Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You Do Judge a Book by Its Cover

In my post on Is Good Writing Really Enough, many of you were wonderfully honest about what leads you to buy a new book by an unknown author. I have to admit, I was surprised by how many said that the title of a book and/or its cover were two of the leading reasons why you bought a book. I don’t know why I should be, maybe it’s because I’m so frequently criticized for looking at things too narrowly that I assumed you would have bigger answers. I guess I assumed that because you harp on agents for judging from a simple query letter that you would judge from more. But there it is. I think you proved to all that whether we want to or not we do in fact judge a book by its cover.

This discussion reminded me of when I heard a Borders Romance Buyer speak at last year’s RWA. One of her key points was that when it comes to erotic romance, a naked or semi-naked man on the cover works every single time. And personally I think titles that are short and snappy usually work the best because, let’s face it, they are easier to remember.

From our own list I’ve always loved the titles Knit One, Kill Two and Red Hot Reunion. And of course I’ve already told you the story of The Accidental Demon Slayer, a title that had me from the subject line. As for covers, I remember very specifically the moment I saw the cover for Mystic River. I bought the book without even reading the back-cover copy.

And of course I spend hours, sometimes days, slaving away with authors over title ideas. I know that for some we’ve gone round after round after round trying to find that one perfect title that will grab a reader, while for other books the titles come naturally, fluidly. For some reason we hardly need to think about it because the perfect title is just there.

But what about you? What titles and which covers have spoken to you over the years? And let’s be honest here. Which titles and/or covers have you seen that turned you off, no matter how much the book was recommended?



Liana Brooks said...

I'm a sci-fi fan and admit I look for covers with someone holding a blaster. If I see skimpy clothes or a super busy cover I usually pass. One cover that grabbed my attention was Nylon Angel- the book was white rather than the usual dark colors and it had a girl with a gun on the front looking angry and a faint explosion in the background.

The other cover that grabbed my interest was an older book I found in the library called Warboy- there was a guy in a spaceship hatch drawn to look as if he was looking right at you and he had a curious expression like "who are you?" I liked the cover and the book.

For romance covers.... my running theory is that the more discreet the cover the more intense the book usually is. When I see the classic 80's romance pose with a half-dressed barbarian and a girl falling out of her corset I mentally tag it as fluffy. A nice strong looking arm or rugged jawline is better, a pretty picture with something simple and no people and a different inside cover is usually best. It's a theory that's worked alright for the past few years... if the publishers change their cover trends though I'm in trouble. I'll actually have to read the back copy.

Unknown said...

I adored the cover for Jennifer Crusie's Faking It. After I read it, I put it on the coffee table in the living room so I could see it every time I walked by.

A also thought Mystic River was fab but the first edition cover didn't draw me in. I didn't read it until after the movie came out (which I have yet to see) and the cover was redone. I thought that was a cool cover of the three men reflected in the water.

Although I loved the first few Anita Blake books by LKH, the original covers of the first one was so awful I would never have purchased it if not for strong word of mouth.

The current covers in much of the mass paperback arena are turn offs for me these days because none of them stand out. It's as if everything that's hot romance gets one type of cover, everything that's humorous romance gets another, paranormal a third, etc. They feel very generic and I haven't been inspired to pick anything up by cover in some time.

But I imagine creating a cover that is strongly unique and yet still conveys the feel of the book is a challenge that can't be met for every book. It would require artists of uncommon talent to be that original for every book released.

Suzan Harden said...

LOL - You caught us, Jessica. We are that shallow.

I was turned off by the original cover of Sherrilyn Kenyon's 'Fantasy Lover' when it first came out, bright red cover with a naked guy. (I know it was the red, not the naked guy, that bothered me.) I missed a wonderful book because of my own stupid prejudice. St. Martin's recently reprinted the book with a new cover that (I think) more accurately reflects the tone of the book. Dark colors with the hero, Julian, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, leaning against a column of a Greek Revival mausoleum.

I know it's the cover prejudice when I can read someone's work (a contest entry or critiquing a friend) and I can focus on the story itself. Plain white paper - the great equalizer!

Timmy Mac said...

I recently got, and loved, Jonathan Lethem's "Gun, With Occasional Music," and I chose it about 75% on the title alone, and the other 25% because it had a picture of a kangaroo with a gun. The combo made it absolutely irresistible.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, very good question. A busy cover puts me off. Too much going on with not enough focus on the main characters makes me afraid that it's a reflection of what the writing is like.

What I do like...that's harder. One or both of the main characters, opened spaces, a hint of tension (not necessarily sexual), vivid colors. Thanks for the great post.

KateS said...

I have to say, I used to be turned off by the hotter covers, as I didn't feel I could take them anywhere with me. Now that they have covers to cover the book covers, lol, I'm more apt to take them to the doctor's office or on the subway with me.

