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Book Covers: Are They Important in the Digital Age?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

 
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?

46 comments:

  1. It's beautiful and striking and draws you in immediately. :)

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  2. Shamefully, I do judge a book by it's cover. (hangs head) Book covers are the first thing I look at while browsing the library, bookstore, or internet stores. If I like the book cover, then I'll open the book (or click on the chapter link) to the first page, read the page and then decide if I've been sucked into the story.(reviews online help as well) That is my buying habit when it comes to books. So, yes, the cover is important to me. BTW, love the cover!!! :) (it was my first choice as well)

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  3. I have to agree - covers are still very important, especially since it's going more and more digital. You can't pick up a book and feel it when you're browsing on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com. All you've got to go on is the cover (and an excerpt if one's included).

    I know I was stressed until I got my first cover. And then promptly fell in love because it captured things soooo well.

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  4. I'm so glad that one won!

    I think covers are the best marketing/sales tool we have! Though, I'm starting to not purchase books just b/c I love the cover b/c I've been disappointed a few times. But I never find myself buying a book with an unappealing cover unless it has strong word of mouth.

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  5. I've been know to buy a book solely based on the cover. It's how I've found fabulous new authors. One of the most memorable ones I purchased was Julie Lessman's Passion Most Pure. I saw that cover and thought that the heroine looked a little like Anne Shirley from the Anne movies, and I bought it.

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  6. Thanks for the kind words about the cover, everyone! I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed with the Hunger Games cover. If I'd looked at the book based simply on the cover, I probably wouldn't have read it. So although covers are important, if the book is good enough and there is enough buzz, readers will overlook the cover. But I think that is rare, especially for new authors.

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  7. Great choice, Jody.

    I'm not sure I've ever bought or read a book strictly from the cover, but they're very important in catching my attention. For instance, when I'm in the library looking to read something from a certain author, I may pull out one book over another simply because the cover intrigued me.

    Right now, I'm reading Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit--awesome cover. I just like looking at it. (The story's good, too. :-) ) Now that I think about it, I must say I did buy that one for the cover.

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  8. I think covers are becoming more important, not less. It is a book's calling card, presenting to the world not only the story/characters inside but with a promise (if you like me, you'll like the book).

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  9. In my early morning blurry vision stage, I thought this title said "Back Covers: Are They Important in the Digital Age?" I don't see front images going away because they are instant visual organizers for online shopping. But how much longer will we need back covers except to hold the print book together? Sure, the copy from back covers appears in online formats, but generally not in a designed presentation. Okay, now I'll wipe the sleep out of my eyes and try to read blog titles correctly.

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  10. Congratulations on the stunning cover, Jody! Bethany House did a great job--as usual. =)

    I agree that covers are important. However, many authors writing for traditional publishers have little say in their covers. The publisher's sales and marketing teams make the decisions based on what will sell the book. I heard from a published author friend recently that a publisher will even change a cover based on initial feedback from the buyers at the major booksellers. It's all about catching the reader's eye and making a positive first impression, which your cover definitely does.

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  11. I definitely think covers are important, since as you said, our society is so visual.

    Question for you, Jody: How much "say" did YOU actually have in your cover? Did you (or have you in the past) have a strong preference for one, and if so, is that taken into account? Just curious. :)

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  12. Good questions, Lindsay! I'm sure the process varies from publisher to publisher, but my editor at Bethany House always asks for my ideas for covers before the development and so I send him a description of the characters, setting, online links that I used in my research, etc.

    Then after the creative team has come up with the cover choices, my editor once again asks for my thoughts before finalizing any decisions. I haven't ever had the need to strongly oppose anything they've come up with. I'm sure if I did, they would be willing to work with me on it. Or at least we could have a discussion about it. In the end, I really trust my publisher's choices. Because they make a team decision (that involves marketing), I know they have good reasons for choosing what they do.

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  13. New to your blog/twitter, but I do love this cover...I've been imagining covers for my Viking novel (coming someday in the future, I hope), and I love the cape/trees theme. And yes, I'll admit I do pass over MODERN books based on cover, sometimes. Classics rarely EVER look "cool" on the cover, but I know what's inside will be good!

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  14. I agree with your comment about less emphasis on the gorgeous. In a world (and I looooove them I admit!) filled with gorgeous covers, it's nice to see a plainer one, BUT still says so much within the art work of it. Great cover!

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  15. Jody,
    I'm a pushover for cover art. And I think your cover on this book is fantabulous! My fun word for the year. :) I wouldn't buy it solely for the cover, but this one would be turned over several times in my hands. If the story idea caught my attention it would be a simple decision. And with this type of cover, I would buy the book not the e-book.

    I have to be honest, I'm thrilled she isn't wearing a bonnet of some sort. But I'm partial to long capes and the hoods of capes as well. Your team did good. :) Congrats and enjoy.

