rule #1: we do judge a book by its cover

book-coversLast week, Jacq and I, ventured down to Richmond to visit David Eldridge, of Two Associates, one of the best book designers in the UK. He has designed books for all the major publishers – and their bestselling writers – and also designs books for small presses and self published authors. His inspiration and intuitive way of working, are second to none and as I had a nosey in his office, I wanted to share a few thoughts about book covers.

For every writer – and agent – a book cover is incredibly important but I feel that book covers in this digital age are now more vital than ever. Book sales happen for a number of reasons – firstly, the reader knows and loves the writer, they buy the book whatever the cover, secondly, the reader sees PR, say a tube ad, or is advised to buy the book and is directed to the book, again the cover is of less importance, thirdly, the reader stumbles across the book on Amazon or in a bookshop – the book cover suddenly becomes part of the selling package – it is a marketing tool for this reader. Many a time, I’ve picked up a book because of the cover – I am that shallow – I do buy a book because of its cover. I want a book – in a bookshop – to call over to me – well yell actually and tell me to pick it up. Covers do that. Bad covers don’t.

With digitalization, comes a dumbing down of covers – publishers have less time and money to put towards cover design and at DGA, we are constantly having to fight the publisher to ensure that the writer gets a good cover for their book. Perhaps, publishers feel that covers are no longer important – books are sold in different ways now – bookshops are closing and there is no longer that need for books to be so ‘touchy feely’. I would disagree, when readers buy printed books – as opposed to downloads and ebooks – they really do want a special experience.  The design of a printed book will become more important, there will be limited editions of specially bound books – if people buy less printed books, the ones they buy should be extraordinary, rather than bland.  The average person looks at a cover for 10 seconds – 10 seconds to make an impact then. Even if the book is sold online or as an ebook, the cover is vital as part of the selling package – an ebook is intangible, so the cover needs to make a statement, and quickly.

There has been a lot of talk about self publishing, new models of publishing and small presses – many writers are feeling positive about taking the reins and having more control. But that doesn’t mean less attention to the book design. Many self published books or books published by small presses have failed to gain attention in the past, because the book design has failed to shine. Those writers who choose to go that route need to buy in the experts to design their cover and to ensure that their books can happily sit on the shelf with trade published books.

Book covers tell stories, they dig themselves into genres and they serve as a marketing tool. If you are writing chick lit, your cover needs to tell that to your audience. If your book is a thriller, then your cover needs to let the reader know that the writing is in that genre before they even open the pages. Again, literary novels have their own ‘type’ of cover. Publishers acknowledge these points but are often lazy in producing a different cover, a cover that successfully makes the book stand out.  You don’t want a clone for a book – just one that nods to the right place in the bookshop. Traditionally, in a book contract, authors are given right of consultation but time and again, we’ve found at DGA, this has resulted in little more than the publisher showing the cover to the author – after it has been shown to the sales team and the bookseller – and saying this is the one we are going with. We are going to fight for right of approval in contracts – it’s a way of ensuring that the cover that goes on the writer’s book is considered and imaginative.

Too often, a publisher will get a number of designs, choose one and show it to their sales teams and booksellers – it is only at that point that the author is shown the cover. If they don’t like it, then tough, it’s already passed the test of the sales teams – the publisher might jiggle it a bit but ultimately, they hold fast and won’t change the design completely. Often this leads to a diluted cover – and has less impact. What the publisher will refuse to do is to go back to the drawing board and start again. Time is short and they don’t place enough importance on covers to try to please the author and agent, and their sales teams. But remember, the sales teams often haven’t read the book – they have a blurb and that’s it – so the author might argue that the cover doesn’t fit the book (we’ve had occasions when the location is completely wrong – beaches when beaches don’t even appear in the book) but as the sales teams don’t know the book, there is no comeback. Of course, there are exceptions to this, and some publishers are working hard to make their covers stand out – and I think this applies more to independents than to the bigger publishing houses.

The internet has not diminished the importance of book covers, for me, it has only increased it. The sooner all publishers realise this, the better. The reader is a discerning person – if a cover is great, the book will be picked up. Time is short and those split seconds when your book is shouting for the reader’s attention are crucial. Books should always be a thing of beauty and even a short ebook, deserves a wonderful book cover.

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