In terms of buying, the first thing I judge is the cover (yes, I'll admit it), then I read the blurb, and perhaps peruse a few pages, if it's a new author.

I can't think of a specific book right now that caught my attention or turned me off, but I'm sure they're out there!

Mark Terry said...

I admit to liking bold covers, preferably in bright colors.

Titles can be a bigger seller. Over the years, some have worked better than others. I always admired Ross Thomas's:

"Ah, Treachery!"

"The Fools In Town Are On Our Side."

"Missionary Stew" (what cannibals eat is what it refers to)

And my all-time favorite of Thomas's: "Voodoo, Ltd."

Luckily, in his case, the books live up to the titles.

"Rules of Prey" by John Sandford set the standard, although now it's hard to remember what each book is about because of the word "Prey" in the title.

"The Green Ripper" by John D. MacDonald. All his Travis McGee novels have color in the title, but I always thought this one was a particularly good title (a bastardization of The Grim Reaper).

I think Robert Crais' titles are often very good. Note the oddity of his first Elvis Cole book: "The Monkey's Raincoat," which actually refers to a haiku.

And Stephen King's "Bag Of Bones" is just brilliant, because it refers to so many different things in the book, literal and metaphorical. It sort of refers to a possibly made-up Thomas Hardy quote that even the best-written character, compared to a real live person, is nothing but a bag of bones. But it literally refers to a bag of bones, and it also refers to the narrator, who for four years is walking around in a daze, barely engaged with life, pretty much a ghost without being dead, in this metaphor, a bag of bones.

Anonymous said...

I'm a historical romance reader/writer and I do judge a book by its cover, in fact author/title has nothing to do with it. Covers with the traditional drawn H/H a must for me but I find cheesy the photographed people covers a turn off.

I do cross over to contemp romance at times and I would have to say funky cartoony covers (chicklitty)are also a big turn off for me, as well as Anime.

The cover from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyers totally grabbed me, the simplicity was genius.

Jennifer Linforth said...

Jessica will be happy to know I picked up The Naked Earl because of the cover on a promo card. It was simple, but something about the colors and title just grabbed me (So yes--the right title is a MUST!)

I picked up Susanne Dunlap's Liszt's Kiss because of the cover at first. I loved the book.

For me, the cover has to tell a story. I love books that make me flip back to look at the cover as I am reading.

It is a part of your book. I think it is just as important for writers to convey to their publishers what story they want to tell on their covers as well as between the pages.

Janet said...

I never buy a book because of the cover. I do refuse to buy them because of the cover. I don't read romance, so the half-naked guy or the embracing couple is a flag. Anything that looks like pulp fiction is a flag. Skimpy outfits are flags. I keep on going. The only time I've bought such things is when I've already read the book and I know the cover is not an accurate reflection. It drives me nuts, but what can you do?

What drives me to buy a book most often (apart from already knowing the author or having solid recommendations) is the actual writing. I don't buy them on the strength of the cover (which I often hate) or the back copy (which I rarely trust - it so often sounds like something very different from the actual book). A catchy title and an acceptable cover will draw me to read the first chapter or two.

My favourite cover in a very long time has been the one for Madman by Tracy Groot. Understated, evocative, powerful - just like the writing.

Having said all that, I am cheap and have a budget to match. Most exploring of new books goes on at the library. That's where I discover which ones I really want to buy.

Shaun Carney said...

I don't read books based on the cover or title, though I guess I have to admit that they have both in the past grabbed me enough to get me to look at the dust jacket description. That's where I finally decide to whether to read the book.

Dean Koontz has a way of getting that perfect title, at least to me. Titles like "From the Corner of His Eye" and "One Door Away From Heaven" just seem to grab me. But, I am probably a bit biased as well - I haven't met a Koontz book I didn't like yet.

"The Gunslinger" grabbed me and started me on the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I'm not a western novel fan, but just the thought that King might have written a western made me want to read it. Naturally, once I read the dust jacket, I realized it was not JUST a western at all.


Vikki said...

I have to say, in the last year, there was one book that practically smacked me in the face the moment I walked into the bookstore. Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him. The title just really struck me. Totally not my genre at all - it was about the NY's pretentious art world (no thanks), but I still think the title, although a bit clumsy, is very memorable.

Most of Jennifer Crusie's covers grab me immediately (I'm with Jeanne - Faking it is probably one of my favs). I'm always instantly attracted to sassy, quirky covers with woman either looking uber-chic or completely goofy (i.e. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood). I shy away from romance with images of heaving chests and scantily clad women. Much prefer a Katie MacAlister or Stephanie Rowe type cover.

Kathleen MacIver said...

I think it's because we pretty much HAVE to at least make a partial judgment on a book, based on it's cover. We don't have time to read the back and the chapter of every single book in the bookstore! There's just too many. (Which isn't too different than why you have to use query letters to figure out which manuscripts you want to read more of.)

