Thursday, August 01, 2013

Do You Judge a Book By Its Cover?




File:Old book bindings.jpg
Photo by Tom Murphy VII
You know that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s an old saying that makes sense because it’s something we typically do. We DO judge books by their covers. Their covers and their titles.

I know I do. I may be an author, but I'm also a reader.

When I’m walking through a bookstore that’s exactly what I’m doing. Cover after cover, title after title. I only pick up ones that grab me or peak my interest. It doesn’t mean I’ll buy them, but they don’t even stand a chance if the cover doesn’t work.

Obviously, I’m talking about books by authors I don’t know or haven’t read before. If I know and love the author, I’ll buy the book whether I like the cover or title at all. But I’m always on the lookout for a new book and new authors and, with them, the covers and titles definitely matter.

This issue often creates a challenge between authors and the marketing folks in traditional publishing houses. When authors finish a book, we’ve typically spent between 6 months and a year on it. For most of that time we’ve been calling it something; often referred to as a “working title.” It’s called that because the author’s title rarely survives the marketing process (unless you're a mega bestselling author. In which case, you get to call all the shots). My books are selling well, but that's not my situation.

I have 8 published novels on the shelf now, 2 more due out in Sept and next April. Both have official covers and titles already fixed. Of those 10 books, guess how many of my working titles made it onto the actual books? Only 4. Six of my titles are not mine. Some (won’t say which ones) I didn’t even like. I will tell you which titles were mine: The Deepest Waters, Remembering Christmas, The Dance and What Follows After (the one due out next April).

As for my covers, I’ve liked all but 4 (won’t say which ones). My biggest gripe is probably when we settle on a cover that, to me, seems to have absolutely no tie-in to the book. I’ve actually gone back with a couple of my books, after the cover was decided on, and added several paragraphs to the story so the reader won’t be asking, “Now what in the world does that cover have to do with this book?”

The Promise - CoverI’m curious…how much do you judge a book by its cover and/or its title? Does it matter much to you when considering a book by an author you don’t know? Have you bought books with covers and/or titles you didn’t find appealing? Do you have any pet peeves about covers and titles?



While I’m asking questions, I’d like to get some feedback from you on a couple of title matters. My 2nd book with Gary Smalley comes out in September, called The Promise. I wanted to call the book The Broken Portrait. That got nixed because the marketing folks thought it might be too negative. I don’t think it is and, to me, it works much better for the story. Be honest, would you consider buying a book called The Broken Portrait?

To my fellow published authors, do any of you struggle at all with this? Have any similar challenges? To everyone, can you think of any books you actually bought just because the cover and/or title were so good?

Okay, let me have it.

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 8 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas and The Dance. He's won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Six of his books were named Top Picks by RT Reviews. Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where he and Cindi love to take long walks. To connect with Dan or check out his books, go to: http://danwalshbooks.com. He also blogs weekly with fellow male fiction authors Jim Rubart and Harry Kraus at: http://3menwalkintoablog.com.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dan. I think a lot of paperbooks are bought on cover image. In the vanity of our age, I think some folk buy a book on how cool, sexy, wise it will make THEM appear at the coffeeshop, train, beach.

Dan Walsh said...

I get why people would pick up a book because the cover appeals to them, but hadn't thought about it ever being about people thinking better of you because they see you reading a certain book. That borders on pathetic to me.

Lou Viggiano said...

Hey Dan,
Thanks for writing your books. I enjoy them. As for your question on the cover and title of books. Of course we are all influenced by words & pictures. I have a soft spot for Christmas in any title. Then again I also have my mindset for certain words. Christian books & inspirational books are my favorite at this moment.
Pictures? Well like most folks out there I get interested in any book that has a picture of a person, or a quote of some kind, and even certain color of the book. These all attract me one way or another. But that only get me to open the book and read the summary. Once I have done that I will usually know after the first paragraph if I am going to purchase the book.
Thanks for the question.. Look forward to reading your book "The Promise" (The Broken Portrait) next month.... I like your title much better...but the wife like "The Promise"... go figure?

