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Customers Judge Books By Their Covers
I used the word 'necessity' quite deliberately when my advice for publishers is to pay close and careful attention to the quality of their book covers. Not from an artistic perspective, but from a marketing focus. Will that cover entice the prospective buyer/reader to choose this particular book from all the others vying for attention on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. I'm not alone in my opinion. Here (with their permission) are what two experienced and expert members of the publishing community have to say on this vitally important aspect of the publishing business.
-- Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review
The first is a dialogue between an aspiring author/publisher and self-publishing expert J.C. Simonds (Beagle Bay Books):
>I know that technically you're not supposed to do that. Judging a book by its cover, I mean. However, we all know that the cover it the first thing, aside from the title, that is supposed to grab the attention of potential readers.
This is the book business. ****Of course**** you judge a book by its cover!
Studies show that you have 12 seconds (in a bookstore) to turn a browser into a buyer. Think they can do that by osmosis - magically knowing the interior of the book?
Covers are the way that we attract buyers - the same way creators of other products package their material. Are you aware that most products these days are changing packaging as often as twice a year? And in some cases it changes twice a year by region. Glad I'm a publisher, and not the maker of, say, salad dressing!
>So, for those who freely admit to being attracted by covers, what is it that you look for? What sort of covers attract your attention and make you curious about the content? What kinda of covers make you want to read the synopsis on the back of the book [or inside the cover jacket?]
It very much matters what genre you are pushing. If you are doing romance, then some sort of illustrated "clinch" cover or all print on a fabric-looking background is appropriate. For a business book, usually all print (although about 1/3 use a business cartoon. Use this approach judiciously). Every genre has it's expected look, which you should not break until you understand why it is done.
If you are considering a cover for a genre into which you've never launched:
a) hire someone who does covers for the genre. They'll steer you right.
b) go to the bookstore and study what the competition is putting out. That way you'll understand what the aforementioned expert is doing.
c) if you have a background in graphic design, spend a LOT of time in bookstores before you design your won cover.
As to how we react to books - colors matter. Yellow is supposed to suggest money and/or power to people. Red attracts women (as does pink and (uhg!) turquoise or chartreuse for the "Chic-lit" crowd). Black covers convey a serious topic in non-fiction - in fiction either a thriller/horror or literary.
A fully illustrated cover on fiction usually indicates Children's or YA. Until it doesn't (Michael Chabon's "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" really freaked out booksellers by having non-conformist cover art).
Covers are very important - and are frequently the place where new self-publishers seriously screw up... Because of that kindergarten trope: "Don't judge a book by its cover." That's ~people~ we're talking about, friends, not actual books. It's a metaphor.
The cover has to have an easy-to-read font - so that you can discern the main title 10' away or in a thumbnail on-line. There should not be more than 2 fonts types; they should be serif (unless it's a computer book (see what I mean about genres?). There should not be a whole lot of junque on the front like "Buy this book!" of whole reviews from people who aren't really, really famous (those go on the back). The authors name should be on the cover (you'd be amazed how many people skip that).
It has to look professional - not discernable from Random House or whatever. Clip art should never appear on a book cover. And templates you buy at these "Self-Publishing" companies (insert retching sounds locally) are not - not - acceptable. They look like cookie cutter productions, and yes, everyone can tell.
I could go on and on about the importance of covers. Oh wait, I *have*! http://www.creativemindspress.com/coverthoughts.htm
Did I mention titles? WOW! There's a whole subject in and of itself! That's the biggest hook about the cover. The art and title should work hand-and-hand to create a one-two punch to your potential buyer.
'Nuf said... For now.
Beagle Bay Books http://www.beaglebay.com
Book Packaging http://www.creativemindspress.com/bkpckg.htm
Self-Publisher's FAQ http://www.creativemindspress.com/newbiefaq.htm
The second bit of commentary on the same theme is from one of the most knowledgeable people in the publishing business -- Pete Masterson.