This is actually a trust issue, though. We unconsciously trust that the publisher is going to do their best to make the cover reflect the book, at least to some degree. I can't see judging the book based on whether the people were pretty or ugly, or whether the castle was the right era (they rarely are)... but I expect a historical romance novel with half-dressed people to have a decent amount of people getting undressed in it. I expect a book with country scenery to take place in the country, and one that shows a busy city to reflect that. Historical should reflect historical, and modern should reflect modern. Between the cover and the title, we should be able to at least have the feel for which genre, century, and country it takes place in. In the instances that I've picked up a book, opened it up, and found that the cover did not reflect the type of book it was, I've felt betrayed.

I think it's kind-of like the old saying that you don't fall in love with someone for their looks, but it's their looks that make you want to get to know them. I don't buy books based on their cover or title, but I'll rarely even give a book a chance if its cover is telling me that it's not a genre or style of book that I feel like reading at that moment.

As a writer, I'm hoping that my covers (if/when I get published) reflect the same style that my website reflects. I designed that to reflect my writing, and marketing will be so much more successful if those who have seen my site recognize the "look" of my book(s) on the shelves.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth C. Bunce

It's a recent YA retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. The cover is absolutely intriguing with a young girl whose face is slightly out of focus, but her hands, which are bound with gold thread, are crystal clear. This one jumps off the shelf.

Kate Douglas said...

Jennifer said: "I think it is just as important for writers to convey to their publishers what story they want to tell on their covers as well as between the pages."

If it were only so easy! I have absolutely no input on my covers. Not a single one in my Wolf Tales series has ANYTHING at all to do with my stories--they don't match the characters or the story line, but they do seem to sell books, so I can't complain too much. I do, however, love a cover that matches the characters in the story as I like to flip back and forth for the visual as I'm reading. It ain't gonna happen with mine!

bob said...

Funny, in your post you state that a paritally naked guy sells every time, and yet those are the exact covers that keep me from purchasing any of those books.

They don't seem very creative, sort of a throw back to the early 80's and cheapen what is probably good stuff inside.

What I have liked is just about every cover from Harlequins NEXT line that is no longer running. They were smart, crisp, modern and usually had a tongue and cheek attitude all in one small cover.

As for titles, short and snappy are always good, but smart and a little tongue and cheek here to is good such as Jenny Gardner's book Sleeping With Ward Cleaver.

Not too long ago I also read I'm Not Julia Roberts by Laura Ruby about a new step mother and that title will always stick in my head.

I agree King's Bag of Bones was great to!

bob said...

Oh and just to add, Allison Winn Scotch's covers for The Department of Lost and Found and her new one Time of My Life are just classy, love'em.

Kathleen MacIver said...

And no, I don't usually go for covers with half naked people either. But that's probably because I like books for the story and characters, and half-naked on the cover makes me expect that the story focuses on and is carried by sex, instead.

But that's probably not fair to a lot of authors out there, who really do put a lot of thought and care into creating honorable characters.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it... The Cover catches the eye and grabs the imagination. The Title should tell something of the book in someway.

A cover will draw me towards a book, but rarely turn me away. If it's too erotic looking I may pass simply because I pull more towards the story line not the steamy sex scenes(as nice as they are lol).

The title will sometimes sell me, and is why I stress so hard over picking a perfect one for my stories.

Almost always I am sold by the back cover... sometimes the writer... extremely rarely the reputation sells me... The times it has I've almost always been dissapointed...

Some of my favorite covers and titles have been put out by AVON...Two that comes to mind that I really liked and have made their ways to my favorite list...
Everything and the Moon and Brighter than the Sun Both by Julia Quinn...

Too busy, too bright, too bloody, or too racy don't appeal to me personally.

-K.D. Fisk

Anonymous said...

Once I'm hooked on the author I'd buy a book with a black cover and no title - so long as it gave the author's name. I wouldn't even read the blurb.

BriteLady said...

Many times, I like a simple but clever cover. One that comes to mind is Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin--my copy is a pale, solid color (pink or blue I think), and the second "o" in borrowed is a diamond ring, which effectively separates the word into Borr and wed. I had a good idea what the book might be about before I even picked it up the first time.

This isn't quite your question, but I've noticed that the size/shape of the book very much colors my impression of the words within. In paperbacks, the taller, somewhat thinner books always make me think that the book will be classier or more mainstream. The more traditional paperback size--shorter, fatter, always seems a bit, well, not as good. They charge more for the bigger, thinner books than the short fat ones also (usually around $12 instead of $7 I think).

Is it just me, or did that size difference just start within the last 5-10 years? It seemed like in high school, I either saw hardcovers or the littler paperbacks, but these new ones seem like a strange cross breed.

Kathleen MacIver said...

