Judging a Book By Its Cover

October 26th, 2011 • Kate

PWFellow Colorado agent Kristin Nelson shared a link today from PW’s ShelfTalker blog. I won’t repeat Kristin’s fab overview of the problems with a lot of covers, but I do want to re-emphasize the comment from Elizabeth Bluemle about making decisions for an entire industry based on a single person’s opinion:

I also understand that publishers pay a lot of attention to what the head buyer at a certain chain store (used to be two chains; look how well that turned out) thinks of a cover. If they don’t like it, they won’t buy it, and that can mean thousands of copies unsold. But relying so heavily on one or two people’s opinions is going to result in a narrow field of acceptable designs, and can only reflect a certain segment of your readership. In addition, those buyers are very likely not on the selling floor, and are far removed from the actual experience of placing a book in a reader’s hands.

I also LOVE her suggestion of how to fix it:

So here’s what I propose to help save yourselves money: create a group of power-indie handsellers, folks with years of experience who know their business cold and excel at recommending books to readers. You send out a pdf to seven folks, and they give you feedback. The idea of adding yet more voices to the process of designing a book may seem unappealing, but, like listening to other opinions in an editorial meeting, you’re likely to hear some valuable feedback that will end up with a better book, improving sales and beefing up your bottom line, which is what you want and need. Remember, you’re not looking for an intensive critique here. You just want a quick, Absolutely, Passable, or Absolutely not.

Booksellers are in the enviable position of seeing everything that comes out, so we can quickly identify trends and alert you to overused images from the current season. We can tell you things like, “Hey, everyone is doing smoky blue or black-and-white covers this season; those palettes are on overload,” or, “This is the sixth cover design I’ve seen so far featuring a close-up image of a giant key.” Then you can choose to do with that information whatever feels useful to you, even if it’s nothing whatsoever.

Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I’m not going to name names, but I think every agent has stories of a cover that her client hated, but that was finalized because it made the difference between an x-thousand copy purchase from a store, versus an xx-thousand purchase. Or authors who have readers come up to them on tour, saying they loved the book, but hated the cover. The model didn’t match the reader’s image of the main character — wrong race, wrong size, wrong hair color, etc.

It happens. To all of us. Wouldn’t it be great if it happened to fewer books?

Let’s end this on a positive note! (I’m an optimist, it’s what I do.) What are some of your FAVORITE covers? The ones that stand out in a crowd, that made you pick up a book you wouldn’t have otherwise? The ones that perfectly captured a book for you? Please share some links in the comments!

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17 Responses to “Judging a Book By Its Cover”

  1. Monica Says:

    I'm not just saying this because she's one of your authors, but the cover of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is what made me pick it up off the library shelf – I saw it and immediately thought "charming." It perfectly suits the story and the book has become one of my personal favorite contemporary YA novels.

  2. @bredalot Says:

    Honestly, this cover of Robin McKinley's THE HERO AND THE CROWN made me pick it up in the library: http://faculty.salisbury.edu/~elbond/crown.gif It's not a spectacularly GOOD cover and is very much a product of its time/genre (already outdated when I read this around 1999-2000), but I was really into dragons at that point and so I thought the book looked awesome. And it was. And I wound up reading (and adoring) pretty much everything else she wrote. I still love her. So it worked!

  3. robinlemke Says:

    I loved Dani Noir http://www.amazon.com/Dani-Noir-Nova-Ren-Suma/dp/
    And the upcoming The Mapmaker and the Ghost http://www.amazon.com/Mapmaker-Ghost-Sarvenaz-Tas… in fact, I hunted down the author and followed her blog and twitter just because I loved the cover. 🙂

  4. Daisy Whitney Says:

    Favorite covers of mine include Where She Went and What I Saw and How I Lied. They really stand out!

  5. Deserae Says:

    I love the cover of THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, ELIXIR (first printing with the flower), and PRINCESS ACADEMY (second printing with the "picture of Miri"). I liked TMBS because of the illustration and detail, ELIXIR because of the simplicity AND sophistication, and PA because it LOOKED like a good, enjoyable read (if that's possible to assess from a cover). I've fallen in love with several more, but three is enough, I think, from me.

  6. Chelsey Says:

    I think because covers can be so subjective, it's easy to say "Well, if one person doesn't like it, that's just their opinion." However, there are fundamental standards/ways in which we react to design that I don't think are being taken into account. That said, I have some gorgeous covers on my shelf. REVOLUTION, by Jennifer Donnelly had a wonderful hardback cover. LIKE MANDARIN, by Kirsten Hubbard. Maureen's NAME OF THE STAR….Oh and I love the cover of PINK, as well.

    I've been known to order UK books to get a preferred cover.

  7. Lisa Aldin Says:

    I really love the covers of IMAGINARY GIRLS, HOURGLASS, and LEGEND.

  8. Rebecca Enzor Says:

    I picked up my favorite book THE LADY OF THE LIGHT because of the cover, and I'm SO glad I did. It was the second in the series, but the cover of the first would have *never* grabbed my attention. POSSESSION was another that I couldn't wait to get my hands on simply because the cover was so pretty. And who can walk past BAD TASTE IN BOYS and not grab it off the shelf? Love those lips!

  9. Alexa Says:

    I love the covers of PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow, MATCHED By Ally Condie, SMALL TOWN SINNERS by Melissa Walker, the US cover of GRAFFITI MOON by Cath Crowley and the UK cover of THE SCORPIO RACES

  10. Kati Says:

    I used to pick up any book that had a cover illustrated by Michael Whelan, but that was back when all I really wanted to do was become an illustrator. Books that I have recently bought and love their cover art are THE SHIFTER by Janice Hardy and all the other books in that series, and MATCHED by Ally Condie. There are definitely a few others that I'm forgetting at the moment.

  11. sorsha Says:

    I picked up HUSH HUSH just because of the falling angel on the cover

  12. Fiona Paul Says:

    The HUSH HUSH cover is one of my favorites. I love how the red feathers at the top fade to black, and the way the title is shiny and raised. I remember thinking it's the kind of picture i would have bought as wall art.

    I also really like the cover for BEFORE I FALL, MATCHED, and LIPS TOUCH

  13. Rebecca Petruck Says:

    In Middle Grade, Stephen Messer's two books both have great covers: WINDBLOWNE and THE DEATH OF YORIK MORTWELL. That one has art by Gris Grimly! Both are interesting, different and capture the essences of the books.

  14. Emy Says:

    I really loved the covers for MATCHED, EVERNEATH (this one is my favorite, currently. it's slightly cliche, but the smoke, the dress, the color scheme — it's all so very well done), PLAIN KATE, and SHATTERED SOULS.

  15. Fiona Paul Says:

    Oooh and I also love the cover for FAT VAMPIRE, which I believe was actually designed by Adam Rex.

  16. tamaradw Says:

    One of my all time fave covers for summing up a book has to be the cover of "The Replacements" Spooky, kinda surreal and totally on the money. I think that was written by Brenna Yovanoff? I also love the covers to Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver series and I'm another one who's a huge fan of the Matched covers. Personally, I think the YA section has some of the most beautiful covers in the industry. I can't leave without naming the Hush Hush books and the Fallen series. I hate when a book gets turned into a movie and they replace the original covers with pics of the actors. But maybe that's just me…

  17. Kaia Says:

    I always loved this version of Tender Morsels. There's half a dozen covers for it out there, but the one with the two girls running through the forest is just so gorgeous.Not to mention Zombies vs Unicorns!