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How Important Is a Good Cover to Novel Sales?

How Important Is a Good Cover to Novel Sales?

by Mike Duran · 11 comments

I spoke with a writer friend who recently returned from a book festival. He had his own booth to sell his books and commented on the different ways people decide if a book is for them. There are five types of book buyers from his observation.

  • The “back of the book” readers who consider the story synopsis
  • The cover-art-sold-me-readers
  • The endorsement page inspectors
  • The read-the-first-page-readers (this includes those who opened to a random page in the middle of the book)
  • The combo form of the above 4 methods

I’m definitely a

  1. First page
  2. Cover art

person. If the writing looks solid and the cover looks good, I’m already to third base.

Of course, some have turned book buying into a virtual science. Take this comprehensive Power Point 2010 Survey of Book-Buying Behavior presented by the BEA. Not only do they statistically break down “avid readers,” their “purchasing behavior,” and the outlets they prefer, the survey charts the “Primary Factors in Book-Purchase Decision” (see graph below). “Author Reputation” and “Personal Recommendation” are at the top of the list. Interestingly enough, “Price” is the next most important factor, followed by “Reviews” and then “Cover Artwork / Blurbs.”

Slide_31

I would definitely move cover art up on my personal ranking scale. But that’s just me.

The gals over at Bookslut, in a post entitled How to Choose a Book by Its Cover, whittle it down to these six components:

  • Cover artwork
  • Cover Font
  • Back Blurbs
  • Description
  • Author Photo
  • The Spine

Of course, a lot of things have changed in the 12 years since that post was written. Namely, the digital revolution has made books spines less meaningful.

In a way, I almost hate to admit that I WILL choose a book by its cover. I hate to admit it because, for the most part, the cover design of a book is usually out of an author’s control. Unless the author is actually designing her own cover, she still must surrender to another artist’s eye. Yes, good books can withstand bad covers. And bad books can unjustly benefit from good covers. But the bottom line remains: Good covers sway book shoppers. For better or worse.

I’m writing this because I’m in the throes of planning my next self-pubbed release. My going theory is that, apart from the story itself, which I control, cover art is the next most important thing. Investing in a good cover is hugely important for an indie author. Your book cover is front and center, an emblem of your commitment to the reader. Of course, there is the subjectivity quotient. What I think is a good cover, you might dislike. Then there’s the reality that good covers can’t make bad stories better. Meaning, one can go overboard in believing good covers improve novel sales.

Question: How important is good cover art to you as a reader? And how important is good cover art to a novel’s sales?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kessie July 14, 2014 at 3:46 PM

I really do wish one could judge a book by its cover. The fact remains that cover art is cheaper than editing. I’ve bought some books with amazing cover art, only to find poor plotting and flat characters.

While shopping ebooks, I look at title/genre, then cover, and if I like those, synopsis. If the synopsis sells me, I don’t bother reading the reviews–I just snap it up and read.

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Teddi Deppner July 14, 2014 at 4:29 PM

Some of these surveys or analyses don’t go as deep as I’d like.

For example, as someone who now reads for pleasure almost exclusively on my Kindle, the prioritization or weight I’d give each item in judging a book is something like:

1) I already like the author’s writing (personal experience with author, not just “author reputation”)
2) I got a recommendation from someone I trust saying it’s good
3) The back cover blurb / Amazon description is super engaging and I love the story premise
4) I like the sample chapter
5) The cover looks interesting
6) I like the author’s website
7) Reviews

I almost never “browse” for books, where there are rows and rows of book covers, or the cover might be more important.

I almost never read reviews; and when I do it’s for non-fiction books or because of some specific trigger issue or controversy about the book and I want to gauge how people are reacting.

I have so little time for reading that if I don’t get a personal or social media recommendation, the book isn’t likely to catch my eye. I am not out there just looking for another book to read. Even with a recommendation, if the book doesn’t have a good sample chapter I won’t buy it. Titles don’t usually do anything for me, though sometimes there are really good ones that catch my attention.

Cover art is far less important once I know and love the author’s writing. So any purchase after the first one will have nearly nothing to do with the cover and will be all about my enjoyment of the first book. Do these graphs specify that they are mostly intended for judging books by authors you haven’t read before? That seems like it would make the most sense.

Where the cover matters for me is when I land on the book’s Amazon page after someone recommends it and the cover art is totally, obviously amateur. At that point my decision whether or not to send myself the sample chapter is decided by the circumstances of the recommendation (who recommended the book and how much social pressure there is on me to check it out). If there isn’t social pressure, I’d stop at the bad cover and never see whether the writing in the sample was any good.

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Matthew Sample II July 14, 2014 at 4:42 PM

I’m of the opinion that some of the most profound and interesting books have really mundane titles and covers.

But I know that I don’t think that way when I’m gut-choosing what to read. I look at the cover and I read the synopsis. Then I check the reviews. Then I check out the table of contents. Then I look at the cover again….

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Jill July 14, 2014 at 5:14 PM

Cover art is almost meaningless to me if I already know I want to try out the author. If I don’t know anything about the author, the book description plus the first few paragraphs will make the decision for me. Occasionally, the cover will tell me the book is in a genre I don’t want to read by providing subtle or not so subtle clues. That’s the only time I really care about the cover.

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Lyn Perry July 15, 2014 at 4:52 AM

I’ve heard that genre branding is one of the most important features of a book cover. That is, a potential buyer has a cliche/expectation in mind when they’re looking for books in their favorite genre (romance, SF, mystery, cozy, etc) and if the cover doesn’t match the genre that they are browsing (I’m thinking online browsing) then they simply skip over it.

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randa July 15, 2014 at 7:11 AM

I am a back of the book person. Cover art on many books are bland in my opinion, the most a cover does for me is get my attention to look at it. A good title and cover art has turned out to be not enough for a gripping story in my expiernce.

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Brenda Anderson July 15, 2014 at 8:20 AM

I won’t choose to read a book because of the cover, but a good cover will draw my attention, and I might pick up a novel I otherwise would have left alone. But, it’s the author’s name or the back cover blurb that will keep my attention and convince me to take that book home.

What’s surprising to me is that more publishers don’t give greater attention to the spine of a book. In book stores, that’s what you see of most books, so you want something that stands out. Few do.

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Samuel R Choy July 15, 2014 at 9:28 AM

My 18-year-old daughter has an interesting take on selecting novels. She opens up a book to the middle and reads a few pages. She swears that if there’s content she finds objectionable, bad writing, or typical YA cliches, it shows up in the middle of the book.

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Jessica E. Thomas July 16, 2014 at 6:09 AM

“How important is good cover art to you as a reader?”

Very. I’m shallow.

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J.S. Clark July 16, 2014 at 9:54 AM

I start with a cover, but I don’t make the purchase/reading/commitment until I read the synopsis.

That process changes a little if I have a recommendation from someone I know, but even with an author I’ve read before, I won’t make the final decision without the synopsis.

Reply

Marion July 17, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Mike,

For someone who just published his first novel, I was told to make sure you have a good cover. If your cover sucks, then you will not attract someone to look at your book. Also, I have learned the importance of the back cover blurb as well.

Marion

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