Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Importance of the Cover

When I wrote my first fiction book, Angel Sometimes, there were a lot of decisions I had to make.

First, I needed to decide if I would query it, ask the publisher of my three non-fiction books to handle it, or self-publish. At the time, I wanted to get the book up on Amazon as an e-book, so I decided to do it myself. For me, the most difficult part of the process wasn't writing or editing, or formatting it to meet the requirements.  I had to figure out how I wanted the cover to look.

Hours of many days were spent looking at pictures online, some free, others at a reasonable rate. I couldn’t find what I was looking for -- a flower garden.  I had a flower garden in mind because it plays an important role in the story. In the end, my husband and I drove to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and took pictures there. After a few hours of walking and snapping shots, I came home with one that I liked enough to use as the cover art.

That was the original cover for Angel Sometimes on Amazon. I say "original" because the more I looked at it, the clearer it became that it was not the right cover. Number one, there was no way for the reader to understand the significance of the garden until the end of the book. Number two, the picture seemed too soft for the book. Number three, it needed  a cover that was bolder, more eye-catching, and more "telling".
So I went back to the online sites for photographs. Only this time, I searched for water scenes or mermaids. There are mermaid photos, but most of them were women in a costume sitting on a rock. That wasn't what I wanted. I wanted her to be swimming. I also didn't want the reader to see the cover and feel that was the way Angel looked. I preferred readers to have their own vision of her.
I gave up and bought a beautiful underwater scene -- no mermaid. This was the cover I designed using that picture:

Ultimately, I decided I needed a professional cover artist, so I signed on with Patty G. Henderson.  
Luckily, Patty did not give up. She created a beautiful cover with a mermaid. She even manipulated the picture so that the mermaid's face was not visible. I loved the cover so much, I put it up as the e-book cover and used it for the paperback and my business cards.

Probably all of you are readers. How many books have you picked up then set down without even flipping through the pages -- because the cover did not appeal to you? I think the right cover is essential and can play as big a role as the back cover blurb in determining if the reader will buy the book.
What do you think? Do covers influence you to pick up the book? Buy the book? Do you turn to a professional to design your covers?

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2013.


  1. Amen, Helen. And the evolution of your cover underscores the provocative power of professional design.

    The first two covers are better than many covers by enthusiastic amateurs, but are also instructive. For one thing, they illustrate a common earmark of amateur design: centered title at the top and centered author at the bottom. All too often, the results are uninspired and visually boring.

    Your post also highlights another key to good covers: iteration. Neither you nor your designer quit after the first try.

  2. In a book store, I first pick up a book because of the cover. If the back blurb interests me, the book has a new home. A bad cover will turn me away and I'll miss the best books...

  3. Great comment, Larry, and thank you Helen for sharing the evolution of your cover. I love the watery typeface for the title in this last version, and the way the words "anchor" the beautiful watery scene above. The fact that we can't see the mermaid's face makes her seem slippery and ephemeral as well!

    Hard to believe the static garden (pretty as it is) and the underwater movement belong to the same novel!

  4. How true. I'm still struggling with the cover for my second title. The designer came up with a lovely one, which I initially accepted, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized it wasn't quite right. She's willing to redo it (thank you, thank you to my publisher!), but I do wish I'd listened to that little voice in my head before I bought the business cards!

  5. They say you can't judge a book by it's cover ... but we do. Inspirational, Helen, that you kept at until you got it right ... and you did. Wish I had the means and the gumption to do the same ... but I don't.

  6. A book with an uninteresting cover never gets a second look from me. No doubt some great stories have gone unread, but that underscores the value of a cover that hooks the reader/buyer if you want to sell your book.

    I've never found a suitable cover for my debut novel from years ago, which will be undergoing a brutal edit before it appears as the first serialized book on my new online author hangout. Prior to that, however, I will find an appropriate designer -- perhaps even Patty. She just did a fabulous cover for one of my editing clients; it's right on.

    Excellent post, Helen.

  7. You are so right about the cover art needing to be professional. While I liked your second version much more than the first, the third one really does sell the story.

  8. I agree with all of you. The final cover, I feel, fits the story perfectly and, hopefully, entices the reader to pick it up, read the back cover info, and, hopefully, buy it. Plus, I just plain love it.

  9. A cover is essential. It's what first catches my eye, unless it's an author I'm familiar with. I like both underwater scenes better than the garden but I must say I'm partial to the second one.

  10. As much as we all claim otherwise, and maybe other writers have overcome this to a certain extent, we all will judge a book by it's cover. It's a book's first impression.

  11. Helen,
    Your first cover is pretty, but doesn't really relate to the content of your book.
    The second is not only beautiful, but also hints something about the book's contents.
    The change was a good idea!

    Morgan Mandel

  12. I'm so glad you write this post, Helen. It's exactly the kind of cover transformation that consideration, and a professional, can achieve. Pivotal for me are these words: it needed a cover that was bolder, more eye-catching, and more "telling". I see so many amateur covers that just don't connect to the story. Title and image are so important to grab a reader's interest, not just in the book store, but online as well. How many times have I not downloaded a book from Book Bub, for example, because the cover was so bad? Often. Even free books. Thanks for the link to Patty's site, too. I've heard lots of good about this designer.

  13. I love the cover you ended up with. As a reader, I like to decide what the characters look like myself. I think the cover art you chose will peak the reader's interest without prejudicing them for or against your protagonist.

    Interesting thing...I once taught a class where I put a bunch of books down on a table with and without book jackets....lots of people walked by .... and almost NO one picked up the naked books --- even though one of them was a beautifully illustrated book of the kama sutra. hee hee hee
    Cover art matters.
    You were wise to invest in a pro.
    Karen :0)

  14. Yvonne, I really liked that second picture, too.

    You have some great covers, too, Morgan.

    Karen, I can totally believe that! I'm always drawn in my the great covers.

    Dani, I hope to call on Patty again -- for the cover of Dismembering the Past.

  15. Love how it turned out--just perfect! Yes, cover art is VERY important in catching the reader's eye and giving a hint of what the story is about.

  16. As important as I think covers are from my standpoint as an author, I rarely buy a book, or even pick one up based on a cover. In a library or bookstore, the majority of the books are spine out so all you see is the title and the author's name. When shopping from thumbnails on line, I still tend to skim by author name since even "good" covers don't hold up in tiny images. I think your artist did an excellent job here. I also hire out for covers (and will share what my guy did for one of my books when it's my turn next week)
    Terry's Place

  17. I dislike about 90 percent of the covers I come across, so if I judged the books by their covers alone, I wouldn't be reading much. However, I am an avid reader so I usually chose a book by its blurb. However, covers are important. I have been changing the covers for my own books multiple times and I am still experimenting.

    I love all three covers, Helen, so they obviously don't belong to the 90 percent! I think you picked the right one in the end. As you know, I loved the book!

  18. Have we written a post or two about blurbs? Maybe from different angles. 1. how a publisher gets them 2. how a book publicist gets them 3. how an author gets them 4. how to write one for someone else and finally, what is a good blurb?

  19. I think covers are even more important now than they used to be. Yes, I absolutely judge books by their covers--they can tell us a lot about the genre, the intended audience, and if the book was professionally constructed or not.


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