Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover (Even Though Most People Do)

Wanted to start this week's entry off letting readers know all new followers for the Literary Mercenary, as well as my author Facebook page here, or my Tumblr page here in the month of February will receive a free ebook. Just follow, then contact me to get your free book!

Book Covers Make Your First Impression

How often have you been browsing online or wandering the aisles of a bookstore when something caught your eye? Maybe it was a wizard in a back alley with a glowing staff, or a redhead with a machine gun facing off against a werewolf, but whatever the image was it arrested your attention and stopped you cold. It made you look at the book, and at least half the time (an arbitrary number I'm basing on absolutely nothing) it made you pick up the book to find out what the hell it was about. Maybe you bought the book, and maybe you didn't buy the book, but either way you noticed it. That's a good book cover's job; getting browsers to stop long enough for the author's words to suck them in. If your book cover doesn't do that, then you have a serious problem. That serious problem, of course, is that you'll have a hard time selling books.

Traditionally the publisher takes care of the book cover. It has a vested interest in selling a lot of copies, and as such takes the marketing aspect of book covers quite seriously. For indie publishers, self-published authors, and those who work on the bottom of the food chain though, a poorly made cover is often a dead giveaway. If your cover turns heads though, it doesn't matter who published you; your metaphorical foot is in the door.

What Makes a Good Book Cover?

There's a lot of debate over what a "good" book cover does or doesn't look like. Art is subjective, and it's impossible to guarantee how someone will or won't react to a given book cover. There are certain elements that make a book cover good from a marketing perspective, though.

That got your attention, didn't it?
This cover belongs to the 1950s-themed horror anthology American Nightmare, which is currently available from Kraken Press here (It contains my contribution "Double Feature", which you should definitely check out). The image uses a dark background to bring across the air of danger, and it catches your eye by putting red and white in contrast in the foreground with both the title and the Cadillac. Once the eye has been drawn by the color scheme it notices the tentacles, and the uncanny image slaps the conscious brain with a desire to know just what the holy fuck is happening in this picture.

That's sort of the reaction you're looking for.

What Makes a Bad Book Cover?

Let's take this one step at a time...
Before I begin I would like to state that I mean no disrespect to Jupiter Gardens as a publisher. I had a good, working relationship with them, and it's because of them that many of my stories reached a reading public. With that said though, this design for the cover of my novella "The Unusual Transformation of Abraham Carver" (which you can still read here if you want to) has made selling it very difficult for me for a variety of reasons.

Let's start with the color scheme. The photograph is a gray scale that has both light and dark, which makes it difficult to focus on the foreground. Neither the title of the book nor the author name pop out, which is confusing to the eye since they bleed into the background. The rainbow logo at the top is more eye-catching than anything else, and the two figures have nothing to do with the novella because the cover is one that the company used for a number of projects. All the artist had to do was change the title and author name, and the new cover was ready to go. This cover gives the reader no idea what the book is about, and in this case rather mis-represents the story. The novella is a dark, steampunk erotica that deals with a wife attempting to understand the bizarre changes her husband is going through after being the subject of an experimental medical procedure. What in the cover gives the reader that impression?

Nothing. The correct answer is nothing.

What Your Book Cover Needs to Do

Aside from just being goddamn awesome.
Good book covers convey what will be found in the following pages. They provide an eye-catching, engaging image that meets a certain, professional standard. They put the title, as well as the author's name, front and center. Most importantly, a cover design can be reduced to one-square inch of space as it will be on a website without losing clarity. A cover that's simply too busy, and which has too many elements, may be overlooked as messy or boring by readers who are in a hurry to get their next story fix.

Humans are visual creatures, and it's ironic that in order to sell a book it requires a cover that arrests the wandering attention long enough to make someone pick the book up and take a closer look. As consumers we also tend to associate sleek, engaging covers with professionalism. We know consciously that a terrible story might have a really pretty cover, but it's not something we think about. On the other hand we might admit that a poorly made cover might have an amazing story underneath it, but we rarely check to make sure. Much like people, we often associate a pretty face with a story we really want to be told.

No comments:

Post a Comment