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  16. I mostly look at the quality of the book cover, I'll judge it thinking that if they spent money on the cover, they spent $ and time on the interior. So if it looks like something a newbie can make on photoshop at home, I'll pass.

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  17. I love this cover!! How exciting, you are amazing! Hugs, Kerrie

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  18. BEAUTIFUL cover! I love the color palette, the girl's image, the starkness of the branches behind her. Very visually striking.

    And my biggest issue with digital books is not getting to explore the covers. I definitely judge books by their covers, and I don't think that will be unimportant any time soon. As ereaders get more sophisticated, they'll have more support for covers. What do I think is next up? Moving covers, a la Harry Potter.

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  19. I voted for this one! Like it a lot. I'm presently looking for someone to do my cover (this is my first book). I'm hoping to do both digital and print. I know what I want, just need to find the right person to create it. Yes, covers matter! Cover and the first few pages will either hook me or send me to keep browsing.

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  20. The cape may not be opulent, but I still want it. :)

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  21. The cover is BEAUTIFUL! And thanks for the backstory on how a cover is chosen. I, too, have judged a book by its cover. And in this digital age, the cover seems more important than ever. Congratulations!

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  22. Covers are so important--when I was a book buyer, unless I knew the author was great, I bought by the cover too.
    I still check the covers when I look for books in the library. I love your new one and the reasons behind the scenes.

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  23. Love your new cover! :) And I think covers are vital. I won't buy a book with a crappy cover unless a friend gives me a strong recommendation or something. It's the first impression for me. I won't even get to sample pages if the cover turns me off. That's not necessarily right, but it's how my brain works.

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  24. I love cover art. I love it on books, I love it on cds. I think it's so important, because, though a lot of the books I read are through recommendations or reviews, I enjoy going to the bookstore or library, picking out random books on the shelf,, and deciding by the cover whether I'll like them or not. And there's always that feeling of accomplishment when you can pick a book like that and then end up falling in love with it. I also think that, particularly in the digital age, when you're looking at a long list of books to read on goodreads or amazon, the only thing that differentiates them in my mind and makes them interesting is the cover images.

    <3 Gina Blechman

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  25. I love the cover, Jody! And interesting thoughts about what goes into the decisions too. I'm wishing I'd gotten a Kindle with color so I could see the book covers in all their glory. Maybe next time... :)

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  26. That's the on I voted on! Yay! It's so beautiful!

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  27. I think covers are still VERY important. Especially if I'm looking at a self-pub or small press book, I assume if they have NO cover or an unappealing one, then they couldn't be bothered to advertise their work well which probably means they couldn't be bothered to fix issues inside of the cover either.

    Sylvia
    http://www.writinginwonderland.blogspot.com/

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  28. Great choice for the final cover! It fits in with the look of your other two books and has a real Jody Hedlund Vibe goin' on. ;-) Before I read a story, I like to spend a little bit of time looking over the cover art so I can settle into the feel and mood of the novel. My biggest peeve about the Kindle is how it skips straight to the beginning of the story, unless you specifically type in "go to cover." Not sure whoever set it up that way, but it's annoying, and takes away from the overall experience for me.

    Also, I agree with what many others have said about choosing a book based on the cover. IMO, one thing that is sorely lacking in self-published e-books is quality covers. Ugh. I can almost always tell by the cover that a book is self-pubbed. I never even knew I had this cover-snob side to me until I started seeing all the ho-hum e-book covers out there. Now I have a newfound respect for the job of a cover designer.

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  29. Very cool. Love how you've drawn us in to the process of getting a book to print, Jody. There is so much to learn and think about at every stage of a book's development. I'm happy that this is the cover I voted for. Somehow it makes me feel a bit affirmed in my aesthetics, smile.

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  30. It's a great cover, Jody! I wish September weren't so far away.

    A covers is the first thing that prompts me to pick up a book unless I'm looking for a specific title/author that has been recommended. I rarely browse for titles online, so a cover wouldn't be as important to me there. I prefer real books to eBooks, too. How old-fashioned of me, right?

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  31. This is the cover I loved, because of it's simple beauty. It's elegant.

    And yes, covers make a huge impact on me. Many times I don't purchase...even if it is free on Kindle...if the cover is bad. I figure if it's not worth putting a great cover on it, it's not worth reading. That may not be true all the time, but that is where my mind goes.

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  32. How fun to come back and see what cover your publisher selected -- and why.It's a pull-me-in-cover (although not the one I voted for. This is why I am a writer, not an artist.)
    ;o)
    Even in a digital age, I think covers will still be important. That old adage, "Don't judge a book by it's cover" is still false -- and will remain so for years to come.
    Most of the people I talk to are first intrigued by a book's cover -- if not that, then they pick up a book because someone recommended it or because they like the author.