Rel said...

I'm with you, Dan. I think The Broken Portrait is a much more enticing title than The Promise. It sounds interesting whereas I feel like The Promise is one I've seen before many times over. We talk about cover art a LOT over at my blog and my pet peeve is the seeming lack of originality. I'm so very tired of historical covers that have a girl in a pretty dress looking over her right shoulder, though some do dare to have her looking over her left ;-)

Also, like you, covers that don't tell me something about the story (have no connection) or do not reflect the descriptions in the book, disappoint me.

That said, it is always the author that will tempt me, regardless of the cover art, but I do love a unique and appealing cover and I keep hoping for the best when publishers release their next batch of books! There are always some fabulous looking covers and titles that redeem the ones that don't quite hit the mark!

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Lou. Space didn't allow for me to get into it, but what you said is the next step for me after the cover and title. I read the back (or dust cover if a hardback) and the first page or two. But it's the cover that determines whether I get that far with a book.

Thanks for the input on The Promise. Guess that's what the marketing folks were banking on...what women like better, since they make up 80% of fiction buyers.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Rel. Laughed out loud at this: "I'm so very tired of historical covers that have a girl in a pretty dress looking over her right shoulder, though some do dare to have her looking over her left..."

I agree with you, many CBA covers would benefit with some fresh eyes working in the creativity dept.

I really like the cover for my book coming out in April, What Follows After. It wasn't ready when you featured Revell covers a little while ago in your blog. Here's a link if you want to see it:

http://amzn.to/1aYEPTz

Rel said...

Mmmm...yes, that do bank on that but there are also a lot of women out there who don't go for what publishers perceive to be "what women want"! Unfortunately for me, I must be one of the odd ones out and it gets very frustrating to see the kind of books and covers that just do not appeal to me being repeated over and over again.

Whining now complete!

Normandie Ward Fischer said...

I'm more likely to pick up a book titled The Broken Portrait than one titled The Promise. But that probably says more about me than about the validity of either. I'm less likely to buy a book with a sweet woman's face on it, though. Again, that has more to do with my reading preferences than what might actually be in the book.

Both of my publishers have been willing to work with that particular issue of mine. Just as I'd rather read the book before I see the movie, I'd rather not have a publisher imprint their image of a character's face.

Rel said...

Yes, I know, I was frustrated when I saw your new cover released a few days after I posted! I'm actually planning a special post just for you and Doc Mabry as his latest cover was in the same boat.

I think your new cover is great, too. Appeals to me so much more than the covers for The Dance and The Promise - even though I am smack bang in the middle of what would be their target audience...sigh!

Dan Walsh said...

That's really what it came down to, marketing. Two factors, the 80/20 ratio of women to men reading fiction (even though Gary and I wrote this with a 50/50 emphasis for both), and the huge audience Gary had with Karen Kingsbury in the previous series. They hope to draw those readers in with similar covers.

Dan Walsh said...

I feel your pain on this. Whining right along with you.

Dan Walsh said...

Totally with you on this, Normandie. This series with Gary are the only books of mine with people on them. I much prefer to let the reader form their own image of what the characters look like.

I've read a few books with people on the covers and it quickly became clear, no effort was made to even come close to the way the characters were portrayed in the story.

C.J. Darlington said...

You aren't alone, Rel! I think there are more gals out there like you and me than we think.

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

Might be my bad, but when I see an "amateur" cover, I don't even bother to look inside because I assume the writing will be amateur also.

Lelia Rose Foreman said...

Might I mention that I adored the cover on your "Reunion"?

Katie Ganshert said...

Such an interesting discussion going on here! Based on title, I'd be more prone to pick up The Broken Portrait over The Promise.

