Book Covers: Are They Important in the Digital Age?

A few weeks ago, my publisher posted three cover options they were considering for my next book Unending Devotion (releasing Sept. 1), and they asked for reader input.

*Drum roll please!* The results are in!

And the WINNER is:

Yes, according to my Bethany House publicist, Noelle Buss, this close-up cover was the overwhelming favorite of all those who voted online (on my blog and Facebook Page as well as the Bethany House Facebook Page).

So why else did Bethany House pick this particular cover? Here are a few other reasons:

1. The close-up of a strong heroine is usually appealing to most romance fans.

2. The larger picture would be stronger compared to the others when viewed online, where thumbnail images are so pervasive.

3. When compared to the other two, the close-up actually has several elements to it that make it standout from other covers.

Here’s a break-down from my publicist of the unique features:

Ambiguity of setting: The setting on a cover is typically used as a quick reference to describe the story, to tell when and where the book is set at an immediate glance. On this cover, taking away the clarity of where the woman is allows more emotion to rise to the surface. The tree branches become more of a character, as you try to guess the woman’s relationship to their ominous feel, rather than passing over them and just thinking “oh, she is in the woods.”

Narrow color scheme: The simplicity again allows more emotion to be drawn from the cover because the places where your eye lands is more focused and it emphasizes more of the contrast between the woman and the tree branches.

Less emphasis on the gorgeous factor: A common trick for designing book covers is to focus on the opulent period dress or an exciting setting to attract readers. This cover still retains a sophisticated feel, but the sparseness of the background and the simplicity of the cape gives the cover a fresh feeling while also driving readers eyes to the strong expression on the woman’s face.

Obviously, as you can see, my publisher put a LOT of time and thought into my cover, as they do for every cover of each book they publish. They hire a model, do a photo shoot, and have a special creative team that works together to design it.

Once the team has several options, then they have a meeting where my editors, the marketing department, and the creative team discuss all the possibilities—ultimately trying to decide what cover not only fits the book, but what will attract the most readers.

The question for all of us, as we grapple with the rapidly changing book market is this: How important are book covers in the digital age? Do covers still play a major role in influencing book-buying habits? Or do other things like sample chapters, online reviews, and bookstore rankings play a larger role in a book’s success?

Here’s what my publicist, Noelle, said when I asked her about the importance of covers:

In a world that is becoming increasingly visual, I don’t think book covers will ever not matter. In a split second, we can decide if it ‘looks interesting’ or not. Reviews and excerpts all demand more time and investment from us when it comes to making a decision. That’s strongly apparent in how readers handle print books, and I don’t see that changing much as they move online."

"That said we are having to be more deliberate in how we think about covers. People will be seeing them in a variety of formats and locations in print and online. And images or colors that look good on a store shelf may not show up as well in a small thumbnail on an online retailer.

My final thoughts: I admit. I’ve passed over books based on the cover. The writing techniques may have been perfect and story may have been superb, but because the cover looked cheesy or amateur or boring or whatever, I didn’t give the book a chance.

Of course, if the book has a lot of buzz and great reviews, I’m more likely to overlook a dull or poorly done cover. But for new, untried authors the cover-bar is high. Whether traditionally or self-published, there are already a lot of reasons people will say no to a new author’s book. Don’t let the cover be one of them.

What are your thoughts on covers? Do you think they’re becoming less important in the digital age or more? How much do covers influence your book-buying habits?

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