But why? What compels us to pick up a book at a bookstore or click on an enhanced image on Amazon and say "no" even before we've read a snippet on what that book is about? Whether we want to admit it or not, we are very visual creatures. We enjoy the beauty of art that's had time put into it and is well done and tasteful. We want to put our money into something that can get us with just an image, and that is why a book cover can either make or break your novel in such a competitive market.
We've all seen the obscure, complicated, ridiculous, or just downright strange covers that some authors choose. When I see one that particularly looks bad, I shake my head and wonder what the author was even thinking in choosing an image like that on the cover. The sad part is that many self-published novels tend to have less than stellar artwork on the front. Just go over to Smashwords and do a cursory search and you'll see that almost every genre listed has a few hard-to-understand covers. (Personally, I have a hard time with the Fantasy category, but that just might be me.)
As readers, we look for certain things on our covers that will reflect the author's seriousness when it comes to his/her writing.
Many of us look for highly polished prose that doesn't drag on and on forever. Some prefer a quick-paced novel, but still, the quality of writing has to be good. The author needs to make his/her point and then move on. Does the cover need to convey the same feeling of quality? Yes. If you're writing a thriller, you want to make sure that the excitement your readers will feel when reading your story is felt the moment someone picks your book off the shelf. Michael Connelly's novel The Reversal was shortlisted for the 2011 ITW Thriller Award for the best hard cover novel. You tell me. Does the cover convey the quality of the writing one would find within?
Personally, I think it's a nice, crisp, simple cover that conveys the genre Michael Connelly writes. It's not overdone with different images fighting for attention. The colors are basic and makes one think of a cold courtroom where justice will be dealt out. Since Connelly is a big name in the thriller genre, his name is more dominant than the title, but even so, it's clear what the title is and not shoved into a tiny size. A clean font that blends in with the cover is also a must.
Here's another novel shortlisted in the 2011 ITW Thriller Awards.
The Burying Place
Not having read the blurb, I'm expecting a chilling discovery of dead bodies in a remote house along a river. It kind of scares the crap out of me just looking at it! But at least it's doing what it's supposed to do and that is to get the wheels in my head turning about what I might find under that cover.
A good cover will catch our attention because we simply enjoy that genre or those kinds of stories. As readers, we are drawn to universal themes, like with the two novels mentioned above, which deal with solving a crime and catching the bad guy. The same goes for war novels, romances, YA novels, and fantasy or sci-fi. Let's take the romance category for a moment. I can't think of one genre romance novel cover that doesn't look like the next. They are all very similar, but that's exactly what attracts the readers. How many do we come across that could be identical stories?
Taking a Shot
THINKING AND FEELING
When a potential reader pulls a novel from the shelf they are already thinking and feeling what might happen in that story? What will pull them into this story? Will it be worth his/her while? Does it excite them? The cover needs to say a resounding "Yes!" Thrillers and romances have the market cornered when it comes to getting the buyers through the door. But what about other genres? One I repeatedly struggle with is the fantasy genre. Rarely do I see one that catches my eye. (I'll be honest and say that as soon as I read the back cover and see that it's fantasy, it usually goes right back on the shelf.) But there is so much going on in the fantasy world and it's such a mixed genre that a reader needs to know if vampires suck blood or dwarves walk around Middle-earth.
Do these covers convey what the author is offering the reader?
|George R. R. Martin's|
A Game of Thrones
Would either of these covers interest you more?
|One of many updated covers.|
My guess would be yes. Original cover art can change over the years if the novel is a bestseller. In both cases with A Game of Thrones and The Hobbit, these covers have had numerous makeovers to appeal to the changing audiences, particularly The Hobbit. It was published in 1937 and in just a few short months will have a big box office release. If the film's producers and marketing department were to go with a very bland poster like the book's original cover, then not many moviegoers would be interested in seeing the film. A book like this, that has been around for readers of many different generations, will continue to have work done on its cover. The idea is to entice those who will read it ten, twenty, even fifty years from now.
How many times have you gone to see a film based off of the book, simply because you read the book first and you just couldn't wait to see how it was developed into a film? I think a majority of anyone reading this has. I know I have, although I tend to do the reverse. I'll see the movie first and then read the novel, mainly because I know the novel will have so many more juicy tidbits to share than the movie could fit into those two hours. But what's one of the main things we seek out first before going to see that film? The movie poster! It is one of the most solid pieces of advertising that studios have at their disposal. And if the book was a big hit, then that poster better darn well say the film will be a big hit. Notice how film studios use the basic building blocks of the novel cover when it comes to selling the film adaptations.
by Kathryn Stockett
Here's a more recent example with The Hunger Games book cover and movie poster. What exactly draws you in and makes you want to either see the film or read the book? Do you notice the same theme running throughout each one?
The color scheme says two things to me. First, this story will be dark. Whatever I'm expecting to discover in the story, I should at least know that it will have dark overtones. Second, the color scheme for both and the fact that there are arrows on the fronts of each one, I should expect some kind of war or fighting. Perhaps for justice? Perhaps for survival? Perhaps for just fun and games? But that should be enough to entice me to want to read more. Unlike the bright colors of The Help, The Hunger Games does not feel like a lighthearted story, and if that's what I'm looking for, then this cover and poster have done their jobs.
Are there any book covers or movie posters that have caught your eye and ended up making you read the story or see the film, or vice versa? Can you think of any cover art on a bestseller that just doesn't work? Are you struggling to come up with your own artwork that will help sell your novel?