Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's Your Answer About Book Covers

A book cover is often the first thing a reader notices about your book. That's why you want it to be eye catching and appealing.

Sometimes a cover will grab a person's attention, but not for the right reasons. It might be garish, gross, hard on the eyes, or contain other qualities that make a reader grimace after first glance. A good cover needs staying power to make it connect with your audience on a personal level.

In a Blood-Red Pencil post on February 5, 2013, I recommended my own cover designer, Stephen Walker. To decide whether or not a good cover is the best criteria for choosing a book, you may wish to check out Linda Lane's thoughts in her post.

Today, I'd like to mention what I look for in a cover, and get feedback on your preferences. As in our prior What's Your Answer features, I'll ask a few questions, and invite you to reply in the comment section.

Q: In a choice between a cover featuring one or more inanimate objects, or a cover highlighting one or more people, which do you prefer? 

A: I've seen thriller and mystery covers with flames shooting up, dark shadows, and other scary objects. I've seen grey Gothic mansions. I've also seen pretty flowers. Those kind of covers remind me of mechanical voices answering a telephone call. Where's the human?

That said, I confess that for some reason I'm drawn to teapots, quaint houses, storefronts or gardens on the covers of cozy mysteries. I don't know why, but I am.

Q: Do you prefer covers with vectors or humans? Vectors are pictures that kind of look like sophisticated cartoons. Here's a vector example from my romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams:


A: Done right, either will appeal to me.  If I see a vector that really grabs me, I love it. Unfortunately, there are also a number of vectors that look like any grammar school kid might have drawn them.

I also like covers with humans on them, if they accurately portray the type of books I prefer. It's not good for a cover to pretend a book is something it isn't, since that leads to reader disappointment.

Split covers featuring one or more humans, along with some type of scenery that tells me something about the story, also appeal to me.

What about you? Please share your preferences in the comment section. Also, if you wish, you may include one link to a blog, website or book cover example. 



Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.  Romantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

26 comments :

  1. I like understated covers, so would probably go with objects over people for most literature meant for adult readers.

    Since I write MG/YA, I would go with illustrated covers, but probably not vectors. What I don't like with either photographic, vector, or illustration is a posed stance - I prefer an action shot or illustrated scene from the story.

    BTW, Notes From the Slushpile had a very interesting book cover comparison post here.

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  2. Thanks for the great example, Elle!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  3. I favor covers that look professional and shun those that do not. I like strong graphic design and good, clean typography, whether the design objects are animate or inanimate.

    Vector graphics (not "vectors") can succeed in the hands of a designer with skill. Alas, the weak point in "Girl OF MY Dreams" is in the typography.

    Of my cover designs, the one that has reaped the most positive reaction is Chipset. I myself prefer The Dome from a graphic design POV for the strong, simple contours of such a recognizable landmark and the sombre, brooding color palette foreshadowing dark events. The Albertus typeface of the title, hand-kerned and color-matched to the dome, also just works here. But readers find the Chipset cover more intriguing and memorable.

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  4. I like richly textured covers, the kind that make you want to reach out and grab the book...and hold it. Even if it's an e-book! LOL! But then again, I write historical fiction, so that slants me in the style of the era. Both of my most recent titles--Seducing the Princess and The Wild Princess have this touch-me feel. At least I think so. What do you think? You can see them here: http://www.maryhartperry.com
    And BTW, love your blog, Morgan! Hugs, MHP

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  5. For my own books, I don't like faces. People, yes. Faces, no. I absolutely loved seeing the US/UK covers on the link Elle included. Thank you!

    Professional, intriguing, dreamlike, thoughtful are the words that most affect me about a cover I like, but each depends on the genre. And I won't read all books with intriguing covers, but I'm more likely to take a second look.

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  6. I am passionate about cover art. I hate bland color blocks and words alone with different fonts on a page. I love pictures that are thematically suggestive. I like "people" covers though there are some who dislike them. A good cover definitely invites me to investigate. What is odd is seeing so many covers that look almost identical and use the same stock graphics. I don't mean similar covers in a series; I mean similar covers for different authors. If a publisher is going to the trouble to produce a book, I would think more creativity would go into the cover. I can understand an Indy having to use what they can afford or find. I had a great deal of fun learning Photoshop to design my covers and taking photos of real models. I like my version of the covers for Mythikas better than the ones that Booksurge developed. The cover was the first thing I changed when I had control over it. Designing book covers is a job I would have enjoyed!

