Love’s Savagely Bad Book Covers

this is not the worst cover everHere’s the deal. In March Kat Brooks wrote a post for IU called The Case for Legible Titles. Three months later Brooks did it again, talking about Title Envy. (I’m not going to mention the post she did in 2012 about, you guessed it, book covers. Judging a Book by Its Cover) Oops. That slipped out. All of these posts and others are linked on a very special page, cleverly called Resource: Book Covers.

Brooks doesn’t think anyone is reading her posts. So I told her I had the perfect title. Then she kicked the post back to me and said “Are You Stupid?” wasn’t acceptable and proposed this one instead.

Why do covers matter so much? Read all those posts and you’ll see several reasons. I’ll boil them down to just one. Bad cover = Less Sales. It’s a simple equation and you don’t have to be a math genius to understand. It comes down to what causes a person to buy (or even more important, not buy) your book. Here’s how it works.

A potential reader sees your book cover. It might fly by on her Facebook newsfeed. Possibly it is at the top of a blog post where you’ve been interviewed or your book reviewed. It could be on the Thrifty Thursday post at Indies Unlimited. The most likely is on a list of “also boughts” or one of the other ways Amazon recommends books to its customers. Here’s an example. (We’ll see if any of these authors notice their own book.)

LSC - also boughts
Click to enlarge to full size

As an author your goal should be for an Amazon customer to be scrolling past this and have your cover jump out at them. What’s going to catch a reader’s eye? At this small size, very little detail. But if the overall look doesn’t scream romance, thriller, horror, or whatever kind of book this person likes, they’ll keep scrolling. Even if they notice your book and then scroll past, that’s a win for you, as Lynne Cantwell explained in her post on “effective frequency.” Maybe next time, you’ll get’ em.

Click on the post for Thrifty Thursday above. Scan through and count how many of the titles you can read in this size. Of the fifty-six unique titles, I could read eighteen. Four of them, I couldn’t read the title in the larger size displayed when I pulled the book’s page up on Amazon. My optometrist is predicting cataract surgery in not too many years, but unless your book will only appeal to readers with 20/20 vision, you’re missing out on exposure. I could have been exposed to your title. Instead, at best, there is a unique combination of irregular shapes in a certain color combination that might have taken root in my subconscious, but I doubt it.

Maybe you don’t believe me. There is that old saw about not judging a book by its cover. So let’s try a little experiment. For those old enough, think back to your last visit to a book store. (If this means nothing to you, your elders once went to stores that sold books made of paper. This will be a good history lesson.) Assume you’re there to replenish your to-be-read stack of books with nothing specific in mind. How did you do that? Maybe I’m different, but I’d approach this by going to the section of the store where they kept books in whatever genre I was in the mood to read. Then I’d start scanning the books, looking for covers that jumped out at me, titles that made me curious, or an author name I recognized. Where we buy our books has changed for many of us, but how we go about picking them hasn’t.

So we’ve scanned a few book covers, even more spines with not much more than author and title showing, and we’ve judged a lot of books by scanning past them. Finally one catches our interest. What happens next? Do we buy it? Again, you may be different, but I wouldn’t yet. Maybe there should be a cliché that says people don’t buy a book based on the cover. The cover is the first point where a buyer may eliminate your book. It still isn’t sold. Next, I’d pick up the book and read the description on the back cover. But that’s a subject for another post. Please pay more attention to what Kat has to say in that article. She is, after all, the Blurb Doctor. And, she’s getting a complex.

So, while everyone wants to believe that their cover is perfect, well, who am I to judge? BUT, if you scan that monster of a Thrifty Thursday post and you can’t read your title, then maybe you need to think again.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

28 thoughts on “Love’s Savagely Bad Book Covers”

  1. Al, as the author of Love’s Savage Destiny, I’m heartened that you have taken my title to heart and use it with such effectiveness. Beyond that, you’re so right about the cover. We have maybe 2 or 3 seconds to grab a browser’s interest, certainly not enough time for them to decipher (or care about) the example cover above. Brooks is so right when her first and forceful reaction to a new cover is: How does it look as a thumbnail? We have to make sure the cover is not only legible, compelling and emotive of its genre, but that all of that is evident in a very small size. That’s a tall order!

  2. Big Al – browsing through book covers is one of the joys of being a reader. You are spot on about the judging… Covers should be considered the most important part of the branding. Any marketing campaign needs to have a professional clean appeal – a visual appeal. No matter what the product, if you want sales the customer has to see it as exactly what they are looking for – so know your target market and make your cover appealing to that market in a clear, recognizable, readable cover. KS Brooks has done a great job explaining and showing, and your post brings it all together – so no excuses. The great thing about publishing today is that we can always go back and make things better. If your cover needs help – do your homework and then design a new one that will meet what the market demands (now) . Learn design or hire a professional, we all have options. Thanks for the post.

    1. Excellent point, Elisabeth. When you’re your own publisher and don’t have thousands of paper books gathering dust in a warehouse, making changes to things like covers is always an option. Thanks for the comment.