I think the fatter, shorter ones are Mass Market Paperbacks, which are less expensive, and also often printed on cheaper paper, etc. They're so cheap to print that the returns aren't sent back to the publishers... only the covers are, and the rest of the book is "supposed" to be thrown away. That's why so many of these have on the title page, "If you purchased this book without a cover, then it is illegal and the author got no royalty for it." (Or something like that.)

The others are trade paperback.

I think there's a difference in print runs and/or royalties on them, but I don't remember exactly, at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Borders recently (while arranging the deck chairs?) announced that they were going to have more books "turned" with the covers out on shelves based on the observation that this increases sales 11%. So at least someone thinks covers do sell 'em.

I have to say that I don't remember buying too many books for the covers myself, however, at least in the last 10 years. I've bought too many online based on recommendations from other people and the weensy photos at don't really do much for anyone.

Having said that, I know that when I am browsing I take a book more seriously that has a serious cover. I don't read romance, though I probably should, in part because the covers make me think of 1950s proto-porn that seems like it's meant for a previous generation.

So while a cover can be shown to be important in the industry, I think for me it's as likely to turn-off as turn-on. That may mean I'm a snob, so discount accordingly.

Perhaps the covers aren't so much the selling point as the hook that gets people to pick up a book and look it over. I know I've purchased books on architecture not just for the cover but because they were insightful *and* had a cover that grabbed me enough to take that longer look. I'm willing to go along with that one.

sruble said...

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

Excellent title. The cover is great too (the original one with the girl on the front and the really cool feel to it, not the movie tie-in cover or any of the other covers, which I don't think are as effective).

Anonymous said...


The standard for paperbacks seems to be 6" wide by 9" tall. You are absolutely right that this is intended to give it a bit more heft than your Penguin Pocket Classics or other traditional smaller sizes.

Part of the reason is, indeed, that you have room for better looking cover art. It's also worth noting that more and more small presses never release a hardbound edition of anything, meaning that this larger size is replacing the hardbound book gradually.

It does make a nice canvas for cover art, and I'm proud of my own self-published "Downriver" and the cover art I commissioned from a tattoo artist down the street illustrating the central part of the book!

Anonymous said...

Walking through a bookstore, I picked up "Ranger's Apprentice" purely because of the cover.

The original Australian covers are much different. Where the U.S. shows an abstract protagonist on the front, the Australian covers use photos of actual people.

The author shares pictures of the different international covers on his website. Looking at them, I much prefer the abstract and I'm glad his U.S. publisher made the switch or I might never have picked up the series.

Francesca Hawley said...

I don't buy a book for it's cover but a hot (read half-naked) guy on the cover stops me in my tracks every time. If the guy is hot, I'm far more likely to pick the book up and read the blurb to see if I'll enjoy the story.

I don't like the cartoonish style all. Unless I'm familiar with an author, I don't pick those books up to check them out unless I've gotten a recommendation.

Anonymous said...

I'm with a lot of the posters who say the title and/or cover catches their attention but it is the blurb or writing inside (yeah, I will often scan the first few pages - no cracking of spines though!) that gets me to buy. I absolutely love the majority of covers I see - the clinches, the skimpy dressed, the sci-fi and even the "vanilla" covers. I do, like others have said, shy away from the erotic covers since they tend to be far more revealing then I'd like and of course, illustrate what I can expect from the book. I don't read erotic - I've tried. I just can't get past sex as a plot point.

When I've read the blurb, I also stay away from vampire books (as the main characters), shifters and destined mates.

Lord, destined mates drive me nuts! Most of them (except Lord of the Fading Lands by CL Wilson which I LOVED!) make it too easy for their characters to be together through the destined/soul mate bond. I like when the characters have to work at it even though they are supposed to be together.

Bottom line? I've NEVER bought a book because of the cover or title. The prettiest cover and wittiest title do not a great story make. :D

Sookie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beverley Kendall said...

A man with a ripped chest on the front cover (tastefully done), will always make me take another look, but I will NEVER buy a book just for the cover. It might entice me to read the back but if the blurb doesn't interest me, lovely as he might be, the book goes back on the shelf.

Beverley Kendall said...

And a cowboy with his face obscured by a hat is also very nice.

Tiffany Clare said...

I'll take a naked (mostly naked) man on the cover of an erotic any day. I love how risqué they are getting, I just wish they'd let the dang towel fall.

I stopped paying attention to covers. Look at Jasper Fforde, I think they are terrible Harry Potter rip offs, but the stories... amazing.

KL Grady said...

I loathe the series romance titles and often the covers. I'd probably buy more except I can't get over the mockery via title of what is sometimes a great story. I'm waiting for the day that I see a title like The Greek Tycoon Rancher, the Baby, and the Amnesiac Bride. I know Harlequin/Silhouette bases those titles on marketing, but come on!