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  33. I agree with you and the commenters above, covers continue to be important in a virtual age. I have a question for you: how do you feel about your MC being depicted on your cover? Do you worry that your readers won't get the opportunity to create their own version of your heroine in their minds or is that a non-issue for you? Just curious. :-)

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  34. Covers grab me every time, and yours is quite appealing, Jody. That young woman is drawing me in!
    I enjoyed the post and learned a lot! Thanks!!

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  35. Cally, That's a great question! Yes, I probably do lean toward a more ambiguous cover model shot for the front cover. But even though the models' faces were turned away on my first two books, they were "revealed" on the backs of the books and spine. So, those who buy a paper copy or get it from the library will see the model's whole face.

    And actually, for most romance novels, the face of the heroine is usually revealed. So, I've come to accept that as part of the genre marketing. Fortunately, the model on my next book is pretty close to what I'd envisioned and described. Whew! :-)

    All that to say, I'm not sure if seeing the model's face bothers readers or entices them. I know it usually doesn't bother me. Thinking back to some of the books I've read recently that had cover models' faces and I guess I didn't even think about the face while I was reading. But perhaps it is an issue for some! Not sure!

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  36. Oh yes, I think covers are extremely important. When I was browsing on my Nook, I had a hard time knowing what the books were about by title alone. So then I used the cover option to scroll through covers and that helped SO much, it was crazy.

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  37. Great book cover, and I'm pleased to learn that the author does get a say.

    I find most books by word of mouth so I am less influenced by a cover, but if I'm browsing, online or physical store, a cover will have an emotional impact on me. I particularly love to see the main character, because that image stays with me when I read the book.

    Good luck!

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  38. I would say that in the digital age, covers are equally as important. There are so many books in this world, and people use book covers to determine if a book is going to appeal to them. So even though we're not putting an e-book on a physical bookshelf or displaying it in our home, we're still looking at it before we purchase the book. I always joke that I'm attracted to shiny, pretty things, but I think that's true for most of us. An appealing, well-designed cover catches our eye and tempts us to read on, but it also lets us know whether the book is going to be our "cup of tea." Ultimately, the success of a book is based on a number of other factors--quality of the writing being No. 1--but a beautiful cover certainly helps. And the cover for "Unending Devotion" looks great!

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  39. I confess - I totally judge a book by its cover! A good cover sucks me in and a less than good cover turns me off. If a book gets a lot of good reviews or a friend highly recommends it, I may still read it regardless of the cover, though.

    Loved this post and the discussion that followed! I linked it as one of my Friday Fives this week. :) http://iblog4books.blogspot.com/2012/02/friday-five-3.html

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  40. Thanks for the vote of confidence on the cover, Janelle!

    And Brooke, thank you so much for linking to my post on your Friday Fives! I appreciate that!

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  41. That's one very nice cover.

    For some reason the topic of cover art sees to be getting aired more often these days.

    I think cover art still has the power to grab a reader's interest at a glance and make them curious enough to see what's on the next page.

    As has been mentioned, people are so used to the "instant feedback" factor of online that they're not as likely as you'd think to read reviews or synopsis - but if they are, it'll likely be helped by the cover art grabbing their attention first.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing up "judging a book by its cover", because it simply is how we handle skimming through the online world at speed.

    It does make for new design challenges from the art perspective, because of the different formats. I just finished working on a new Tunnels & Trolls book and one of the first things discussed when that started was what formats to provide the art *in* to cover different media.

    Which is where a house with a marketing department and an art department are a bonus, I think - the media might have changed but that just means having people who understand them are a bonus.

    The focus may have turned away from facing front on shelves, but it's still facing the front *somewhere*.

    Disclaimer: Of course, I may be slightly biased on the topic :P

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  42. You're right Miika, I've seen a lot of posts on cover art lately too. I think it's forefront on a lot of our minds, especially those who are self-publishing and trying to figure out how much to invest in covers. Obviously traditional publishers invest a lot, have seen the value in great covers, and are continuing to put in the effort to make stand-out covers. As you said, the focus may be shifting just a bit, but consumers are still drawn to well-developed covers.

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  43. Thanks for your response to my question, Jody. It's an interesting topic. Having the heroine depicted on the cover doesn't bother me as a reader either, in fact I think I like it. But then when I imagine the cover for my novel, I shy away from having my MCs depicted in great detail. Go figure! :-)

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  44. Having just agonized for weeks over my covers, I sure HOPE they matter! And while it is--and always will be--subjective, even I, as an author, can look at other covers and think "boy, I hope the writing is better than the artwork." Think of it as a box of cereal--if the outside of the box doesn't appeal to you, for whatever reason, chances are you're not going to bother tasting it.

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  45. Like your cereal box analogy, Bill! And wishing you all the best with your covers!

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  46. A good cover always make a difference because it is the first thing people will see. Take for instance, the book "Lady Lawbreaker" by G.J. Fuller (You can see it's cover on Amazom.com); that book's cover hooked me instantly. It's simple, but really gets your attention. So yes, the cover makes a big difference.

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