Can You Judge a Book by its Cover?

What do you think? Can you–or anyone else–actually judge a book fairly by its cover?

I think a more reasonable question is whether any of us can fail to let a book cover affect our decision to at least look at the back cover copy and possibly open the book and read the first few paragraphs.

Yes, there are exceptions. A hideously covered book may have been recommended to us by someone whose opinion we find to usually be in line with our own. Or the cover on the new book by our favorite author may be what we consider awful. In cases like those, our eyes may not see the front cover as a stop sign. And I don’t recall seeing Bibles with covers that would draw readers in; those covers tend to be pretty plain.

I doubt that any publisher fails to at least ask an author for recommendations about the cover. Sometimes the author’s contract specifically prevents the publisher from using a cover he or she disapproves of.

I’ve learned a lot about book covers during the years I’ve been writing, seeing my novels published, and now publishing novels myself. Gone is my opinion that a good cover must show at least a hint of one of the scenes from the book. And gone is my naive opinion that what looks good to my wife and me will automatically be equally attractive to other people.

At a marketing class for fiction writers some years ago, one of the teachers, a well-known literary agent, told the tale of a book by popular young adult novelist Jenny B. Jones. The cover depicted a cow–a black and white cow, if I recall correctly–with a tiara on her head. Hilarious, right? Adults, the agent/teacher said, thought it was hilarious. And wonderful.

Unfortunately, teens–the intended buyers and readers of Jenny’s book–thought the cover was horrible.

Ah, so teens and adults have different tastes? Why should that be so surprising!

When I self-published the quirky teen romance, Project Muffintop, I thought this cover would be perfect.

I spent the better part of a day taking pictures. At first my wife and I tried baking muffins in the tight jeans muffin mold I’d ordered from China, but we couldn’t get a muffin top to form quite correctly, and I ended up cutting the top off a store-bought muffin and sticking it on top of the muffin mold.

I published the book with that cover, but apparently nobody gave it a second glance. Ultimately, I had to admit it just wasn’t appropriate or professional looking.

So I found a stock photo I could use part of on top of what I’d used originally. It looked like this, and I thought it looked more appealing. Fun. Surely it would at least make a potential teen buyer take a second look.

I made the fortunate mistake–that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?–of asking the opinion of an online group of readers. By and large, they didn’t care for either that cover OR the original. Not only that, they objected to the title. Strenuously.

Hmm. Back to the drawing board. But first I unpublished Project Muffintop. I didn’t want anyone else to see and be turned off by the original cover. (Fortunately, I never used the intended replacement cover.)

The relationship between the male and female protagonists was more important in the story than her diet, and I believe God inspired me to re-title Project Muffintop as Just Friends?–yes, the question mark is part of the title.

After numerous revisions, this is the current–and, I hope and pray, the final–version of the cover. It doesn’t portray a scene from the book or necessarily portray the protagonists accurately, but it gives the potential reader something to connect to emotionally and hints at the fact that there’s a question about the relationship between the two teens.

 

What’s your experience with book covers?  What’s your opinion about their importance? A comment would be welcome–and quite possibly helpful.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

P.S. Do you recall the original cover for The Devil and Pastor Gus, the one with a stereotypical devil at the upper right-hand cover? Or its replacement, the one with the church? When I got the rights to Pastor Gus back, I wanted something totally different, and this is it below.

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Always Ask Your Users…or Your Readers

A number of years ago I worked with a fellow who was clever at making small wooden objects. Although they were all very nicely done, the only one I remember was a small desk plaque that had a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin mounted on it. Inscribed beneath it was something like “Always ask your users.”

Whatever equally clever government employees came up with the Anthony dollar obviously failed to consider the needs, wants, and wishes of the American public. By the time my co-worker starting making those plaques, that coin had long since proved as unpopular as a stomach virus and eventually disappeared. Hence the “Always ask your users.”

Flash forward to very recent times.

I’d published a book called Project Muffintop. Cassie was disgusted with being nineteen pounds overweight. She talked her best friend, Jason, into helping her come up with a weight loss program to help her attract a hot prom date and maybe even a boyfriend. But she didn’t know Jason was crazy about her and he realized that helping her would simply make her even less interested in him except as her best friend.

He was afraid that telling Cassie how he felt about her would ruin their special friendship if she didn’t feel the same way about him–which she didn’t. He couldn’t chance having that happen. So he kept quiet.

The preacher’s daughter came up with a godly plan, however. Jason could tell Cassie everything he wanted to as her anonymous Secret Admirer.

If you want to know how everything turns out, the book will be available again shortly.

Okay, you say. What does that have to do with paying attention to users…or, in this case, to readers?

More than I’d ever dreamed of, to be honest.

I belong to a Facebook group called Avid Readers of Christian Fiction. When I realized how much of a turnoff the original cover was, I designed a new one that my wife and I thought was pretty catchy. So I submitted the following graphic to Avid Readers.

All I was expecting was a simple #1 or #2 answer. But what I got was overwhelmingly more helpful, once I got over the initial shock.

Dozens of women (and one man) not only objected to both covers (those that expressed a preference liked #1, the original one, better), but to the title and the emphasis on the importance of weight loss. Not to mention that the shorts on the muffin mold were objectionably tight. Etc.

I knew the diet was just the backbone of the story and that Jason had actually tried to convince Cassie that her weight was fine to start with. And, as her Secret Admirer, he’s able to convince her that weight didn’t affect who she was inside.

What I knew didn’t count, however. If that many avid readers wouldn’t give any consideration to Project Muffintop with that name and either cover, I had to pay attention to them. They would never even look at the back cover and see everything from a different perspective.

Tonight I plan to share with them the new cover and new title. Although I feel confident they’ll approve of it heartily, I’ve learned too well that I need their input–no matter what they say.

Since I don’t think any of them follow this blog, let me share the new cover with you.

There you have it. If you have some kind of product you want others to take seriously, make sure to get some feedback before you go deeply into something that might prove unsuitable.

Any comments–like whether you’d look at the back cover copy after looking at the front? I’d love to hear ’em.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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