When someone recommends a book to you, they talk about the plot, the writing style, how they connected with the characters: in other words, having read the book, they recommend it on the basis of what’s inside – factors that are within the control of the writer.
When you choose a book without a recommendation, you have to base your choice on other factors: you look at the cover, you read the title, you read the jacket blurb and the reviews: your selection is influenced by external factors – factors that are, to a great extent, outside the writer’s control.
In traditional publishing, the author may not have much say in the choice of cover design, and even the intended title may be replaced by something the editor or publisher thinks is more commercial. If you are publishing your own book, you are far more in control of the exterior elements; you have to take your own decisions, and to do that, you need to be informed.
The first thing a potential reader will notice about your book is the cover, so it’s vital that it works. First of all, it must be legible: think of those tiny thumbnail images you get on the on-line stores and how hard it is to read the titles and the author names, never mind the great cover quotes that look so good on print editions. It’s clear that a cover may be a brilliant professional design, but that doesn’t mean it is right for the context; a lot of traditional publishers are realising this and are now producing different covers for the print and digital editions of the works they publish.
As well as being legible, the cover has to be attractive: it has to make the reader want to pick it up – or click on the thumbnail – and start to find out more. Once again, though, a design may be professional and attractive, but not what’s needed: however good the book inside is, if the cover attracts the wrong reader and they pick it up expecting something it was never intended to be, you will end up with an unhappy reader, which is not what you want. If the cover attracts the right reader, the one who will enjoy the book and look for more of your writing, they are likely to recommend it to friends and generate good online reviews which will lead to more sales.
So at a minimum, a book cover has to be legible and genre-appropriate. Just this last week there’s been a lot of discussion in the press about the cover Penguin have chosen for their new edition of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s been described as inappropriate and misleading. Of course that’s unlikely to affect sales of a book featured in the Penguin Modern Classics list, but such a reaction could make a huge impact on the sales and reputation of an independent author.
There are many other factors to consider when designing a book cover, whether for print or for digital publication and, as we said, independent authors have to make their own decisions. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself and when it comes to something such as a book cover that will affect whether or not your book is a success, it really does pay to work with an expert.