On Jan 26, 2008, at 4:30 PM, karasusama1476 wrote:
> I know that technically you're not supposed to do that. Judging a book
> by its cover, I mean. However, we all know that the cover it the first
> thing, aside from the title, that is supposed to grab the attention of
> potential readers.
> I'm sure we are all guilty of doing it from time to time too. So, for
> those who freely admit to being attracted by covers, what is it that
> you look for? What sort of covers attract your attention and make you
> curious about the content? What kinda of covers make you want to read
> the synopsis on the back of the book [or inside the cover jacket?]
When your mother/father/teacher suggested "don't judge a book by its cover," they were suggesting that you not form opinions of other people too quickly, based on a first impression. That's good advice.
When it comes to books, people do, indeed, judge books by their covers. No guilt necessary, but if you're a publisher, you better take heed of that tendency. A good cover, ultimately, can't sell a bad book. But your good book may be seriously hurt by a bad cover.
The reviewers first look at the cover. It will set the tone for their opinion to come.
The gatekeepers of the industry (buyers at wholesalers, distributors, and booksellers) -- and if the cover is lacking, they may never even open the book before they reject it.
Finally, customers (if your book managed to get through to the bookstore) will make their first judgement based on their reaction to the cover. If it attracts them, they'll pick up the book and look further. If not, they'll simply move on to the next book.
These are simply facts of the marketplace and have nothing to do, whatsoever, with feeling guilty or social problems with jumping to a (possibly incorrect) first opinion about another person.
So, the book cover is important. Now, how do you get a good one. As I explain in considerably more detail in my book, Book Design and Production, A Guide for Authors and Publishers (available at Amazon.com for $19.77, a 34% discount from list price), a cover has certain marketing aspects to address. The title should be readable from about 10 feet away (in a store) or in a thumbnail size in an image on a web site. The image used should enhance the theme or carry forward the topic of the book. The whole needs to be visually engaging, otherwise, the prospective reader will never get to the back side to read the back cover copy.
The back cover should make promises, explain how the reader will be a better person and have a better life if they read your book. Give specific, short points. Don't deliver "facts" but rather focus on benefits. (Fact: This book is 320 pages and weighs almost 2 lbs.; Benefit: It will make a great doorstop.)
The cover also has to deliver certain other elements: BIASC category, price, barcode, ISBN, publisher name, web site address for either the publisher or author (or for the particular book).
Don't put an author bio or photo on the back cover -- unless the author is especially well qualified to be writing the book. (This is all too often an ego trip element. In 99 out of 100 cases, author bio and photo are better placed among the back pages of the book interior.)
Don't set a price that ends in anything other that .95 or .98 or .99. Tons of market research has found, over and over again, that these prices are mentally factored in by buyers. Customers won't notice a difference in a product priced at $17.00 or $17.95 -- often, they'll think they're the same price. (If they think about it, of course nearly everyone will realize the difference -- but in the quick look common in evaluating a book for purchase the distinction will be missed.) Pricing a book at $17.50 simply gives away 45-49 cents that the customer thought they'd be paying. (I still see many self- published books priced at even dollar amounts or for .50 prices... and I've even been unable to make some who priced that way to understand their folly.) BTW, some years ago, after a lot of study, Kmart set its prices to all end in .97 because customers' emotional response was that _that_ was a "discount" price. (I'd not price a book with a price ending with .97, unless you're offering a discount- appropriate title.)
In general, I think that most small/self-publishers would be well served to have an experienced, professional _cover_ designer help with the cover. That's not to say that conceptual ideas you might have shouldn't be incorporated into the design -- but a professional will know how to get it all to come together. (In my book, I explain the 6 questions you should ask a prospective designer, too...)
Oh ... if the book cover manages to address every issue I've outlined here, and has an attractive design, then so much the better!
So, there's a few facts about book covers -- all that, and more in my book...
Author: Book Design and Production: A Guide for Authors and Publishers
Winner: BAIPA 2006 Book of the Year award
Visit my web site at http://www.aeonix.com for publishing hints
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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