I did recently purchase a book based on its title and a peek at the first sentence - Bedlam, Bath and Beyond. Funny and catchy titles will always grab my attention first.

Vicki said...

It’s titles and covers for me. When I walk into BnN or Borders and hit the romance shelves, there are tons of books. Some of which I know the authors and some of which I don’t. Not all books are turned out, so the first thing I’ll see on those is the title on the spine. For the rest of them, I look at the cover first. If I’ve never heard of the author it will definitely be one of those two things which will make me want to pick up the book and read the backcover blurb.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Looking at the reverse, I've always thought the cover art for Stephen King's THE STAND didn't do it justice.

I like the patriotic themes of the Vince Flynn Books.

Roberta said...

I live on a remote island with no bookstore, so all my book buying is done at online. I go by titles. Period. I order and order! Half the time I don't even know the genre until I examine the book.

Ada [The Duchess] said...

First thing that pulls me towards a book is its cover. How else do you choose to turn it over (or read the side flap)? Secondly, I read back or side blurb. The last thing I will do (and it's absolutely shameless of me), is I will read the last page. Yes, I'm a cheat like that. Sue me. If it's good, I'm probably going to buy it. With agents, something has to grab them doesn't it? The short summary in the query has to make them want more.

Anonymous said...

The original paperback of Congo. Brilliant green, diecut, gorilla glaring out from within daring you not to buy it. Chrichton is unusually well-served by his covers, due to the huge advances no doubt. His sales certainly warrant the attention, but his writing often leaves me admiring the covers more.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a book cover attracts my attention. Titles don't really do it for me to pick up on impulse.

The reason a book cover attracts me is it tells me that I am going to pick up a book that is in the mood I am interested in reading. If I am in the mood for light romance with humor, I want a cover to reflect that. Then, I pick it up and read the back. If the back is consistent, then I buy the book. I try new authors this way.

For authors I've read before and loved, a cover doesn't mean much. I think the cover means most for new authors trying to build their readership.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting one for you. I have a friend who gave me a book recently that she said I absolutely had to read. She said the book was incredible but the cover was awful and she ripped it off. Now, I have no idea what the cover looked like, but she was right about the book - it was awesome.

As several have pointed out, the cover has to convey the essence of the story while attracting the eye. If I am ever blessed to be published, I am going to do my best to work with my agent and publisher to get the kind of cover that would attract me as a reader and not just an author.

Jeannie Ruesch said...

I have a very strong relationship between liking covers and buying books - but then, I'm also a graphic designer so it's in my nature to need to connect on a visual level first.

But I don't look to the cover to tell me about the characters or the story, I look to the cover to tell me what I can expect emotionally from a book. I have to be in the mood for that particular emotion in order to be interested in that cover.

If I want to laugh, I'm going to be drawn to bright colors, quirky figures on the cover and something that makes me cock my head and smile.

Romances do have similar covers, but I appreciate that because I know what to expect from the book by the "feeling" I get from the cover. And I'm rarely surprised so I think the covers have done their job.

I tend to be drawn to the ones that feature a figure - whether it be the curve of a woman's hip in a historical dress (or jeans and t-shirt) -- but without a face. Faces pull attention and you focus less on the feeling the cover gives you than you do the face itself.

Recent covers I remember loving: Kristin Hannah's Magic Hour. The image of the girl on the front is blond, but the girl in the book has dark hair. But the image is so compelling, I didn't care. And I adored the book - it's one of my favorites.

However, with authors I know and love, I'll buy their books even if the cover has roadkill on it.

Aimlesswriter said...

Most important: I like big clear title, easy to read. No cartoons,(drawings okay, don't make them cartoonie) clear pictures without too much going on. Konrath has a skull hidden in the pics on his book covers-kinda neat. Once it was in the ice cube, once in the juice.
Romances? Naked doesn't grab me as much as an embrace. Show me passion.
Suspense-no blood please but weapons are okay. Something else related to the story.
Can I design my own cover?? Please? Please? Please!
How much say would an author get on their cover?

Unknown said...

Covers mean little to me, but I'm a sucker for a great title. As soon as I heard of THE LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE, I knew it was a book I had to read. And the author, Christopher Moore, has lived up to my expectations every time.

Nakedness, male or female, is probably my least favorite cover element.

But I've always wondered - since we know covers are important for a good chunk of the reading public, does a cover artist's continued employment depend on sales numbers, the way an author's does?

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why authors sometimes get into heated battles over control of the cover art.

Question for agents: how common is it that an author asks for control of cover art in the publishing contract--is this sonmething you typically negotiate for?

Kathleen MacIver said...

Yes! That is DEFINITELY a question I'd like to know about! Does the agent need to include how much say the author wants to have in the contract?