    1. Thanks for the comment, TD. I’m going to guess that those covers you don’t get are, in some cases, good covers, just not genres that are your thing. As readers we’re accustomed to a certain look to the covers of particular genres and been conditioned to gravitate to those that fit what we like to read.

  3. Yay, my title is easy to read. I agree, though, that a cover is the first thing we see and if it doesn’t grab me I often don’t try to read the title. The title is next, then the blurb. You nailed it.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Yvonne. There was a blog I followed for a while that was run by Victorine Lieske (an indie author who was among the first to make the USA Today or NYT bestseller list – I forget which). Unfortunately, it has gone inactive. It was called “why isn’t my book isn’t selling.”

      How it worked is an author would send an email with a history of his or her book: when released, a summary of its sales history, a link to the book, and I think other things I’m not thinking of. This would get converted to a post where Victorine and others who followed the blog would comment. Sometimes the answer would be “everything looks good” or your sales are actually pretty good (nothing wrong with the book, but possibly with the author expectations). But more often the comment would be about a bad or misleading cover, blurb that needed work, or a snooze inducing first chapter.

  4. Thank you, Al. I just don’t know why the majority of people think this doesn’t apply to them. It’s incredibly frustrating to see so many covers with titles that are illegible. Red font on a black background is one of the most common issues we see. Sure, people have vampire or werewolf books and they THINK it looks stylish, but they need to look again. Those colors do not have enough contrast to make it work. Fine or fancy fonts are also not going to be readable. Thanks for putting another spin on the issue. Hopefully people will listen to you. 🙂

    1. Yup, red disappears into black, but I didn’t believe it ’til somebody pounded it into my head when I tried to do it myself. (eyeroll)

      And agreed on the fancy fonts. When I was doing the cover for Seized, I found an awesome font with an urban West vibe. It’s called Points West. Very cool looking. Unfortunately, it’s illegible in thumbnail size. 🙁

  5. I wonder how many more times we’ll have to mention that post on effective frequency before it sinks in? 😉

    Great post, Al, and it’s especially awesome that you’ve included all of the links to Kat’s book cover posts in one place.

    (I admit that I checked that Thrifty Thursday post to make sure my own titles were legible. Whew! 😀 )

  6. Oh man, I’ll never forget what I now call the “Font Wars” I had with my indie publisher – what a nightmare. I’m super pleased with the cover I have now, and the back cover, and everything (except they still have the Glossary in the front of the ebook instead of the back, even though I’ve asked them to change it.)

    Now, unrelated to that, here’s something we all need to think about, and if you have already posted about it, then I’m sorry – I’m new here. They’re not teaching cursive writing in schools anymore, so we have take into account that young people simply WON’T BE ABLE TO READ OUR TITLES if they’re in cursive! So romance writers, for example, won’t be able to use those beautiful scrolly fonts. And we can’t combine cursive with other fonts for artistic effects on covers. 🙁

    1. Thanks for the comment, Candace, and good to see you here. I’ve heard that about cursive writing, but hadn’t verified it. (I did find some recent handwriting of my granddaughter’s who I believe is past the time when cursive would have been the norm and it wasn’t cursive, so it appears to be true in my state.) My first thought was, why? But then I realized it is a skill that isn’t as applicable in today’s world as it was when we were growing up. Ideally, they’d be using the time saved to teach keyboarding skills.

      1. Al, I did some Googling about whether schools are teaching cursive writing anymore. The Common Core State Standards Initiative says:

        The standards include instruction in keyboarding,[23] but do not mandate the teaching of cursive handwriting. As of late 2013, seven states had elected to maintain teaching of cursive: California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah.[24]

        If you scroll way down in the Wiki article you’ll see a table showing which states have adopted Common Core. Almost all of them have adopted it. However, there’s lots of controversy over whether Common Core actually works, so I don’t think the fat lady has sung yet.

        Oh, and I do agree with you that cursive is not a skill these kids will actually need. 🙁 It’s just one more thing that will go the way of punchcards.

        1. Interesting, Candace. Especially since with the exception of one year (grade 2?), all of my granddaughter’s education (midway through 6th grade) has been in one of those states you listed as still teaching cursive. I guess that’s why anecdotes don’t prove much. 🙂

          Jim Devitt did a post on Common Core (or at least it was used to make a point) last year some time. I have conflicting thoughts on it, but will try to avoid getting into a political discussion here. (And I know you realize how hard that is for me. 🙂 )

  7. BigAl, thank you. This made me laugh because every time I sit down with Cover Dude to look at his designs, he pre-empts me with “YES! You can still read the title when it’s small, now shut up!” That was one of the first lessons I learned from the lovely Ms. Brooks. Thumbnail, thumbnail, blurb, and what not to put in the gruel. 😉

    1. LOL. Thanks for the comment, Laurie. I’m glad to see some people do pay attention to Kat. I hate how she gets when she feels ignored. 😀

  8. Great post, Al, and a horrible wakeup call for me. Like most people I never look at my own book cover at that tiny size. Now that I have though… I realise my book cover merges into the background like a pale purple smear. -sob-
    Thank you, I think. 🙁

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