The phrase “you can’t judge a book by the binding” was first documented in the Journal of American Speech in 1944. Since then, the cliche has entered our lexicon as a reminder that things aren’t always what they seem.
But for a reader, often the cover is the gateway to a book. It’s the first thing we see on the shelves or as we browse through the lists online. Authors with print books on the shelf want that prized “turn out”space. Readers are more likely to buy a book if they see a well-designed full cover facing them versus the title and author’s name on the spine. Self-published authors can have a cover designer optimize the design for Kindle, featuring size ratios and fonts which show up best in the thumbnail photos commonly seen while browsing.
In addition to being an author, I’m also a reader–and I’m just like you. I love a good cover. Covers are so important that the Houston (Texas) Bay Area chapter of Romance Writers of America hosts an annual competition–Judge a Book by Its Cover (aka, JABBIC). You can see this year’s winners here. Clearly, there’s a trend in torsos going on–except in the inspy category!
When choosing my recent covers for the first two books in my Holiday Hearts series, I worked with the designer to get them just right. And I went to opposite ends of the spectrum for both of them. In New Year’s Eve, I went with a neutral theme. Eve and Spencer meet again on the beach. The brown sand and the gray skies of January play into what’s to come, and I wanted to set that tone for readers right from the start.
But in The Cupid Caper, the story centers around a fun celebration at a high school that catches two teachers up in the middle of the hijinks. The goal with this cover was to be light and approachable. When I found this image–complete with a pop of color in the crazy pink high heels, I knew I’d found the perfect cover. (My instant attraction to this cover also had to do with the fact that I owned this exact dress in high school, myself!)
For my debut with Love Inspired, Saving Gracie, Harlequin’s fabulous art department took my art facts sheet–several pages of my notes on the physical appearance of Gracie and Jake, descriptions of the Victorian era home Gracie had converted into a school, and much, much more–and created a glimpse into Gracie and Jake’s world. I had no idea what they would ultimately use as a cover and when the final design was e-mailed to me, I was thrilled. It was so amazing to me how they took my notes and created such a perfect scene. I love everything about this cover, especially the warm and inviting feeling I think the yellow overtone conveys.
Another cover I’m crazy about recently belongs to my friend Jessica Keller’s new release, Saving Yesterday. The motion of the girl’s hair and the colors let you know immediately that something’s shifting. You’re drawn into the story before it even starts.
Book covers can also help you visualize the characters, like the Daisy, the heroine in Virginia Carmichael’s Leaving Liberty. She’s featured front and center on the cover, and you feel like you know her as soon as you see her.
I’m a big fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, which is now being made into a TV series. Outlander has generic covers, with no character pictures on them, and now that the TV series has been cast, everyone has opinions. Just yesterday, the author herself posted a photo from the set of the filming. One reader lamented that the actor playing the hero, Jamie Fraser, looked nothing like Jamie. I cracked up when I saw Gabaldon’s personal response to that Facebook comment–“Oh, he fits the written description quite well. He may not fit your mental image, but that’s between you and your imagination. <g>”
What about you? What makes a cover stand out to you? What type of cover do you prefer–a cover with pictures of the hero and/or heroine, or something more generic like a scene or landscape featured in the book?
Kristen, covers certainly make a difference in that first impression, don’t they? I’m a fan of hero/heroine pics or unique ones. Melanie Dickerson’s cover art is absolutely phenomenal and I love Laura Frantz’s covers too. But there are so many great covers out there.
As an artist who loves to read, I was opinionated about book covers long before I started drawing them! I love that a good cover draws you in (with the prettiness), but tells you if it’s the sort of book you enjoy (with good branding). I was joking (but not joking) to my husband that I’ve never met a book with a cupcake on the cover that I didn’t like. Sometimes there wasn’t even cupcakes in the book, which is odd…
Kristen Ethridge says
Cupcakes! That’s what we need more of! Now I’m hungry!
Hanna and Pepper, thanks for chiming in! :)
Andrea Cox says
What a fun article, Kristen! Your covers look so sweet.
I like various covers, so it’s hard to choose one type. I’m a big fan of Julie Klassen’s covers. They always intrigue me from the get-go. Just saw her latest on the Writes of Passage blog yesterday.
I like covers that represent the story, but don’t always want the hero or heroine on the cover. I love Both of the covers from the “Austen Takes the South” books by our own Mary Jane Hathaway (Virginia). The first cover for each book shows a portion of the girl’s face, but not all, leaving much to the interpretation of the reader. Her second cover of each book shows the gorgeous dresses, with homes in the background, but no faces. Again, the reader is free to see the verbal picture, painted by the writer’s words. I like that.
I remember the old romance novels, where EVERYONE used Fabio on the front cover, shirtless. The super long hair, and yes, the missing shirt, were both turn offs to me. I like a guy who is clean cut, and knows how to button his shirt.
Cathy Bryant says
I was just about to comment about models on covers when I saw your comment, brightflute! I like to get readers involved on my covers, and I was shocked when they told me: “No people!” And in our reader’s group on Facebook, we’ve been choosing actors and actresses to play various characters from past Miller’s Creek books. Some readers hated it! They have a picture in their minds of what those characters look like, and get downright testy when you mess with those images! :)
I know. LOL IF the characters on the front of the book are accurate to the description, inside, I can be fine with it. However, many times, it is not. Also, beauty will always remain in the eye of the beholder, so…even presented with 2 men, for example, that accurately work with a writer’s description of the hero, if asked to vote on which man gets the cover, you will have a 3rd who chooses Man “A”, a 3rd who chooses man “B”, and the last 3rd saying “neither”. It’s just the nature of the animal.
Cathy Bryant says
Great post, Kristen! Covers DO make a difference, and can set the tone for a novel before one word is read. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!!! :)
I’ve never thought about what draws me to a cover and what doesn’t. I do know that if I don’t like the cover, I won’t be anxious to read the book–unless it is by one of my favorite authors. In a historical novel, if the cover is off on the time period, it makes me think that perhaps the story won’t be authentic either. I won’t usually read those.
I’m one who doesn’t generally like people on the cover if their faces are fully recognizable. Mostly because those images don’t always fit the characters. I’m not talking about not matching my vision of a character – that actually doesn’t bother me anymore than developing an image of someone I’ve met online in my head only to finally see a photo of them and find my mental image doesn’t fit the reality. I just adjust my mental image. I’m talking about images not matching the description given by the author, however basic. For instance, I read a book not long ago where the cover model didn’t even have the same color hair as the character. Annoying. I wondered if the cover designer even knew anything about the character. I’ve seen countless covers that had nothing to do with the story, too, and contained elements that never showed up in the story.
I learned a long time ago to generally disregard the cover when selecting books. I’ve read books with fabulous covers on stories I found boring or just outright hated. I’ve also read books with remarkably lousy covers that were positively wonderful and will remain in my library. In essence, I truly have learned not to judge a book by its cover. The cover is window-dressing. I want to know what’s inside. THAT’s what really matters, and what’s outside often doesn’t reflect it.