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  7. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, I don't know what makes a good cover ... but I know one when I see it.

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  8. Morgan, as a visual person, the cover IS important to me as a reader and I want the covers on my own books to be eye-catching. Here are my answers:

    I've seen covers with a mix of people and objects done well and I've seen some dark gloomy covers with a hint of a face or object in the foggy mist done wrong. Even dark graphic mysteries can have a bright cover. The cozy mysteries seem to have the cutest covers with light colors, cartoon people, intriguing in their own way. Even though I write more graphic mysteries,I want the cover to reflect the content and catch the eye of browsing readers. Having said that, I am drawn to a cover but then I go to the back and read the blurb and then flip to page one and read at least the first paragraph. If it passes the test, I purchase it. Here's a link that shows all my covers: www.susanwhitfieldonline.com

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  9. I like art covers. I don't mean 5 year old refrigerator type art, but real art. It can have people if they are showing the story but not just a couple of people plastered on the front to show there are people in the book. We all expect there are. Show us what it's about! The important thing is that the cover actually reveals the story line or theme.

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  10. I, too, am very involved in the creation of the covers for our books. For the most part, I don't like people on the covers (vector or otherwise). As a reader, I want to be able to create my own image. We have nine published books now. Number ten comes out in September. For our first book, "31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park," Larry did the cover art at the last minute. It depicts the pagoda in Kyoto and the entry gate to Universal Studios Japan.
    For our mysteries, the cover photos are mine, and I worked with our fabulous cover artist, Melissa Summers, to get exactly the look I wanted.
    For our anthologies, I have often mocked up a design, and Melissa has executed it perfectly from my vision.
    The first cover for "Ghost Writer" was terrible and had nothing to do with the story. Fortunately the publisher, Billie Johnson, allowed Larry to mock up a new design which the cover artist reinterpreted into the final one, which I love.
    Larry didn't have as much choice about the cover for his short story collection, "Lakeview Park," but the final choice is one he's very happy with. You can see all of them on our website http://www.lornalarry.com.

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  11. I think it is important for the cover to reflect the genre to an extent. The example you posted, Morgan, immediately says to me Chick Lit type romance. There is also a specific look for a cozy mystery that helps identify it.

    For a mystery with a harder edge, I prefer a cover like what has been used for my Seasons Series. There is a continuity of design from book one to book two, and then to the e-book version of book one. It establishes that this is a police procedural mystery. The graphic artist I work with for my e-books took the basic design and changed it up just enough that it is fresh, yet still reflects the continuing theme of the covers. http://www.amazon.com/Open-Season-ebook/dp/B008D37B58/

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  12. Just as our reading tastes,I can see here that book covers are very subjective. What I'm seeing here so far is agreement that the cover should reflect the type of book and not be misleading.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  13. As a romance writer, I have to add that cover artists should remember that not all of us females find huge over-grown men with bulging muscles to be attractive! I don't mind a shirtless man, but when his arms are wider than my thighs, that's going a bit too far!

    And don't use the same man that everyone else has on their covers. Fabio became a joke for a reason years ago, when he seemed to be the only "look" for a romance cover hero. Some of us like tall men, some prefer men of equal height to the heroine. Some like weightlifters, some like nerds. Let's show some diversity in our characters!

    By the way, thanks for the "vector graphic" phrase. My daughter calls some of my book covers "SIMS" after the game she used to like to play when she was younger. Some publishers still use them. They can be effective as you say, or they can be childishly sloppy.

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  14. Oh yeah, www.fionamcgier.com. I have covers from 3 different publishers and had some input into all of them, though there are limits to what the artists can change to suit the characters in the novels.

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  15. I like covers that look professional, but more importantly I want the cover to have something to do with the story. I want to pick up the book, based on the cover, and read the back and think, "Okay, I see the cover depicts some part of the story."