It's interesting - the whole what sells and what doesn't thing. I met with a book club recently and was telling them about the very first novel I wrote and how it's unpublishable for multiple reasons, one of which is the setting. It's set in Nairobi, Kenya. I was telling them how it's VERY hard to get a contemp. romance set in a foreign setting out onto the shelves. They were all shocked. I think all ten of them said they'd enjoy reading a book set in Kenya. But the sales people know what sells and what doesn't. Apparently, not ENOUGH readers are buying those types of books. Wow - sorry! That was a tangent!

As far as books - I have two published, and one that will be published in April. I'm sort of an odd ball, because two of the three titles remained the same - Wishing on Willows and my upcoming release, A Broken Kind of Beautiful. My covers all have the same feel.

Fun conversation! And btw, I LOVE the cover of What Follows After! The title is great too.

Rose said...

The title of a book is going to capture my attention before the cover ever will. Although, those beautiful lusty women turn me off from a book every time. So, if I'm looking for a new book to read, I'm checking titles...that's why I would have never picked "The Promise" if I hadn't already read some of your other books. So, Dan, I'm with you on this one..."Broken Portrait" is a much better title.

Cheryl Hart said...

Do I judge a book by its cover? Yes! (I even have a blog titled CoverLoverBookReview. ha) I usually recognize the following 3 criteria (in this order)...

1. I judge a book by its cover.
Initially, anyway. That’s not to say I like bold, busy images. To the contrary. I’m often attracted to cover art that makes me stop, stare, and sigh.

2. I judge a book by its title.
It should tell me something about the story. Isn’t that what its there for? If the title doesn’t arouse my interest or somehow allude to the story’s plot, I keep looking until I find one that does.

3. I judge a book by its blurb.
If a dust jacket description (or back cover) captures my attention, I either purchase it or put it on my wish list for later.

I’ve enjoyed books without ever reading the blurb, liking the cover or being fond of its title--but that isn’t the norm.

Both The Promise and The Broken Portrait pique my interest, Dan. :) As for my own book cover, I had a lot of input--and (lucky me) they accepted my proposed title. Yay!

I recently purchased Dont Breathe A Word, by Jennifer McMahon--because of the fabulous title and cover. *sigh*

I wish you great success, Dan! Thanks for the interesting blog post!

Brenda Anderson said...

A cover might attract my attention, but the author & the genre will more likely get me to look at the back cover copy. Typically I base my purchases on the story description.

I'm with most of the women commenting here regarding your titles. "The Promise" is very generic, overused, & not enticing at all. An Amazon search for the title revealed pages of books (assuming the author is unknown by the person searching). But "The Broken Portrait" tells a short story that makes me want to know more, and it would be far easier to find on Amazon.

Also, I love the title "What Follows After" and the cover art. That's definitely a book I would pick up off the store shelves.

Nicole said...

First off, love and much prefer The Broken Portrait. It's not cliche like, quite frankly, The Promise is. Add me to those who also love the title What Follows After. I think the marketing folks go right for the heart of the typical demographic they're trying to reach and wind up with cliche titles and covers. Those cliches eliminate a number of other potential readers.

Covers mean a lot to me as do titles. I'm out here on the fringe being self-published. But it is a blessing to be able to call the shots on covers and titles because I know what I want and what I'm trying to convey.

I've read novels with covers that had nothing to do (that I could see) with the story. Oddly enough, in those particular stories, I didn't like them.

Nicole said...

You know I'm with you, Rel.

liza lee grace said...

I totally judge a book by its cover! Front, back, and side. Since you usually see the spine first, the title has catch my attention. If the cover looks decent on the front, I'll read the blurb on the back. And if the blurb on the back looks somewhat interesting, then the book has a much higher chance of coming home with me. Although I have picked up some pretty awful covers to see what kind of story merited such terrible artwork (surprise: sometimes the strange covers work)!

I've been known to search for years for a book with a specific cover. Some of my favorite books have had different covers over the years, but I only like one cover. So I'll wait until I find the good cover to buy the book!

One last thing: I would be much more likely to glance at "The Broken Portrait" over "The Promise". "The Broken Portrait" sounds like it could be a story of redemption, of long-ago hurt rising again, of self-discovery and growth. The kind of book I'd read. "The Promise" sounds to me like a cheesy romance? I don't know. It doesn't really say much at all to me.

