Judging a Book by its Cover

Posted by Richard Vobes Richard Vobes  
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It is a truism that we make decisions based on first impressions and nothing is more true than with books. In the old days, when people stepped inside those strange shops that had shelves attached to every conceivable piece of wall space and loaded them with books, the wordy tomes could be opened and examined at random. A sense of what the book was about could be gleaned from fanning the pages, and by feeling the texture of the paper or gauging the weight and the quality of the printed article. An emotional attachment started to be made with the book and a desire to own it began, before it was reluctantly returned to the shelf because the price was too high or other priorities called upon the few pennies available in one's pocket. However, everything other than the cover was secondary to the buying decision making process; the cover is what makes it a purchase or not.

With the Internet as the main method of book purchase these days, the cover has never been more important. We glance at a thumbnail and are either intrigued or not. If we are, a click of the mouse brings up a larger image and a value judgement is made. Is it the right one? Who knows, but the author is setting up a promise to its potential reader with the visual statement about what type of thing they can expect to find inside the book. It is that unwritten promise that influences the purchase to happen, or not.

It is interesting to note that once the book is purchased, the cover has finished its job. This is particularly apparent with ebooks for when you open your Kindle, for example, after downloading the digital file, the cover is not even displayed. Not only that, it is very easy to forget the title of the book altogether, for that is not displayed in the top left/right hand corner as it usually is on a paperback.

Although I have self-published my first book, Splidge the Cragflinger - The Royal Tournament and it is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barns and Noble and at other on-line retailers, I have been reflecting about the cover art. The advice from the self-publishing gurus is not to do it yourself. 'Get a professional to design your cover!' they say and in general that is probably good advice. That said, not all professionals are to the standard you may desire and not all of them understand your book or produce art in the style you wish.

I have included illustrations on the inside of my book too. This is also deemed a no-no. The professional gurus have something to say about this too: 'You must have a professional standard to keep the integrity of your book.' I am not too sure about that. I wonder how much of this is simply the professionals protecting their industry and income rather than knowing what works with any particular book.

My reason for the last statement is this: Over the years, as a book collector, I have stumbled across sketches inserted into the printed text by the authors, (fiction books mainly), which has not been professionally drawn. However, to me, this adds something extra from the originator of the work of fiction. The author, although not a professional or necessarily a competent artist, is trying to add something to his manuscript to help explain what he sees in his head as part of his creation. I think it has a place.

Also, we are led to believe, beauty (and art) is in the eyes of the beholder. A professional artist brings the results of training, style and hours of learning and practice, which can be excellent and appealing, but they are not from the brain of the author. And to me, a novel in particular, is not the collaboration of more than one person, but generally a single individual's perception, story and thought. And that is that what I want to see when I buy that authors book.

Does it sell books though if the author's 'art' is on the cover? That, of course, is the million dollar question.

Anyway, I am playing with ideas for my first book's cover. It is not finished, but you can see it above. I think I shall put the other central characters on the cover too. Will it bring in sales? The advantage of the self-published author is that he/she can experiment and test each cover and gauge how sales rise or fall by swapping covers over a period of time.

Splidge the Cragflinger is the first in a series about a twelve-year-old boy looking for his missing father. To save himself from ending up at the dreaded workhouse, he lands a job with the royal palace as a cragflinger and discovers that the national sport is very much dependant on him that year.
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