“Don’t judge a book by the cover” is a cliche that everyone has heard by now. In its normal application – how you shouldn’t make assumptions about someone based on their physical appearance – it’s a good reminder to not be shallow and judgmental. However, as an author, it’s very easy to take that advice literally, and assume that no one will judge your actual book by the cover you have on it.
That would be a mistake. When it comes to books, people absolutely do judge the book by the cover – and might even be right to. I’m guilty of this as well! One of my Indiecember reads, Breaking Order, I chose entirely because I loved the cover. It looks so good, I had to give it a chance. If you’re looking to publish, here’s the three main reasons you should care about the cover of your book, with a bonus fourth point about going too far.
I want to put a brief disclaimer on this post: It might come across throughout this that I’m assuming the general readership is dumb or lazy. I hope I’ve managed to avoid giving that impression. The fact is, too many books exist for there to be any reason for a reader to assume yours is anything special. It’s not a failure of the readers to not pick a book, it’s a side effect of the ongoing avalanche that is Amazon’s new releases drowning out any one particular work. You have to show yours stands out somehow, and a cover is the best way to do that.
1) It’s the first impression for your book
A 2014 article by Tech Crunch brought my attention to a post by Claude Forthomme. In that post, Ms. Forthomme estimated that there is a new book published every 5 minutes on Amazon. At the time, there were 3.4 million ebooks on the Kindle store, with an estimated million more coming every year. Since that was 2014, that means there’s somewhere close to 7.5 million ebooks on Amazon – assuming the rate of self-published books didn’t increase, which is a pretty big assumption.
What does that mean for you? Getting noticed on Amazon is really hard. There’s a lot you can do to get attention for you book – free chapters, sales, self-promotions – but there’s thousands of other indie authors out there doing the exact same things for their books. You need to be able to grab your potential reader’s attention right off the bat, and a catchy title is only going to go so far. If your cover is a random stock photo with a few lens flares added and Comic Sans for the font, readers are going to just skip on by it. Your cover is your first impression, your first chance to show the reader that this book is worth their time, and to show that….
2) It shows that you care about the book
If you’ve written a complete novel you’ve sunk hundreds of hours into a single project. Writing a novella or short story can be done quicker, but even then it’s still a labor of love. That book becomes your baby, and while it may frustrate the hell out of you, you (hopefully) still love it. Your close friends and family will likely care that you wrote it too, because they’ve seen you pour the hours upon hours of work into it.
No one else has. The average Amazon reader doesn’t know the sleepless night you spent on the book, they don’t know the way you struggled to get the wording of that one line exactly right, and they certainly don’t know how much you care about your book. That’s not a condemnation of the average reader. How are they supposed to know? They’ve never met you. For all they know, you slapped this together over a long weekend and spent zero effort on it. A good cover is how you prove to those people that you care. It shows that you’re willing to put the time, effort, and money needed for your book to put its best face forward. It shows you have faith in your book, because you believe in it enough to make that investment. On top of that…
3) It tells the reader what your book is about
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is the last cliche I’ll be using in this blog post to prove a point, but it happens to be true. When someone is browsing Amazon looking for something new to read, they’re not spending too long on each book they look at. I certainly don’t. There’s millions of potential books out there, how long can I afford on any one if I’m not going to read it? If I want to know what a book is about, I’m going to check the title first, then glance at the cover. The second one gives me more information about the book than the first.
Let’s say you’re writing an epic fantasy book where nine people go on a journey to throw some jewelry in a volcano because that’s how you deal with evil in your universe. You call it “The Brotherhood of the Bracelet,” which tells the reader that your story features a brotherhood and a bracelet in some manner. Now, let’s assume the reader doesn’t pick up on the Tolkien allusion. Based on that title alone, what genre is the book? Is it fantasy? Is it a coming of age novel, where a group of young men bond over a bracelet? Is it a horror story, where some cult is awakening an ancient evil with a wrist accessory? A good cover, however, will clue the reader into that.
Bonus 4th point) Beware of overdoing it
If you’re not artistically inclined, you’re probably going to have to hire someone to do your cover for you. Don’t go crazy with the cover unless you have money to spare and want to do it for your own benefit. I’ve seen covers that people spent two hundred dollars on and covers that people have spent a thousand dollars on, and while there was a difference between the two, it was negligible. A good cover is needed, a great cover is ideal, and a perfect cover is a myth you’ll drive yourself crazy chasing. Budget smart and don’t go overboard, or you’ll find that you’ve discovered a very efficient way to go broke.
What are some of your favorite book covers? Has the word cover started to sound like a made up word to you too? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to grab a free book here. It has a pretty sweet cover, in my humble opinion.