Every writer wants to have a good-looking cover on the new novel, right? But do covers really make any difference?

I'm thinking about hardback books here. (Paperbacks are different. I collect paperbacks, and I know.) But what I'm wondering is whether anybody really plunks down $25 or more for a hardback just because it has a good cover. Or a yellow cover. Or a cat. Or whatever. Is there any research to show that a James Patterson novel would sell fewer copies if it had a lousy cover? Or more copies if it had a good one?

In my case, I figure that if I'm lucky enough to get a couple of books into one of the big chain stores, the books will be stuck on the shelf with the spine facing out. Not one person in a million is going to pull out the book and look at the cover and decide to spend money on it, right?

Maybe I'm way off the beam here, but I don't think covers make much difference. What do you think?

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I have never chosen a book for its cover, but occasionally I have *not* chosen one
due to its cover. Sometimes they just look too dull or too cute. And I imagine
others would find some covers objectionable for other reasons.
I guess some cover can catch your attention but if I don't know the writer what
grabs me more often is the title. That's how I picked up "gone baby gone' and
'every dead thing'.

Basically the title grabs me or the fact that I read something about the author
somewhere makes me take the book from the shelf. Then of course I have to like
what it says on the back to really buy it.
I think you're a little off the beam. Speaking from a publishing perspective, a cover is extremely important for it's billboard appeal. I always put some element following the front of the cover theme in a wrap around to the back, using it as an element to separate the title from the author. It can be anything geared to get someone's attention, like a flower, a bullet, a mezuzah. You maximize the space, keeping it interesting but uncluttered.

I don't have industry figures on how a bad cover affects the sales, but I personally wouldn't bother spending my money on something that shows the signs of a rush to market. If the publisher didn't spend the time on something the reader will obviously see, how much time did they spend on the content? The typesetting? Did they think about the reader at all?
I try to resist the hardcovers' pull but I also live within striking distance of The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, where all new hardcovers, all the time, are at least 50% off or cheaper. Adds some temptation for sure.
The marketing people at Penguin UK have now come up with this:

"Penguin has launched a design award to encourage final year designers on a Degree or HND Art or Design course to engage in publishing during their studies and to respond to real jacket design briefs at first hand.

Penguin has evolved from being the first mass-market paperback publisher in Britain to one of the most recognisable brands ever. Its logo and the famous classic Penguin cover, with its basic horizontal grid, are recognized and imitated the world over.

Penguin covers developed together with graphic design as a profession. Under a long line of talented and creative designers, the design of Penguin books has matured and progressed. It is currently led by Jim Stoddart and John Hamilton, the two Penguin art directors who will be judging this award. Joining them on the judging panel are author Ali Smith, Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum and Jamie Hewlett, creator of Gorillaz.

The panel will be chaired by Penguin Managing Director, Helen Fraser, who commented, "We are very excited to see what Penguin’s design heritage will inspire from the freshest and brightest young design students. I’m looking forward to seeing the result.”

The closing date for the award is April 20th and the winner of the award will be announced at the end of May. For more details visit the website.



Entrants will choose one of four books to design.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – popular science about the power of intuition
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy – powerful and tragic love story
Mr Clarinet by Nick Stone – haunting thriller set in Miami and Haiti
Vince and Joy by Lisa Jewell – a sophisticated comedy of relationships and family
Never made the connection that covers matter more for paperback books. But you are so right! I'll definitely pick up a paperback with an intriguing cover, in spite of not knowing the author or the title. But a hardback. No. I suppose that if you're a collector, pretty covers (or nice spines) would be nice on the bookshelf.
I'm with Patti - more likely to be turned off than turned on by a cover. For example, I will not pick up books that try to mimic "The Lovely Bones" cover. That screams gimmick - the book probably isn't as good, so we'll draw you in by making it *look* that way. Ugh. I also won't buy Janet Evanovich's books because I think the garish colors are obnoxious, which implies obnoxious material inside. (If I'm wrong, let me know.)

When I'm looking at the shelves in Borders of newly released books, I'm much more likely to read titles and author names rather than look at pictures. I usually pass over the "big name" sellers, and I'm sure that "dud" covers can make a person skim right by. I often read jacket copy and a few pages. Those more than anything are what determines whether I buy a hardcover.
I judge books by their covers occasionally. By that I mean they might compel my gaze towards a book I'd not normally have noticed.

OR a writer has a distinct continuity of style that they (or their publisher) employ for covers -- a favorite artist, graphic, or font. Christopher Moore lately with his covers for A DIRTY JOB & YOU SUCK; Megan Abbot's two cloth covers for her first two novels are also stunning (DIE A LITTLE, THE SONG IS YOU) with first-class pulp artwork.

The cover is the first impression, but then there's due diligence:

Amazon reviews are nice if I can resist buying the book on sight, especially with the larger sample sizes to weed through.

Book blurbs -- more for *who* says the prerequisite nice things than what is actually said -- if a writer I love raves a book up, that holds weight.

Finally, I read the first few page/s of a book if I'm still with it that far -- traditionally I don't gravitate towards first person on first blush unless the author is particularly unique and really, really brings it from word one, so then I render my decision.

It's funny that all that takes about 45 seconds to a minute to actually process when browsing.
That's interesting re:book blurbs. I find book blurbs a turn off - as I tend to suspect cronyism/backscratching, I tend to take quality newspaper recommendations more seriously than author recommendations.
I only buy books that have full frontal nudity on the cover. Oh, and a psychic cat.

The rest I steal.
Honestly, as a reader, I pay very little attention to the cover other than to look for the author name and the title. Especially since US cover art tends to be much weaker than UK cover art. (Sorry if I offend any of the publishers on here, but it's something I've noticed) I don't think I've ever bought a book simply because of the look of the cover, it's usually the title that catches my eye, or else I've heard friends talking about the author and I'm curious.

On the other hand, I've never picked up a book, looked at it and said "Well it looks okay but the cover sucks so I'm not buying it" either. I would imagine there are people who consider such things important, but if I'm spending twenty to thirty dollars on a book I'm much more concerned with what's inside than what's on a dust jacket that I very may well lose track of. (I take them off while I'm reading and every so often forget where I put them for safekeeping.)
Funny thing, Norby, cos I find US covers more intriguing than British ones (speaking as a British bookseller).

I just find our covers very generic whereas in the US there's more use of colour, imagination and variety.

Or maybe that's just the novelty value speaking.


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