There is an old adage that you can’t tell a book by its cover, so how do you choose a book? Is the cover important to you as a reader, or do you plump for a writer whose work you enjoy reading regardless of how its dressed? Do you choose those written by people you know personnally, or penned by your author “friends” on social media. Or would you not read a book based soley on the fact you dislike its cover?
When we think about it, those we see on novels today are a fairly modern invention. Years ago, books were hardbound with only the title and author’s name on the front. There was little to tell what the book was about or what genre, yet many of these authors became popular, famous, best sellers and classics even. Moving forward in time, hardbacks began to sport dust-jackets, with a hand-drawn and painted illustration of a scene from the story or depicting the characters. This gave some idea of the type of book and what age-group it was aimed at, accepting which bookshelf it was placed on in the shop. Of course, back then, all books were published through publishing houses, most of which employed publicists and marketing staff to help tell the world and spread the word.
Then along came paperbacks. These sometimes had an illustrated cover, with blurb on the back and detail about the writer, but most were plain with, again, simply the title and the author’s name on the front and maybe a scrolled border or pattern of sorts. Some houses, and I’m thinking of Penguin here, never had illustrated covers. Regardless of genre theirs were a genetic orange and white banding with a little penguin logo or simple sketch. A book didn’t need fancy pretty artwork to sell. Stacked on a shelf you couldn’t even see the cover until something drew you to take it off the shelf and look. And what did we do? We opened the first page, read a little of it before our final decision to buy it. So what was it that drew readers to these books and enticed people to buy them? It could only have been because of the author’s popularity, by word of mouth, the press, radio or television appearances, or recommendation from other readers. It certainly wasn’t through the covers. Of course, once a book had been made into a film, often a stills shot from the movie was placed on the cover – a great sales ploy!
Going back 15 or so years, self-publishing became acceptable, along with the internet and social media and companies such as Amazon, Nook, Smashwords etc, causing the book world take an amazing path. Suddenly, writers wanted, rightly, fantastic covers to help promote their books to make them stand out from all the rest because there was no one else to do it. No marketing team, unless you paid a firm to do it for you. But again, is it the cover that makes you choose a book, or is it a part of the whole decision-making process?
With more and more authors demanding outstanding covers for their books, a plethora of graphic artists and illustrators, and those versatile with PhotoShop or Coral or PhotoPlus, went into the lucrative market of designing them. Photographers sold their pictures to companies such as Shutterstock and Dreamstime, for example, which then sold the license to use to people royalty free. The problem with this was, and still is, these images can and are sold multiple times over, with the same photograph appearing on lots of stock image sites. This all too frequently leads to the same cover, perhaps with a small tweak or two, appearing on different books, in part if not in whole, often in the same genre sector. They are no longer unique. There also arose many individuals setting themselves up as “cover artists” who, rather than design from scratch, buy images from these stock sites and use them over and over again for different clients. Again, losing any uniqueness. Not all, thankfully, work this way. I have seen some superb individual covers created for authors, the best often the simplest. A case of less is more.
There is at least one book cover company I know of that, once you have bought the image (which you can manipulate where the text goes, fonts etc), it is withdrawn from sale thus preventing anyone else from buying and using that particular image, making your cover unique. It goes without saying all of these professionally created covers do come at a price or a restriction on where and how many times they can be used but that cost can be much lower than using a cover artist. Rather than pay for a designed cover, some authors prefer to create their own but in the majority of cases this doesn’t work well, often looking amateurish.
Over the years I’ve seen and heard many authors’ venting angst where their covers are concerned, often given far more thought and effort to that than the appearance of the actual text (ie punctuation, spelling, grammar, formatting). They’ve lost sleep, lost friends, given themselves a lot of worry about how their cover should look, believing people won’t buy it or read it if the cover’s not just so. But I don’t think that holds true. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
But perhaps I’m one of the few for whom the cover of a book does not determine whether I buy it or not. It doesn’t. It never has, and it never will. I make my choice by reading the blurb, the opening page, and sometimes if the author if it is a favourite of mine. The cover is purely that – the cover. It may give a hint to the genre and plot but it is never the first thing I look at when choosing my next read. Nor will I dismiss any book because I do not like the cover. In truth, I never judge a book by its cover.
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