Elaine Marie Cooper said...

I agree with so many above. If publishers are trying to serve the female market, they should realize that not all of us love the same cover over and over and over... And as far as the title? "The Broken Portrait" would intrigue me far more than "The Promise." It seems like publishers often want to use the same format repeatedly—because it has sold in the past—without realizing that trends and tastes are forever metamorphosing.

Dan Walsh said...

I think a lot of people reach that same conclusion, Lelia.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks. I agree. The art folks did a great job with it. We even had it blown up and framed for one of our walls.

B. J. Robinson said...

The cover and title are the first attractions, the introduction. Sometimes we don't get as far as an introduction, if I don't like them. If I do, I read the blurb or back-cover material or inside flap to see if it's something that pikes my interest, or if it's my type of book. While I've never bought a book that the cover and title didn't attract me to it in the first place, I also have to like the introductory material such as the blurb, etc. I don't buy them based just on a cover or a title, but without a good cover and title, I'd never have noticed them in the first place.

Gina Holmes said...

For some reason "Broken Portraits" would appeal to me though. It's a slight difference so I don't know why. I think Publishers should give us covers and titles we like because we're going to work harder to promote them. But, they do have a lot of sales data at their fingertips too that we don't have. Of course I like my covers. I'm not sure how I'd react if they insisted on a cover I hated. I know it's happened to others. Luckily you're a brilliant writer and your audience cares more about what's between the covers. You've earned that!

Dan Walsh said...

First off, congrats on the Christy finals! I've heard the very same thing about books set on foreign shores. My editor said they've found it instantly cuts sales by 1/3. I had a nice WW2 love story that got turned down because it was set too much in Europe. I'm rewriting the synopsis to put more on US soil and hoping to make it fly. We'll see.

Thanks. I think The Broken Portrait would have worked. I really like the 'What Follows After' cover, too.

Dan Walsh said...

Too late now, Rose. But glad my instincts weren't off on this. If it ever goes out of print, I may re-release it with that title.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Brenda. Too bad I wasn't a mega-bestselling author. Then I would have just said, "Sorry, but let's go with The Broken Portrait here."

Dan Walsh said...

Artistic freedom is definitely one of the "plus" items on every list I've read about things people like about self-publishing. Other than this issue, though, I've had a really great relationship with my publishing staff.

Dan Walsh said...

Liza, thanks for the input. You mirrored my thoughts on what I thought people would get out of a title like The Broken Portrait.

Dan Walsh said...

Amen, Elaine. Amen.

Dan Walsh said...

That's exactly the way I shop.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Gina. I would have been happy with Broken Portraits (although there was only one in the story). It plays a major role in the beginning and climax of the story, almost serves as a metaphor for the story's main theme. I was kind of shocked when they passed on it for The Promise (for all the reasons so many have already expressed). But the publisher is the one putting up the money to get it made and on the shelves and, like you said, they are the ones with all the marketing info to draw on.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Cheryl, I pretty much follow the same priorities you listed when I'm shopping for a new author.

Gina Holmes said...

The other broken portraits could be symbolic. I hear you're good at that sort of thing. The Promise is a good title though. It's hard to be a literary type in a commercial world!

Rel said...

Katie and Dan ~ I find this view of many publishers frustrating (albeit I understand it is backed up by the figures) but I adore reading stories set all over the world. Being Australian probably makes a big difference. We are exposed to most things going on in the world. Our news and current affairs always extend world wide in both social and political arenas. From what I understand that is not always the same in the States. Some of my favourite stories are set in other countries - Ronie Kendig, Jeanette Windle, Sarah Sundin, etc are fantastic writers but their books have added layers of fascination because they are often set internationally.

Like those book club members, Katie, I'm befuddled, as are my own book club members. Some of our favourite selections have been set somewhere other than the US.