    One thing I have learned is that the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover" is frequently true. Some of the best books I've ready had the ugliest covers.
    Marja McGraw

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  16. I tend NOT to like photography on book covers, unless the image is very "painterly". Vectors (using the colloquial term of the masses) are okay but might seem a bit lighthearted and humorous or even gimmicky (using Morgan's book cover as an example) which is fine if the story is supported by an image like that. They leave a definite impression. For example, I've always felt Blaize Clement's Dixie Hemingway mysteries had very bad covers, simply because the writing within is much heavier than the covers imply. These aren't lighthearted reads at all. But, of course, once you start a series with a certain look, you pretty much have to continue until all the books go into reprint. I agree that a bad cover (ugly or inappropriate art, poor font choice) will keep me from opening the cover to read! Yeah, Christopher, there is that issue of "I know what I like when I see it". The sad truth is it might not be as good as you think! :D

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  17. Fiona, those male romance covers mostly just put me off! I don't think it's just an aging thing - even when I was younger, that was more than I wanted to see from any man until I got between the covers. If you'll pardon the pun! :D

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  18. What timing. My cover artist just finished the cover for my digital release of Rooted in Danger, coming later in April. My opinions of covers have changed markedly since the surge in e-stores (not just e-books) because you have to grab a reader based on a thumbnail image. Less is more. All those cover quotes publisher wanted are lost in thumbnail. And, if you've got a series, the cover needs to "brand" your work, too.

    I'm not one who'd be attracted by vector covers, simply because they say "Chick Lit" to me, and that's not my preferred genre.
    You can see one of the covers in the sidebar of this blog--and the new one is here. This link is to a small image, so it's more like what a 'shopper' would see in the e-stores.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  19. Good points, Terry. We should do another post in the future, in which we pick a book cover (not our own) that really grabs us and then briefly tell why we think it's good. Could be interesting to see what the group comes up with.

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  20. Dani, a lot depends on the 'fame' of the author. With some, cover art is minimal--it's author name (huge) and book title (large). Ah, to reach the point where all you need is your name on a book!

    (Google JD Robb, Harlan Coben, or Michael Connelly to name a few.)

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  21. This is tough, isn't it, because our tastes vary so much. "I know what I like when I see it" seems to cover everything. Honestly? I could say what I prefer and don't prefer, and then, in thirty minutes see the antithesis of that and love it! Because the sites (real) are part of what sells my novels, I like covers that can work as a show/tell for the story and the site. A FAIR TO DIE FOR does that beautifully, in my estimation, and the sites depicted do sell a lot of books.

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  22. I prefer full nudity on my book covers, or is that my DVD covers?

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  23. It was interesting for me to discover, only recently, the way covers affect me. When I was offered my book deal by Sourcebooks I went right to their site to see what else they'd published—but was confused by the fact that I saw not one cover that looked like "my kind of book." Until then I didn't know I had such a thing!

    Then I learned I was part of a new book club fiction imprint premiering just last month—and every single one of those covers looked like "my kind of book." The power of a cover design to evoke genre is truly remarkable!

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  24. Definitely true, Kathryn. I have to tell you, since my interest for Regency was piqued, I've found it difficult to acquire them in paper, whether from the library or bookstore where someone might SEE me. Especially the modern ones which tend toward very sexy images. Thank goodness I have a Kindle! LOL. You can often tell a classic from a contemporary historical novel by the cover.

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  25. A clinch cover or bare chested guy cover, spells a hot book to me. I usually pass those by, because I like sweet romances, usually with humor in them. And, I do enjoy some of the cozy mysteries. So, if a book is a sweet romance, but it looks hot on the cover, I will pass it by. That's why authors need to be careful that the cover goes along with the tone of the book. I see some of you have noticed Girl of My Dreams is a chick lit by seeing the cover, and that's a good thing, because that's what I want to convey.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.chicklitfaves.com

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  26. This is a fantastic post, Morgan, and you've garnered some equally great responses.

    Personally, I'm drawn to vivid colors, which doesn't necessarily rule out pastels -- but they'd better be very welcoming to make me pick up the book, read the back cover and/or flaps, and thumb through the pages. The one exception is gardens; well done, they appeal to me in a soft and subtle way (maybe because I loved walking through my grandmother's garden when I was a child). Good (not cutesy) artwork is preferred over photos in most cases, but again, exceptions exist.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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