Cover Story

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

While that statement is generally true in the figurative sense, when it comes to actual books we readers really do judge books by their covers. Despite all the lofty talk about literature being a form of art, the hardcore truth is that it is primarily a form of entertainment. The publisher, whether corporate behemoth or indie author, has to convince people that reading the book will entertain them. How do they do that? By capturing your eye with an appealing cover.

Which of the following covers looks more interesting?

The Time Machine - text cover   The Time Machine - illustrated cover

There is no right answer. Some might prefer the simplicity of text. Others are drawn in by the illustrated cover of a scientist at work in his lab. I prefer the illustrated cover and I suspect most people do too. It offers a glimpse into the story. While The Time Machine is a sci-fi classic known to a great deal of people alive today, there will always be a new audience that has never read the work. It is up to the publisher to find a way to lure in these potential readers.

While publishing companies have a staff, formulas, and focus groups for determining what will work for a cover, the indie author doesn’t. He/She has to figure out on their own what they should put on the cover of their book. Sure, they can simply stick to the textual Title and Author cover, but that really doesn’t grab most people. Images grab eyeballs. We’re a visual species. It doesn’t matter if it’s cars, houses, or clothes. If it looks dull (or crappy) to us, we’re not going to buy it.

There’s also a matter of budget. Indie authors don’t have the deep pockets that publishing companies do. Some authors can and will spend whatever it takes to ensure their vision is met, but plenty have to find a way to optimize quality versus cost. We can’t all afford a Mercedes.

The sad truth is that throwing a book on Amazon isn’t a guarantee to a best seller. It’s safe to say that 99% of indie published books struggle to sell more than 100 copies (a great deal sell less). Self-publishing can become an expensive hobby. If one’s work doesn’t break even, it can be hard to justify the expense. We’ve seen plenty of submissions here at the New Podler where authors spent nothing on their book covers and it showed! That’s not to say one has to spend thousands of dollars for a good cover, but when authors sacrifice quality (whether by covers or editing) they shoot themselves in the foot. Would you buy a car that looked like it had been built by a four-year old? Would you spend $500,000 on a house with holes in the roof, broken windows, and leaking pipes?

Setting cost aside, the book cover has to be something that grabs a reader’s attention. While I feel that it should be something that captures the essence of the book’s contents, plenty of covers are just a mish mash of random images which may or may not have anything to do with the story. I could start a discussion of the marketing science behind book covers but that’s beyond the scope of this post and my intent. Instead, we’re going to have a series of posts over the next couple of weeks at the New Podler Review of Books about how some indie authors have approached crafting covers for their books. Consider this post the introduction.

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DED

This post originally appeared at the New Podler Review of Books.

About DED

I'm a stay-at-home Dad who survived dotcom burnout and a chemical engineering career that fizzled. While the kids are in school, I'm free to write stories. I'm a rational environmentalist, science and technology enthusiast, who leans libertarian, reads and watches sci-fi, drinks and brews beer, and listens to metal.
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