Like I mentioned before... I want some say. This is MY book, I want to be proud of what's on that cover, and I want it to fit well with my website and marketing campaign. I'm not going to be super difficult, but I will have a few requests that I'd like to make sure that the publisher will work with, unless they have a really good reason not to.

Rachel Glass said...

I like neat, clean covers, like Ken Follet or something by Nicholas Sparks. I like my book to look like a book.

If and when I read romances, I don't want people to see me reading a book with a ripped Fabio holding two Great Danes or naked lovers in an embrace; it's embarassing, especially if I'm on a lunch break.

I like the covers Nora Roberts does for her books, something with a new, funky design that looks like a substantial piece of work.

What prompts me to buy? Got me there, I won't buy a romance/erotic romance with bodies on the front page - I'd be inclined to rip the cover out and slide it into the jacket of another book (let's face it, today's a corporate world, and not everyone wants to be seen holding something startling).

However, I always spend time reading the back of each book and flipping through it a little to get an idea if it appeals to me writing-wise.

These blogs are getting better and better - forcing us to think, what's up with THAT??? ; )

Bill Peschel said...

Although I haven't picked it up, the book "Magical Thinking" with Chip Kidd's cover art (a glass of water being poured, with the stream making a U and going UP), is still niggling in me.

"Scratch Golfer" by Wille Thompson is a really neat combination of great art and a funny story (think "Devil and Daniel Webster" on a golf course). Once you know what it's about, the title is awfully clever.

A lot of popular fiction, on the other hand, contain titles that put me to sleep. Currently, it's Harlan Coben. "Hold Tight". "The Woods". "The Innocent." Why bother. Just call it "Harlan Coben #11" and call it a day.

Anonymous said...

The cover of Stephen King's 'It' was terrifying, and obviously perfect for the genre. The eyes in the drain, the balloon...eesh. The twelve year old in me still gives drains a second glance and a wide berth. I could only sleep at night if I turned the book to face the floor. A friend I loaned it to couldn't sleep with it in the house and had to put it out in the garden shed. Long live the King!

Anonymous said...

I was reading another discussion about how romance covers have colored the perception of romance. It's interesting to see some of my suspicions confirmed.

I really like Deb Cooke's Dragon Fire covers. The guy is sexy, vague, and most importantly, clothed. And the chaos in the background gives a sense of the turmoil of the books.

I also really like the cover of "Pickpocket Countess," by Bronwyn Scott. Again, they are clothed, but it is clearly a historical romance, and the cover is really witty in a slightly shocking kind of way that makes me smile.

I don't tend to pick up new authors from browsing covers. I'll pick them up based on good buzz and word of mouth. So covers don't do much for hooking me, but I've laughed really hard at some of them. I haven't seen any really terrible covers in a long time though.

I also agree that some of the erotic ones go just a teensy bit too far. I enjoy covers that I don't feel I have to hide in front of children.

Anonymous said...

I was completely entranced by the colors, picture, and title of Melissa Marr's WICKED LOVELY.

If the cover weren't so compelling, I never would have given it a chance, since I didn't think I liked fantasies. Found out they're not so bad after all. :)

Anonymous said...

If I'm looking for a fantasy, I'll often look at the cover to see if there's a woman on it. I like reading books with heroines, so I check the back the of the book hopefully to see if there is actually a heroine. Sometimes they have a woman on the cover, and the main character is a guy.

Urban fantasy is another story. I like urban fantasy, and am, in fact working on one. But I hate the covers. Really hate the covers. If Laurell K. Hamilton's early books had been first published with the covers they use today, I would have never ever picked up one of her books.

For mysteries and thrillers, I don't pay any attention to the covers. Title gets my attention, and then I check the back of the book to see if I'm interested in reading it.

Sandra Cormier said...

Whether we like it or not, the cover is the first thing potential readers see. If it doesn't at least strike a chord, the customer won't look further.

When I was younger, I was attracted to Frank Frazetta-like covers with bold oil paintings and ultra real dragons and heroes.

Today, I shy away from the half-naked headless people, mostly because bookshelves are saturated with them. Same goes for cutesy-pie chick lit covers.

I like them either simple, with clean graphic lines or classical like a good oil painting.

As a graphic designer, I was fortunate to help design my first book cover and it garnered a top ten result on the Preditors & Editors poll. That might not count for much on the grander scale, but at least I had that one chance to have a say in the design of one of my book covers.

I realize I may never have that chance again. When I work with a larger publisher, I'll have to trust their marketing department to do what's best for me as an author.

For the most part, they do a great job, but I've seen some real dogs out there!

Joseph L. Cooke said...

Tom Clancy's books always have cool names. Interesting titles and artwork will get me to at least examine the book.

Once upon a time, if I liked the author, I'd buy the book - period.

Those days are gone becasue certain popular authors use 'researchers' to do their writing. Fans can usually spot the fraud.

