Judging a Book by its Cover

They say not to do it, but admit it, you’ve done it before and will do it again.

The results of the 2011 Romance Book Consumer survey (commissioned by Romance Writers of America) report that most readers claim the major factors in deciding to buy or not to buy are:

  • The story
  • The author
  • It’s part of a series
  • Back cover copy

I agree with that, but… c’mon, people, you know at some point you’ve judged a book by its cover!

There have been plenty of books that have caught my eye and made me pick it up off the shelf and give it the first-10-pages-test.  There have also been plenty of books that I scanned over and passed up, based on nothing other than the shallow fact that I found the cover art unappealing.

Does that make me a bad person?

Nah.  I think it makes me practical.

The cover for “Warrior” (by Zoe Archer) caught my eye because A) it conveyed a sense of adventure and danger, B) the hero seemed like an interesting mix between Indiana Jones and James Bond, and C) he’s hot. 

I simply don’t have time to read the back-cover copy of every book on the shelf.  By scanning the cover art, I’m hoping to find a book that appears to fall into the right category and have the right tone I’m looking for.  A regency historical fiction should be easily distinguishable from a contemporary romantic suspense (otherwise the marketing and art department have failed miserably).

I love this cover of “Wicked Intentions”, which introduced me to Elizabeth Hoyt and her Maiden Lane Series, because it has a sense of suspense that is unusual for restoration-era historical romances.

With e-books and online shopping, the cover art is slightly less important since I can reduce my browsing time by choosing specific categories (Fiction > Romance > Fantasy and Paranormal > Time Travel) rather than browsing the shelves of the entirely-too-broad category of “Romance” to find the type of book I’m in the mood for.

But bad/good cover art can still make or break a sale for me.

If the cover art is cheap-looking (especially for self-pubbed novels), it’ll turn me off.  I start thinking that the quality of the writing must be equally half-assed.  The same goes for overly-cheesy covers, I don’t want to be embarrassed when seen reading it.  (On that note, has anyone else ever folded the front cover over on itself when reading a romance novel with one of those bodice-ripper covers?  Especially when you are reading said book at your desk at lunch at your work place? Yeah, OK, maybe it’s just me.)

Setting the right tone/mood is imperative.  If it’s steamy, I want to see a hint of that.  If it’s adventurous, give me some action or a sense of movement/suspense. With online sellers and e-books, sometimes simpler is better when it comes to cover art (since the size of the photo will most likely be significantly smaller than in real life).  No one wants to squint at a tiny, cluttered image trying to figure out what the hell is being portrayed.

I *love* it when a cover has clearly been created *just* for that book… when there are little details that are unique to the story, like a specific tattoo on a hero’s (or heroine’s) arm, or an actual scene from the story itself (with correct props and clothing and background), or seeing the heroine in a dress that perfectly matches the description the author provided in chapter three…  Sometimes details like that can add a whole new enjoyable element to my reading experience.

The cover for “Hounded” (a fantasy adventure novel by Kevin Hearne) has an intensity that grabs you right away. It is also clearly not a stock photo, as the hero matches the author’s description down to his distinctive facial hair, boyish good looks, Celtic arm tattoos, and one-of-a-kind sword.

However, sometimes specificity backfires.  I’ll admit that I’ve NOT bought a book because I found the male model on the cover unattractive.  (OK, alright, I’ve also BOUGHT a few books based solely on how hot I thought the male model was).  So sometimes I prefer silhouettes or below-the-neck-only renderings of the main characters, because those vague images allow me to fill in the blanks with my own imagination.  And of course my own imagination will always match my tastes.

So what kind of novel cover art makes you pass it up or snatch it up?