Judging a Book By Its Cover

October 26th, 2011

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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