kinds of covers. I’ve heard some complaints from people who looked at the cover and expected one thing and got another.

Covers are very important for getting readers. I know that you’re not supposed judge a book by its cover, but I do – and I believe the average readers do, too. In a way, it’s frustrating that the two big things that attract readers – the cover and the back cover copy -- are both things that a writer has almost no control over. I’ve lucked out in both regards, and I’ve noticed, too, that if I write a good synopsis/book proposal some of the copy from that will find its way onto the back jacket.

How do you decide to read a book? Is it the cover art that attracts you? Have you ever been “tricked” by cover art into thinking you’re getting one kind of book only to discover the text didn’t match at all? Or, do you use a better method, like recommendations from friends or reviewers?


Anonymous said...

I rarely buy a book, especially one I've never heard of, based on the cover alone. I read the back, the author's information, find out who the publisher is, read the first paragraph or two (or if it grabs me, sit down and read four or five pages before I realize what I've done ROFL), and then open the book to the middle to see if anything grabs me there. If all of those meet my "requirements", the book goes home with me.

The first time I saw Kelly's "WebMage" on the shelf, I was totally taken in by the cover - the store had the book on its new releases shelf, on which all the books are placed face-out, and I saw it several paces away. I read all the pertinent info and ran to the help desk for a pen and slip of paper - and dropped Kelly an e-mail when I got home. :P

Shauna Roberts said...

At the bookstore, I usually buy books based on the cover (not only the picture, but also its texture and feel) and back cover copy alone. Sometimes I smell the book or feel the paper inside. The sensory experience of a book is part of why I love to read.

If I've read a review or heard of the author, I do take that into account.

I almost never read any of the book before buying. The plot is the most important element for me, and I can't get a good-enough taste of it from a brief read. I usually only read part of the book if I can't get a good idea of the time period or setting from the cover.

When buying online, I look at Amazon's star ratings and read at least some of the reviews, even if I eventually do not buy the book from Amazon. The cover is much less important when I buy online because the picture is usually to small to make out the details.

tate said...

Good point about Amazon, Shauna (and thanks for commenting). This may be one of those moments when the big "chains" actually help the author, eh?

Covers actually effect me a lot. I've even been known to buy a book based on a cover that I've seen in an ad in a trade magazine. Then I do what Mari talks about which is read a bit of the author's style to see if I like it.

Shawn, my partner, can't stand fiction written in present tense so she ALWAYS reads a bit of the book to make sure it isn't written that way. For me, I just want to know that the story is captivating enough and that there aren't stylistic quirks that are going to make me crazy.

tate said...

Oh, and I have to agree, Mari. Kelly got an AWESOME cover.

Kelly McCullough said...

I got very very lucky on the cover front. Twice. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the streak to continue.

I will often pick a book up based on cover, though I'm more likely to pick one up based on name recognition from a recommendation. But I never buy a new author without reading at least a couple of paragraphs from several places in the book.

Once I slip free of the woodchucks I may add a front page post on my cover experiences as well. It's a poweful topic for writers.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy based on a cover, but a cover sure might catch my eye. I've heard several feminist authors complain about the bimbo-with-sword or big-bosomed spacegun chick covers that got slapped on their book and had to laugh because that was why I bought them, probably never otherwise would have.

I think of Laurie J Marks too - the two recent 'Logic' novels were good reads, but it was the covers that made them totally worth the hardcover price. (Serious-looking Women with Swords, good colors.)

I love the cartoony-girly covers of Tate's series - the cat on the cover is what has convinced my friends to read the first one, not the jacket blurbs or sexy vampires.