Other authors, bowing to the majority of book buyers being female, have created unbelievable female characters in non-traditional roles, that cause the plot to suffer. Those authors I now pass by.

So, now I exercise caution before plunking down my $20 or $25 for any writer and read both inside flaps and the summary on the back of the jacket.

Anonymous said...

I'm much more auditory than visual, so I usually don't pay much attention to book covers. A good title will get my attention enough to pick up a book and think about buying it.

That said, I actually do -- or did -- like cartoon-type covers, which seem unpopular with most of the responders, but then I also like comedy.

The cover must reflect the tone and mood of the book. I once judged a book for a contest. The cover (a cartoon) and title promise a bright, cheerful story -- but the book was actually quite dark and thus a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Diana Gabaldon's 'Outlander' Series all have beautiful covers and great titles. I love that she fought to keep the length of her novels too, she's such a wonderful storyteller. Bernard Cornwell is another favourite (of 'Sharpe' fame), and Barbara Erskine. I like a substantial book, well told, with a character-driven plot. I don't care for opening paragraph hooks, don't mind if it's not wholly original, do prefer it to be well written. The cover doesn't usually sell a book to me unless it has aspects that show it to be of a certain genre I might be interested in. Voice means the most when I read the opening paragraph -- If I find myself turning the page that's a good sign.

Anonymous said...

I once got teased by a co-worker for reading my "steamy" romance novel (it wasn't steamy). I was so embarrassed that I went home and made a paper book cover for my book (like you did back in high school). I took a brown lunch sack, cut off the bottom and made a couple of folds to fit the size of the book. I still read what I like to read, but I didn't have to show off the half-naked people on the front.

Covers are very important and determine if a reader is going to pick up the book and consider reading it. While some people are not visual, the majority of us are - or there wouldn't be a need for the romance genre and the imagining that you are the woman in the hero's arms.

Julie Weathers said...

I don't normally judge a book by its cover. Some appeal to me more than others.

Diana Gabaldon's are rich elegantly simple, which I like. Her writing is what sells her books, not a naked Jamie on the cover.

The new relases of Tony Hillerman's books have beautiful covers, but they could be in a plain, brown wrapper and I would read them. He was recommended to me and I fell in love with his stories even though the early ones are a little rough.

I did read one book by a horsewoman, who had written a mystery about a murdered cutting horse trainer. That cover was so horrible I had to remove it so I could read the book. Yes, it really was that bad. I'm quite sure anyone who was familiar with western horses didn't read it unless it had been recommended to them. She was aghast at the cover art, but had no say in the matter.

That makes me wonder if a new author can ever have any control over disastrous cover art.

I can think of only two titles that jump out at me. In The Elecric Mist With The Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke. I was already a fan of his so I would have bought it anyway, but I loved the title. The other title I can't remember, but it struck me as so beautiful I picked up the book and seriously considered buying it even though it wasn't anything I was remotely interested in.

I'm reading Geroge R. R. Martin's Fire and Ice series now because it was recommended. The covers are fine, the titles are fine, but nothing breathtaking and that suits me.

I have about thirty books on my shelves I bought because they were on sale and I'll read them eventually. When I am doing some serious shopping, however, I read the cover, the first page or two, a few random pages and sometimes the last page. If the writing style grabs me I buy it.

Having said that, I know covers and titles are important to most readers. I'll take my half naked guys in William Lawson's Scotch commercials and leave the naked guy covers to others.

I'm about as worthless with titles as I am with query letters, so I will probably hire a ghost title writer.

Anonymous said...

Denise Rossetti's 'Gift of the Goddess' has one of the best erotic covers I've ever seen, closely followed by Jaid Black's 'Warlord'.

Julie, if they made a film of Gabaldon's novels with Gerry Butler as Jamie and put him on the cover I'd definitely buy it! lol.

Julie Weathers said...

This prompts me to ask a question. If you were given complete control over the cover art to your book, what would it be?

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen MacIver said...

Julie said, "This prompts me to ask a question. If you were given complete control over the cover art to your book, what would it be?"

Well... since you asked...

Mine would have the same sword that's on my avatar, but it would have a violin, also. It's an intriguing combination, symbolic of the hero and heroine AND of something relatively new (well, 150 years new) and Scotland, 700 years ago. Here is the cover I designed for fun. (It's a wrap-around cover, with one side of the sword hilt reaching around to the spine.) It's not perfect, but I hope that my future cover artist can take the idea and improve upon it.

Then future books would have different swords (reflecting the sword of the new hero) and a different picture that pertains to that book, instead of the violin.

Anonymous said...

Katie, that's a beautiful cover!

Julie, I think I like the Rossetti and Black covers best for that genre because they're dark and sexy, yet both are quite different. In 'Warlord' the man looks out with a challenging half smile. In 'Gift of the Goddess' you can't quite see his face but his body is tattooed and hot, hot, hot (and makes you think you wouldn't mind a gift of that calibre under your tree at Christmas!). I would like mine to have that same dark sexiness, but with the heroine strong in the front, staring out, a bit dirty and windblown, and the hero in shadows behind her.

