Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book covers - do they matter?

In a writer's forum of which I am a member, our discussion moderator recently posed the question, "How crucial is the cover of a book to you?"

Brian Austin worked in a Christian book store (Hanover Bible Book Music & Video Store in Hanover, Ont) for twelve years as a "Frontliner." That means he dealt directly with customers and processed sales, along with other chores around the store (he retired in 2009). His response to the question about covers was so insightful, I asked his permission to quote what he said. Here's the lowdown about covers from a bookstore "Frontliner":

"Covers make an incredible difference. Twelve years in a Bible Book Store showed me mediocre books with great covers outselling great books with mediocre covers almost without exception. Enough publicity could tip the balance the other way. An attractive cover gets the book picked up. Then the back cover copy becomes critical. But you have to get it picked up first.

Something else to be aware of in any bookstore: Many of their titles will be spine out, so that may be all you get to catch people's attention except during special promotions. Unless your are one of the few universally known authors, your title has to grab attention. If you are fortunate enough to have your book displayed face out, be aware that many face-out shelves stagger books, with the bottom 1/3 covered by the title below it. I see many very attractive book covers designed by professionals with all the critical information in that bottom 1/3. In many stores in their premium display place, that critical information becomes invisible. Those can be stunning covers, but still fail in moving your book if the critical information is hidden.

Good cover design is pretty time sensitive. Many excellent book covers from 10 years ago look old today on our church library shelves. If you can find something that captures some key element of your story, but that won't become dated (good luck) you will have something extra going for you.

Be aware also of an aging population. I personally like the appearance of many of the fancy fonts and of some colours of text. But more and more often I give up on a book before completing the back cover, even when the appearance pleases me, because it's too difficult for me to read. I don't think I'm the only one getting older.

Can I also point out a couple other factors? If your book finds its way to a library shelf, the spine label will most likely be about one inch from the bottom of the book, in most cases covering part or all of the author's name. You should be dreaming of having your book on library shelves, so think about how the spine-label is gong to look on it. The date-due stamp and barcode will usually be on the right-hand leaf when you flip the cover open or on the inside back cover. Many books use that right-hand leaf to place "what readers are saying about this book." As a librarian, I value those tributes, but I cover them with the date-due slip if that's where they come. It is a higher priority to be able to quickly process a sign-out than to preserve what others have said about the book. 
One cover design bothered me--until after I had read the book. Then it made perfect sense. "Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds" by Tom Davis is a cover design that made me very hesitant to pick up the book, yet the book itself is outstanding and the cover fits it exceptionally well. Does it help market the book? I doubt it. You can see it on and I highly recommend it."  - Brian C. Austin
I'm wondering:
  • Does the cover of a book affect your book buying decision?
  • Which books, in your opinion, have effective covers? 
  • Which covers turn you off?


PeaceLady said...

I like this post. I know book covers matter to me, but not as much as they used to. I've found so many unique thoughts in unlikely places that I'm willing to give almost any book a chance. But the cover probably does filter more than I realize.
One reason I like this post is because I've always liked design and this is another aspect of that. thanks.
I wish others would have given some answers to your questions!

violet said...

Thanks, Irene! I really appreciated Brian's thoughts because he worked in a bookstore and saw a lot of different covers and the affect they had on customers.

I think I'm with you, in that covers don't influence me a great deal. I rarely buy a book on impulse. It's usually because I've read about it or the author's ideas, and so I'll buy the book despite the cover because I already have some idea of what's inside. But I guess when someone is browsing for new books, it could be the cover that gets them to pick it up in the first place. And that's how it all starts, isn't it?