The popular idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” might be true in an idealistic sense, but it usually refers to judging people by their appearance. There is a reality for publishers and the book industry in general. For the vast majority of readers the cover of a book is a deciding factor in not only whether or not they should buy the book, but if they will enjoy it as well.
There are literally millions of books for a reader to choose from, Your cover is the first “sales pitch” so to speak. If it doesn’t catch a buyer’s eye, their imagination, or their attention, he or she will pass it over in favor of a book with more appeal on either side.
Text and Font
If the title is not clear enough to read from a distance, or when it becomes a thumbnail image online, then a great sounding title will be lost on a potential customer. Your font is critical. If it’s sloppy, illegible, unappealing, or just unprofessional, such as the overly-used, you could even say abused fonts of, Comic Sans or Papyrus, it will immediately turn off most readers.
Not only is your cover a billboard for the book, it is in a sense, the first page of your story. The graphic chosen can communicate, at a quick glance, the style and mood of the tale inside. A dark cover, with lots of shadow, can suggest a danger or even horror. A bright white cover with clouds could suggest a motivational text book. Why is this important? It speaks to the emotions of the reader, engaging them on a deeper level, and thus potentially securing a book sale. A sale sets the stage for whether or not any reader will like the book in the first place.
A cover can also create preconceptions in a reader’s mind about what the characters or the setting look like. It is debatable whether or not this is a good thing, as the cover design may not match the author or reader’s ideas, but it could act as a visual aid where necessary. Romance and erotica obviously make good use of this fact with appealing models on the front cover, enticing readers as much as they might entice each other as characters in the story.
A reader’s first assurance that the book is of a high quality, is a well-designed cover. The cover can scare away a customer or lure them in. Bad covers, with pixilated images, watermarks clearly visible, text badly formatted or aligned, and so forth, suggest to the reader that the interior of the book will be equally sloppy. A poorly designed cover creates preconceptions in the mind of the reader, setting them in “critical” mode instead of “enjoyment” mode. With their attention already drawn to errors and sloppiness, they will more easily spot mistakes in the text, and might even go looking for them. They are also likely to be less forgiving of typos than they would of what appears to be a more professional work.
The importance of cover design
Big publishers come up with different covers for different markets, catering to the unique culture of each region. Design principles are not the same the whole world over, leading to, for example, simpler designs on many UK covers, with more frequent use of negative space, and more detailed designs on US covers that cram in more imagery, potentially speaking to different cultural perceptions of “value for money.”
Due to different meanings of words in different countries, titles on covers can also change. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a classic example of this. The book was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States. The word “Philosopher” does not have the same connotations with magic here as it does in England. The artwork also changed, helping reinforce the magical themes of the book. The font itself became much more mystical, ending up being the font not only for the books, but employed for the movies as well.
Great cover designs need to draw the reader’s attention, engage them on an emotional level, suggest the tone and style of the work, and showcase the quality of the book itself, all the while taking into consideration the potential cultural expectations of the reader. This is a monumental task, without doubt, but one that could be a deciding factor in making a book a best-seller.