This raises the question: To what extent does cover art influence sales figures? I.e., can a good cover successfully boost sales of a bad book? Conversely, can a bad cover scuttle the chances of a good one?
Regrettably, the answer to both questions is “yes”.
In the first instance, an eye-catching cover can occasionally seduce even a canny reader into buying a lemon represented as passion-fruit. (We’ve all been had, now and again.) But this trick only works once. The next time a glossily packaged title by the same author appears on the shelf of your local book store, you’ll know to give it wide berth.
Matters are more serious in the second instance, where the sales credibility of a good author is at stake. In the perennial scramble for record-breaking profits, marketing teams are often less interested in promoting a particular book on the merits of its content than they are in devising a cover concept which they can exploit in their annual sales campaign. Unfortunately, in some cases this results in conveying mixed messages to the reading public. If this happens, you get stroppy letters from disgruntled readers who bought your book on the strength of erroneous assumptions. Worse, the people who bought your first book won’t buy your second one, and there’s a better than even chance you’ll end up in the publisher’s sin bin.
When this happens, what can the writer do? To be brutally frank, where the big publishing corporations are concerned, the answer is “bugger all.”1 Cover approval is a privilege granted only to best-selling authors – whose books, ironically, would probably sell equally well if they were bound in plain brown paper.
Fortunately, writers can now circumvent the “New York Giants” of the publishing industry to make their books available to their readers by various alternative routes, including self-publication or working through small independent publishing firms. (See Terry Odell’s excellent and informative post of the 17th of July on the subject of POD publishing.) This means that writers are no longer at the mercy of a professional marketing team when it comes to selling a book by its cover. On the contrary, thanks to the wonders of IT, books that don’t fit into the marketing agenda of a big corporation can still reach receptive readers.
1 Readers and writers alike can console themselves with the knowledge that, even when the cover concept fails to sell the book, the marketing teams employed by the big publishing conglomerates still continue to retain their highly paid jobs.
Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.