“The book was GREAT, but the cover and title were…well….wrong–they cheapened the great story.”
That’s a line from a recent message I received from a reader about my debut book, The Preacher’s Bride.
I remember my reaction the very first time my publisher showed me the cover. “She’s wearing a bonnet,” I squeaked in mortification. “People will think the book is Amish.”
Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about book covers, primarily that their main job is to sell books, particularly to target genre readers. Bonnets and brides are popular among a large population of Christian fiction readers.
So having my character wear a bonnet and having “Bride” in the title was a surefire way for my publisher to garner attention for my book. Since I was a brand new author in a competitive market, I certainly needed all the help I could get. Fortunately for me, the bonnet and bride helped push the book to the CBA bestseller list.
Was the cover misleading? Was it all wrong (as the reader in the message above implied)? Did it cheapen the story?
I’m not sure that I agree entirely with the reader. The character likely did wear a bonnet since she was Puritan. And the story did center around her being a bride (she enters a marriage of convenience about halfway through the book). The model on the cover depicts the main character accurately, and the tone is somewhat serious which reflects the nature of the story. So I don’t believe the cover was misleading.
Was it wrong, though? That, my friends, is purely a matter of subjective opinion. What one reader loves another may not. In fact, recently on Facebook, I asked my readers what appeals to them regarding cover design (and put up this graphic of a number of upcoming releases).
The comments were so varied. Some readers said they like seeing faces, others said they don’t. Some said they like women in fancy dresses, and still others said they prefer landscapes. Some like an eye-catching picture, and others would rather have an eye-catching title.
Authors and publishers do everything they possibly can to study the market and determine overall trends so that a cover has the broadest appeal to the target audience. We as writers also try to craft our stories so that they connect with the largest population of our readers possible.
However, in the end, the cover won’t appeal to everyone, just the same way the story won’t appeal to everyone either.
Nowadays, I’m always amazed at the creativity and ingenuity displayed in so many covers. Of course every once in a while I run across a cover and cringe. But a “bad” cover doesn’t have to be a death knell for the story. It certainly can make the book more difficult to get noticed (especially for a debut author).
But I always think of my first impressions of The Hunger Games trilogy. The first time I saw Mockingjay, I thought to myself, “Why is everyone raving about THIS?” The cover did nothing to move me. And yet, once I read the stories, I was hooked.
On the flip side, the greatest, most creative cover in the word won’t guarantee a bestseller. An eye-catching cover that doesn’t deliver is sometimes worse for readers. They feel they’ve been tricked.
Obviously, the best thing for any writer is to have a superb cover with a superb story to back it up. That’s a win-win situation. But I always remind myself that ultimately readers care more about the story than the cover.
Speaking of covers, I just revealed the cover of my historical releasing in the fall. I’m rather fond of it! It’s my prayer that the cover will do its job to draw people, but that in the end the story itself will hook them.
What about YOU? What makes a cover appealing or unappealing to you?
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