Sorry – that was a truly awful pun. I promise to leave them to David in the future 🙂
We’ve all heard that saying “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression” and if it’s true that we make up our minds about the people we meet in under 60 seconds, imagine then how much time a book has to make a good impression.
How’s a writer to make a good impression – especially a new writer? Putting aside all the work they’ll have to do to publicise their book, how are they going to sell it to someone who’s going to see it on a shelf – be that virtual or real? Most people know the type of book they like, and only rarely choose to go outside of those restrictions. That means the first thing your cover must do is tell your reader what type of book you’ve written – more specifically, what genre it is. When a reader knows the type of book they like to read, they’ll head for that section in their preferred bookstore and browse there. Let’s say you’ve written a thriller, but selected a cover design that is more akin to chick-lit, your book is unlikely to appear on the shelves in the thriller section (for a bookseller is unlikely to be checking the blurb of every book before shelving them). But, even if it does, the thriller reader is likely to be mystified, and assume it’s been misfiled.
Maybe they’re a reader who likes to wander through the crowded book displays in a bookshop (or online listing), unrestrained by genre – I know I do. As a reader, I know what I like – and while that’s primarily literary, mainstream and women’s fiction, I also read thrillers and science fiction, self-help and personal development, biography and memoirs – so I’m a bit of a magpie in that I find all manner of book – and therefore their covers – to be attractive and shiny 🙂
But, in my experience, most readers like to read what they know they’ll like. I’ve been a member of a book group for 10+ years where each member’s reading preferences are writ large upon their recommendations. For most of those 10 years, members were happy to read outside of their preferences but, slowly and inexorably, that has changed. When the time you have available for reading is limited, being able to reliably select reading matter you know you’ll like becomes increasingly important. And whilst reviews are a useful tool, reading – like much else in life – is in the eye of the beholder. This means having a method of choosing what you know you’ll like really matters … and that’s where covers play their important role.
Let’s return to the question of what draws a reader to pick up any one book from that crowded display or listing. You may not even be aware of the nuances in cover art – it’s certainly not something I gave much through to before I became a writer.
Check the predominant colours across certain genres: thrillers have darker toned backgrounds with lettering in sharply contrasting primary colours, while chick-lit tends towards pastel hues or bright, cheerful colours, with the titles appearing in a more funky font, often akin to styles of handwriting. Literary fiction seems to focus on the mid tones of the colour spectrum, but what’s especially noticeable is the fonts are decidedly straightforward; they’re simple & clear to read, much like Arial, Times New Roman or Courier in appearance. Mainstream fiction is influenced by the genre it leans towards and you’ll get touches of that genre’s cover style incorporated – sinister overtones incorporate darker backgrounds and stronger contrasts, a more human story will tend towards the mid tones, while a pale background and the title in flowing script indicates a strong lean towards women’s fiction. Mystery tales are much like literary fiction, with cover styles showing the direction in which the tale leans.
This is all before you consider the actual content of the image for the cover. Works of fantasy and science fiction are similar as background colours are unrestricted across the spectrum. The fonts selected between the two do differ in that those used for science fiction are almost uniformly simple and clean, while works of fantasy come in as wide a range of fonts as colours. But, with both these genres, the image is what’s key. There’s a notable difference in style – like the fonts selected, images on the covers of science fiction novels are simple, sparse and minimalist, while figures fill the covers of fantasy novels, often crowding into the title and author’s name.
Covers matter to a writer … because covers matters to a reader. The cover sets the tone and the expectation of the novel – its genre, its intended market, what the reader can expect to find within. Remember, it only takes seconds for a potential reader to reach out for your book. It can still get put back – if the cover is misleading, or they don’t like the sound of the blurb – but getting it picked up in the first place is more than half the battle.
Do I hear you ask if a beautiful cover sell a book? It certainly can … Or is it more likely to be a recommendation from a trusted source? For me, the latter happens more frequently that the former.
When you take into account everything else that an author has to do to get their book seen by the public – the PR & Marketing, seeking out reviews from the book blogging community & publications, attending speaking & signing events just to name a few – really how important is the cover? I can’t offer you statistics in answer to that, but as your book has to have a cover, you might as well make an effort to get it right anyway.
I started along this road in a moment of idle dreaming – what would our co-written project November Deadline look like in print? What colour, what font, what image do we choose for a post-war, spy/thriller with fantasy elements …?
© Debra Carey, 2020