My Hands Came Away Red - Indonesia
Veiled Freedom - Afghanistan
Wolfsbane - Venezuela
Havah - Garden of Eden!
The Canopy - Peru

I could go on :)

~sharyn said...

Covers and titles matter so much to me, I pulled a short story from an anthology because the cover was so ugly and amateur. Fortunately, I hadn't signed a contract yet. The story they'd accepted ended up being the inspiration for my novel, so when that was picked up by a publisher, I wanted to save it for the sequel. And I felt the cover would clash with the brand I'm working to build.

The cover tells me what kind of book it is and that affects whether or not I will pick it up. Unless the title looks intriguing. Or I've heard good things about the book and/or the author.

Dan Walsh said...

Sounds like you made a wise move.

Listening to how much people care about covers...I know a lot of people are choosing the self-publishing route these days, then skimping on the cover to save a buck. I've seem some really lame covers. Not smart.

Dan Walsh said...

I totally agree with you, Rel. It wouldn't matter to me where a book is set, if the story sucks me in and I care about the characters.

Speaking of Sarah, love her books. I'm actually using her books as a template to resurrect this WW2 idea I mentioned. Her books are often set in other countries, but mainly feature US military characters. That seems to overcome this 'objection.'

Bookishqueen said...

I would buy The Broken Portrait over The Promise any day. The first seems to have more meaning while the second has been used (over used) before.

I judge books by there titles and covers a lot. One of my pet peeve is to see a cover with the same model as another book I have seen by a different author. There are two male models I am thinking about right now who show up on way too many and I have not bought a single book with them on them.

Another peeve of mine is when they use free stock images that I have seen before or can tell are stock. I like the covers to be original, not cut and paste.

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

Actually, Dan, the title The Broken Portrait would intrigue me enough to make me buy the book, no matter what the photo on the picture was.

faerietaleforest said...

I think my process for choosing a book is three-fold. The title on the spine comes first. If it is intriguing, I tilt the book back a bit to see the cover. I'm not very picky about covers - I've known great books with horrible covers, as we all have - and I think what I mainly look for on a cover is NOT something that grabs my attention, but the ABSENCE of something that will completely turn me off. If it's NOT a turn-off, I'll probably take the book off the shelf and proceed to step #3! Which is, read the book flap, of course. If the book can pass all three of those tests, I'll probably be reading it.

And, yes, by the way ... I actually like "The Broken Portrait" as a title much better than "The Promise." It is simple, but suggests some very intriguing things. So many images go through my head with that title, and even though I may be way off, it seems to give me a better idea of what the book may be about than the title "The Promise" offers.

Thanks for the great words, Dan!

Ellen Andersen said...

The first thing I check out when looking for a new book is the title. Then I read the back cover and if it's interesting, I may pick it up. I don't even look at the cover. Looks like I'm in the minority on this one.

~sharyn said...

Here's the link to the book I pulled out of, if you're curious. The cover was "designed" by one of the writers.

http://www.amazon.com/Flights-Fiction-Michael-Martin/dp/0988528940

When I mentioned I didn't like the cover and felt it didn't match my story at all, I was told by the editor he's never much cared what authors think about covers & he didn't even believe covers were that important. Which, in my opinion, is clear.

Dan Walsh said...

Pardon me, but that sounds like a ridiculous thing to say (from the editor, not you). I think the Amazon ratings on the book serve as evidence of your concern.

Dan Walsh said...

I know, isn't that ridiculous? They are responding (they being the marketing folks) to what they perceive is 'the demand,' which kind of says a ton of women are buying these lackluster covers with misc models in costumes on the cover. It must be true, or they wouldn't keep doing it.

But it really lacks creativity and imagination and, to me, doesn't reflect the long hours of creativity and imagination the authors put into the pages within.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Lena. Wish they went with me on this one.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks. Too late to change it now, but comforting to hear how many agree it would have been a more intriguing title.

Dan Walsh said...

I think you are, Ellen. But for all the authors out there, who occasionally get stuck with lame covers they don't like, I'm sure they wish more people followed your buying process.