Julie Weathers said...

Katie, that is a gorgeous cover. I am seriously impressed.

Anon, I agree those sound wonderful. Yeah, the tattooed hero would be eye-catching.

*Julie, wandering back to watch more Lawson's Scotch commercials.

Kathleen MacIver said...

Thank you. I love graphic design!

L.L. Muir said...

Absolute honesty? I look at how much small print is on the cover first--cover quotes, etc. If there is no other words on the cover than the title and author, there is nothing inside to crow about.

Ainsley MacQueen

Aimlesswriter said...

Oooo, one more thing; paperbacks are definately better. Easier to stuff in a pocket or purse. I only buy the hardback if I LOVE the author and can't wait.
Please have a blurb on the back. Some authors have their face there and then I have to hunt for whats in the book. (Usually big authors do this like Koonts)Annoying.

Angie Fox said...

If I'm walking into a bookstore with no notion of what I'm looking to buy, only that I want a paranormal or a mystery or whatever, then the title and cover are the first thing I see and are what ultimately make me pick up a book.

The blurb and the first page will help me decide whether or not to buy, but that cover/title are crucial to getting me to pick up the book in the first place. I thought hard about my title and prayed hard for a good cover for that very reason!

And I don’t mind the erotics with the pictures of hunky men. Of course my husband always likes to remind me that, “Those have to be airbrushed.” Makes me smile – and look forward to attending the RT Conference someday to see a few cover models for myself. For research purposes, of course.

Anonymous said...

I avoid hot/sexual covers. My theory is that if a book needs sex in order to sell, it probably isn't very well written. I have no doubt I miss a few good books because of that, but I figure I save time/money on books that aren't worth it to make up for it.

Other than that, a cover or title might get me to pick up a book off a shelf, but not to buy. What makes me pick it up though? It has to intrigue me somehow. It needs to have a hook related to it's genre. Two of my favorite covers are Judith McNaught's Every Breath you Take and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. McNaught's sets up the romance and the mystery (although doesn't really represent the book). Meyer's does represent the book and it absolutely brilliant in my opinion. (pale female arms coming together in the shape of a V. Wrists exposed. Holding/offering a shiny red apple - Is there a better way to say vampire vs. vulnerable woman?)

Anyways... I'll check a book out because of a cover, but I NEVER buy anything without reading the reviews on Amazon.

Anonymous said...

I was really bothered by the cover of Nancy Bush's new Ultra Violet. I liked the art, but then I saw the quote that starts with something like, "Move over, Stephanie Plum..."

The quote is attributed to Lisa Jackson.

I blinked at that for a moment and thought, "Yeah, Lisa Jackson is a major writer, but a quote from her really loses its punch when you consider Lisa Jackson is Nancy Bush's sister..."

Rachel Glass said...

Like my books, I like original covers; we have such an amazing, vast world in the field of graphic design, so many avenues and new approaches one can take.

For the novel I'm presently "peddling", if I had my way I'd want a sort of water-marked background of a picture of the Thames River in London, with a man's attractive dark-green eyes sort of transparent at the top, and below it in High Tower text the title of the book, maybe another neat design in the bottom right hand corner.

Katie, that cover is gorgeous, and intriguing! Right on!

Anonymous said...

It's easier for me to say what I don't buy: any chick-lit looking cover. Hate that whole sex-in-the-city wanna be look. (Actually hated that show, so it's obviously not my genre.)

Really don't like overtly sexual covers. Especially the clutch together with near-nudity. It just screams to me that the book is going to be a series of sex scenes, and I know that's not necessarily the case, but there you have it.

Very drawn to modern fantasy covers--the ones at Juno, for example. Lovely, mysterious, different.

Titles: any form of the word submission will make me run in the opposite direction. Along with "hot, hard, wet, fast, furious..."

One of my favorite titles ever: The Mysteries, by Lisa Tuttle

Anonymous said...

It's easier for me to say what I don't buy: any chick-lit looking cover. Hate that whole sex-in-the-city wanna be look. (Actually hated that show, so it's obviously not my genre.)

Really don't like overtly sexual covers. Especially the clutch together with near-nudity. It just screams to me that the book is going to be a series of sex scenes, and I know that's not necessarily the case, but there you have it.

Very drawn to modern fantasy covers--the ones at Juno, for example. Lovely, mysterious, different.

Titles: any form of the word submission will make me run in the opposite direction. Along with "hot, hard, wet, fast, furious..."

One of my favorite titles ever: The Mysteries, by Lisa Tuttle

Anonymous said...

Presentation (cover/title) is second to word of mouth. But Presentation is what gets me to pick the book up.