Do covers matter?

I was going to write a long article with deep research, insightful commentary and earth shattering conclusions, about whether book covers actually matter.  However, that sounded like a lot of bloody hard work, so instead I read a bunch of other people’s posts, articles and blogs on the issue.

This comment from A Capital Wasteland, sort of sums up my the starting position on the whole cover issue.

The first thing I heard about Lilith’s Brood was a disclaimer: don’t judge this book by its crappy romance novel cover. A naked woman covering her breasts with her hands, under white sheets.

But this is a classic science-fiction trilogy, I thought to myself. I must persevere!

Surely we shouldn’t have to persevere, a book cover should entice us, welcome us in, demand our attention, not put us off or mislead us.

Doug Geivett presents a view I’d not really thought about much, about enjoying book covers for their own sake, as art.  Clearly that’s not all he has to say,

When I say I’m pleased by the cover art of a book, I mean that it gives me pleasure. This is more difficult to explain. And the pleasure induced by a particular cover may be diminished or it may be intensified by the effort to explain its special appeal.

Sadly, Cover Matters doesn’t appear to have posted much content after a flurry of posts in 2010, but the small number of posts do cover a comparison between UK and US covers, which I find fascinating.  One specific comment captures the essence of a cover for me,

I find the cover fascinating, mostly because it sends a vibe of 19th century England that I am quite curious to explore.

Covers should drive curiosity, they should invite and entice!

The Book Smugglers have a really interesting (and somewhat depressing) article on covers with regard to Whitewashing, which you should check out.  The site also has a whole series of article relating to book covers, which you can see here.

I found this post over at Type M for Murder interesting, giving us the view of an author published by quite a well known publisher.

I know it’s wrong of me to say this … but when I first got a peep at my book cover for A VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE! I cried.

It just wasn’t how I had imagined it to be at all. Even worse, I had no clout because it was my first book and as a lowly debut author …

There’s an increasing amount of conversation about book covers now that the number of self published books (both print and ebooks) is on a massive rise.  Authors who self publish often won’t have the funds to commission a good cover or the skills to create their own.  Writers don’t necessarily make artists and designers.  I have no doubt we’ll see a continued rise in the abstract cover, which hides an awful lot of sins but might not entice a lot of readers.  I have no doubt we’ll also see an astronomical rise in the number of ‘how to create a good book cover’ books and websites (not all of them designed with the author’s benefit in mind).

One thing that should be obvious with covers, is that you’re never going to put off an existing fan with a bad cover.  Once I’d read a few David Gemmell books they could have sold them with pictures of dog shit as the only cover element, and I would have still bought them, and still loved them.  Much like using pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packets won’t stop smokers from buying them (the hope is they’ll put off new smokers), the aim of a book cover should be to grab new readers, or at least, new buyers.

My personal main beef with book covers, are those which make the books specifically look like cheesy TV series which I have no interest in.  This (currently) appears to apply to 90% of the paranormal romance and too much of the urban fantasy genre.  I’ll be honest, it also appears to apply more commonly to US covers than UK covers.  Maybe I’m not the target audience anyway, but in many cases I’m sure a good read is hiding behind a book cover I just can’t get past.

For example,

Unshapely Things by Mark del Franco.  This might be one of the best urban fantasy novels out there, but the cover screams ‘cheap cable TV series’.  I picked this up a couple of weeks ago when looking for something to read, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t even get past the cover to read the blurb on the back.

How about this,

It just makes me think of a cheap, late night cop drama that I’m never going to want to read.  I don’t want to detract from the book or the artist who did the covers, this isn’t a complaint about those, it’s just that the picture doesn’t call out to me and tell me anything I like about the potential read.  Of course, I have other issues with some book covers, but I’ll maybe save those for another post.

Can we conclude anything?  Well I’m cheating because I knew before I started this article how I would finish it.  For me, book covers do matter.  They matter because of the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  The cover of a book says, here I am, read me and this is what you will experience within my pages.  I am a book of mystery and intrigue, or a tale of sexual delight, or a story of war and heroism.  We use the cover as shorthand, so we know what kind of world we are about to inhabit, what kind of emotions we hope to feel.  Book covers do not just appeal to our eyes, they must appeal to our soul.