Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Take on Book Covers

First, business and gloating...

You will have surely noted that I now have forty followers. Thanks to Jason for making it a nice round number. (And for choosing Ponch as your image.) I've been a little lax in welcoming the new people, so without further, welcome to Amy, Katie, and MG Higgins. May your presence here lead to my eventual domination of the Webosphere.

Also, I co-won a contest and I'm getting a book! Bully for contests, books, and especially winning.

Now, there's been quite a bit of hubbub over the cover for Justine Larbalestier's novel Liar. Most of you have probably already heard about it, so I'll keep this part short. Liar's main character is a black girl. The cover of the book shows what is quite obviously a white girl. The decision was made by the publisher because they presumably have some data that show white girl covers sell better than black girl covers. (You can read Justine's much more detailed take on this here.) Naturally, lots of people are offended. They're probably right.

At Pub Rants, Agent Kristin Nelson shares a story in which an editor gives her a heads up regarding the cover of a client's book in a publishing catalog. The editor wanted the agent to know that the sucky cover wasn't going to be the real cover because no one likes sucky covers.

In fact, lots of writers and agents really kind of freak out about sucky covers. Now, since I don't want to be called a hypocrite in the event that I ever, you know, actually publish a book that has a sucky cover, let me say that I get it. I especially get it if it's a writer's first book. We writers read a lot of books. We spend a lot of time in bookstores looking at covers. We know what sucks. And we don't want our babies coming out of the womb and greeting the world looking like Eric Stoltz in Mask.

So I get that covers are somewhat of a big deal.

But, let's not overdo it. If your book blows, then I don't care how great your cover is, your sales are going to eventually taper off (if they were ever robust in the first place). And let's be real. Most of the covers these days are at least decent. Yeah, you see some stinkers on occasion, but most of them aren't awful. And not all of them are going to be bestsellers.

Conversely, if you write a real knock-out, you're going to sell books no matter how terrible the cover. Evidence:

*





Those covers suck. Real bad.** Moral of the story: Writers should worry about writing a really compelling book and stop worrying so much about other stuff. ***
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*Yes, picky, I know that this isn't the original cover for Catcher, but it is the one most of us are familiar with and I'm guessing you probably did the same thing I did when I first picked it up. "This is what everyone's so jacked up about? Pssh, nice cover."

**I'm sure some of you are tempted to disagree and come at me with some jive about the merits of minimalism or how the lack of a flashy cover actually supports the themes of the book. Bah! These covers stink. Don't let what's inside change that fact.

***Unless the other stuff is a controversy that allows you to take the high road and make it seem like you're much more interested in the integrity of your work than in your sales, all while making the big bad, faceless, for-profit publishing industry the bad guy and maybe even assuaging some white guilt.

20 comments:

Jason said...

Thank you for the acknowledgement, I chose Ponch because like Mr. Estrada the only way that I will ever be allowed to ride a motorcycle is if it is on a trailer being towed by my wife's minivan.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Nice cover, God. What were you thinking?

Lily Cate said...

Hmm, I've always wanted to get to the point where they put nothing on the cover but my name, bigger than even the title.
Makes things so much easier.

Anita said...

My son (age 4) is suddenly very interested in automobile magazines. Thus, I am looking at an awful lot of auto photos and am even reading performance reviews (this from a woman whose automotive goal is to drive her 8-year-old Toyota mini-van until it can drive no more). Anyway, I've noticed none of the cars in the magazines (with the exception of the Ford Flex) is ugly. They're all very gorgeous and sexy in their own way. And even if what's under the hood isn't so good, the beauty on the outside might make you take a test drive/skim the first chapter.

MG Higgins said...

I'm sorry, what did you say? I'm still gaping at the Rifleman cover.

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

Thanks for the welcome, Murph, and now I feel so impolite because I'm going to totally disagree with you.

Covers *do* sell books. I agree, if the book is kick ass, it will probably get enough media attention that people will seek it out as a destination buy--whatever it looks like. Ditto the flipside.

But for bookshop browsers, I'm willing to bet the number one reason they pick a book up is because of cover. I write children's books and I have kids. I know how many times I've stood in B&N, beating my head against the 'Middle Grade Fiction' sign, waiting for my eight-year-old to (please, for the love of God) pick out a book (already)!

If you have a crappy cover, you're going to miss the browsers. So, I guess it all comes down to the stats on how many books are sold to browsers vs. destination buyers.

mclicious said...

Am I the only one who doesn't hate those covers that you put up? On one of the books I'm working on, I would want a cover pretty much like the Bible cover. Sometimes simple is better. But still, I get your point.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Amy, let me check the blog bylaws...

Huh. Turns out it is okay to disagree with me. Might have to get the lawyers on that.

Myra said...

I was just suckered in to reading a book solely based on the fancy cover and the author who pimped the book by giving a quote (for the cover).

It was poo.

Monica said...

i think its inappropriate that the boy is holding the rifleman's wood.

Dad said...

Myra....you are way too observant. HILARIOUS!!!

Dad said...

I, on the other hand, am not. I mixed up my "M" names. I meant Monica.

Anita said...

mclicious:

I also loved the covers! But then I wear a jean jacket and I think PMM bashed those on a previous post.

Monica said...

awww,.... sheesh. PMM's Dad... now i'm embarrassed.... I'm not usually like that, i'm very sedate and not rude at all.

Dad said...

Uh-huh......yup...you bet.

MG Higgins said...

Hey, I mentioned the Rifleman cover first! How come Dad didn't say I was observant and hilarious?

The Wife said...

Personally, covers influence me far less than recommendations of people I respect. But I'm not a kid, and as an upper elementary teacher, I know that for lots and lots of kids, the cover is the only thing they look at when selecting books. If the cover is a lie, that's a problem.

Anita - I think he only bashed them for men. That doesn't make him nicer, but it removes you from his worst-dressed list.

MG - I noticed that you noticed first. Bravo.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Yep. Jean jackets are only bad on men. I would never be so bold as to make a list of things women shouldn't wear. What do I know about women's clothing?

Very little, in case you're wondering. Wouldn't want any confusion on that point.

Dad said...

Sorry MG (geez..another "M"). All I can say is, " OHH, that's what you were gaping at on the cover". Had no idea..right over my head. Guess I needed the more explicit reference Monica provided. :-)

MG Higgins said...

That's okay, Dad. I always knew you liked Monica best. :) (And thank you for letting me work out my father issues with you.)