Cover me she shrieked

Hi Miss Snark,

Thought I’d run this by you just to get an agent’s point of view. Book covers. I see a lot people chiming in about them on different sites. In your opinion, do they have a significant impact on sales? Have you ever seen the final cover of a client’s book and thought “Oh God, that’s awful. What was the design department thinking?” or “Great cover! That will go a long way to helping sales.”

I ask because I’ve seen a mix of responses from book buyers. Some say they don’t buy based on the cover, but on reading the first ten pages. Others say they won’t buy because they can’t get past the cover, or will buy because of it even if the back blurb is “iffy”.

Book covers ARE a big deal. I know my limitations and I'm not an artist. I'm not about to tell Chip Kidd how to design a book or share all my special ideas with him any more than I want someone telling me how to organize my files. He and his ilk are very very smart, talented people and they think about what they do very carefully.

That said, there are some very very strange covers in this world. Harlen Coben started his career with a bleeding football cover, and Dan Simmons had covers with creatures with the wrong number of arms for quite some time.

Rick Moody's Diviners came in for a LOT of snide comments this summer..so much so Little,Brown actually changed it between the ARC and the book.

But cover design and book production are not places where I have input much less control. Only very very big authors get that and it can be incredibly self defeating unless you know a LOT about design and marketing.

The purpose of a book cover is to get someone to reach for the book. When all you have is the title, author's name, and color to do that, well...I leave that up to the folks who've been doing rather than me who's just talked about it. I can tell you what doesn't work (sometimes) but I sure as hell can't conjure up what DOES out of thin air.

I attended a presentation at the Small Press Center some time back with people who were art directors at publishing houses. It was very enlightening to hear them talk about why they chose certain designs.

And ya, I've had horrible moments when I've gotte the cover art and just wept. Those are not good days.


Jarsto said...

For a humorous take on what can be wrong with a cover visit Longmire does Romance Novels where several covers have been edited to show titles more in keeping with the cover. Warnings: some adult jokes; may make beverages leave body through nose.

The funny thing is that if you click through to the covers sent in by readers some covers were submitted by two different people. Which goes to show that it's not entirely subjective.

rkcooke said...

Oh my God, jarsto, that is incredibly funny.

Put down the coffee, everyone, you're gonna spew.

Kitty said...

Book Covers from the NY Times Book Review is a blog where you can judge current books by their covers.

Anonymous said...

Book covers are hugely critical to a book's success. When we sell the book to the buyers, we get comments like "if this cover didn't suck, I'd take ten. Gimme two." That's a tough battle to win, since telling a bookseller she's wrong about a jacket is like telling a man he doesn't drive well. An initial buy of ten would have been a stack on the flat table by the front door; two means spined out on the wall. Booksellers and book reps understand better than most the power of a cover to get a reader to pick up the book. If they won't even pick it up, they won't be swayed by the first ten pages or the back blurbs.

Jarsto said...

rkcooke: I'm glad you enjoyed it. Good advice about the coffee. For that matter those drinking it should put down the gin as well.

Anonymous said...

Quite a quandry for a writer, since we have little, and most times no control when it comes to the cover...and then a bookseller says they won't take a book bc of the cover...but the publisher says they performed a test market on the cover before selecting it...covers are subjective, what one person dislikes another will love and pick up the book because of it. Its a stupid practice....haha judging a book by its cover.

Kitty said...

Offhand, I can think of 3 books which I bought primarily because I liked the covers:
1) A Cold Day In Paradise; loved the cover, the title AND the book. I went on to read the rest of the books in this series by Steve Hamilton.

2) An English Murder; loved the cover and the title but didn't like the book. Such a waste of a murder in an English village.

3) The Right Madness; loved the cover, but that was all, even though it was set in Montana. HOWEVER, I loved the cover so much that I kept it and donated the book. Then I e-mailed Laura Hanifin, the photographer, to tell her how much I loved her work.

Maria said...

Covers matter. Did an informal poll at the library. Younger people (teens) are more swayed by covers than adults, but adults too mentioned, "I liked the cover, I hope it's good."

Liz Wolfe said...

Talking about covers gives me hives. The cover of my first book was striking but I didn't think it fit the book at all. A reviewer on Amazon mentioned that too. Although he didn't like the book and gave it a really bad review (ouch). The cover for the second book I think fits the book more but it's not as striking as the first one. Not that I had any say in the covers anyway.

Jo Bourne said...

Every year the 'All About Romance' website holds a cover contest ... which includes 'worst' covers.

The 2004 results are here --


And to find earlier years --



Remodeling Repartee said...


I put away all liquids. I opened the Longmire site. I still spit.

Thanks for the gutbuster. Wish this guy could make a coffee table book out of this; but I assume the permissions would be hellish or impossible.

Anonymous said...

Covers are just like anything else. Somebody hits big with something (like a headless shot of a woman wearing a fancy dress on "The Other Boleyn Girl") and suddenly everybody is doing derivatives. (I cannot tell you how many historical fiction covers I've seen in the last couple of years of headless women in costume!)