No matter how the saying goes, the truth is that the cover of a book has a huge impact on our perception of what we’re going to find inside. That’s why it’s SO important to get a book cover RIGHT. It’s about more than just making something that looks pretty. A cover that’s done right will instantly tell the reader a lot about the book that they’re looking at.
Would you like an example? Great! Let’s make one up. Let’s pretend that you’re in a bookstore and you run across a bestselling book entitled “Poppies for Polly.” What is it about? What section of the bookstore does it belong in? Is it the type of thing that you’d like to read? That’s hard to say, isn’t it? I mean, with just the title to go by, your guess is just as good as mine.
That’s why the cover of a book plays such an important role. So let’s look at three different covers, for “Poppies for Polly” and see what we can deduce from them:
Here we have three different “covers” for three distinctly different books. Now to be fair – these aren’t anything close to legitimate book covers. I threw them together in the middle of writing this post using a word processor, and the whole process took me less than 5 minutes. Actually, you may have noticed that the only differences between these three “covers” are the background color and the font that I chose. But don’t those two simple choices convey an incredible wealth of information? As ugly, unprofessional, and simple as these covers are – don’t they give you much more insight into the content of the books they represent than the title alone ever could?
Even without pictures or graphics it’s pretty obvious where each of these books belong in the spectrum of current literature. The first cover obviously tells a dark story – some sort of mystery or thriller. It feels modern and menacing. The second clearly belongs to a children’s book (or perhaps a book about children) – clearly either aimed at or discussing younger kids. The third cover would fit on a romance novel or a chick-lit story.
Like I said before, these covers aren’t great. They aren’t even good. But they are CLEAR. Just by looking at them you learn something about the books that they represent. And because they so clearly represent the genres into which they fall, they will manage to perform their most basic function – namely to draw the attention of the author’s intended audience.
So what lesson should you take from this exercise?
The answer is simple – make sure you get your cover right. Identify your genre, and then do your research. Look at the 10 or 20 best selling books in your category and see what their covers have in common. Figure out a formula of what your target audience expects to see and then STICK TO THAT FORMULA.
Your cover doesn’t have to be dull. It’s allowed to stand out. But it should never look out of place among the other books that your readers are reaching for. There is no quicker way to lose readers than to present them with a cover that fails to convey the information they’re looking for.