Fiction Pet Peeves Part 1—Cover Art

Do not judge a book by its cover.I know, I know.

Authors shouldn’t talk about writing and publishing. They should talk about the works they offer, their works-in-progress, and themes their stories cover.

Today, I’m trying something a bit different.

Out and About Front outlineI’ve been thinking a lot about covers lately. A lot. Out and About, Book 2 of my Cathedral Lake series, just released in December, and Mind Control, Book 2 of my Medici Protectorate series just shipped to my editor (set to release this spring). So, yeah, just with my own work I’ve been kind of cover-obsessed lately.

But then I saw a post in a forum about covers. And a post on a blog I follow. And emails from several people selling their services as cover designers or selling products that are supposed to make cover-design easier.

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it. In today’s world, where tens of thousands of books hit the market each day and attention spans are at their all-time shortest, if you can’t snag someone’s attention with a kick-butt image, you’ve already lost the sale.

That said, I do have a couple pet peeves when it comes to covers.

1) As you’ve probably already surmised, I don’t think covers should be the first hurdle writers have to jump toward attracting readers. 

I’ve seen gorgeous covers on sub-par content. I’ve seen less-than-lovely covers on fabulous stories. I’d like to make the argument that some covers are ugly because many indie writers don’t have the money to hire good designers, but the fact is, I’ve seen terrible covers on NY-published books.The problem is, while there are “rules” for what makes a design good, in the end, covers aren’t judged by scientific algorithms. They’re judged by emotional people.

You can do everything by the book (sorry for that pun) and still have a crappy cover. You can break all the rules and knock it out of the park. But what it really comes down to is opinion. Yours and mine undoubtedly vary; what you love, I might hate. And vice versa.

So, I’m making a plea. Readers, please don’t judge a book by its cover. Read the back blurb and a sample before you make your decision.

2) Cover models that misrepresent the characters. 

I have a great publisher. Oghma Creative Media has a policy that the writers are allowed input on the cover design. Not total autonomy and final decision-making, but still, much more say than most publishers give writers.

That said, I have two very different cover styles. My mainstream novels (published by the Foyle Press imprint) focus on one vital image. My romance novels (published under the Lagan Press imprint) have people on the cover.

bleeding heart 600Apparently, the norm in the romance genre is at least one person, maybe the couple. Another trend is to show just parts of a body, often scantily clad. I was overruled on my romance covers. There are people on them. I’ve heard a lot of compliments on the cover of Bleeding Heart (which just goes to show that cover art is subjective), but I’d prefer an object or location instead. (Note: That’s not to say I don’t like this cover. I do. I just would like it better without the models who, in my opinion, do not look like my characters.)

So, maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t like that. I don’t want a cover to show me a model that I then need to picture as I read the book. I want the author’s words to paint me an image of the characters so I can “see” them the way that best appeals to me.

I especially hate it when the work is later made into a movie or television show. Then I have my impression of the characters, the cover art depicting them differently, and then the actors who play them on film. It annoys me.


So, there you have it. The things that bug me about covers. There are many more things when we get into the nitty-gritty details, but I don’t think anyone wants to delve into the minutiae of design right now.

I am, however, interested in your take on covers. Let’s hear from readers, writers, designers, publishers… What do you think? Who should have final say on the design? Should cover art even matter, or is content king? People or no people? Or just parts of people?

Share this with your friends and colleagues, invite them to weigh in. And please leave your thoughts below. I’m curious to see what others think.

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8 Comments

  1. I am not a cover person. I actually turn the book over and read the back blurb. I know, I am in the minority. So, Cover art is wasted on me. As they say, To each his own, the woman said as she kissed the cow.

    • Maybe it’s a family thing. I’m not into covers, either. Especially when they mislead me or don’t tell me anything useful. I’d rather just read the blurb and a sample. But yes, we are in the minority.

  2. Staci I am a visual person and so the cover is my first impression of what I am about to read. But I have read good books with crappy covers and so I may choose a book because of the title and cover. Yet it is the actual story line in the end that will drag me in and urge me to buy it.

    • Kath, in most things, I’m visual, too. Maybe it’s the OCD in me, but for a verbal medium, I don’t rely on a visual cue. An attractive cover may catch my eye, but the blurb and the sample have to actually sell me. And, if a title grabs me on a crappy cover, I’ll still check out the book.

      Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. Always glad to hear from you.

  3. I’m pretty much with Joan on the covers. If it’s an author I follow, I don’t give the cover a second thought. If I’m browsing, then I usually look at titles and covers before going to the blurb. If the cover is a dud, I rarely read the blurb, but then I’m a highly visual person.

    I do think if you’re going to indie pub a book you need to be aware that the cover is a big part of the promo and invest the money. If you spend 6-12 months writing and polishing a novel, all that work deserves a good cover. I’ve seen some cover designers at reasonable rates.

    I hired the Book Cover Machine to do the cover for Eclipse Lake and was very pleased with the results. They were affordable, too. For my novellas, I did the covers myself in Photoshop, but realize not everyone can do that. My other novels are all through my publisher and I was allowed to give input on the design.

    I’m okay with models being on the cover of a book when it comes to romance, but I do want them to resemble the characters in the book. And I’m not a fan of the bare chest stuff (my publisher did that on my first novel. Ugh! At least the guy looked like the character though…..after I asked them to change the model’s short dark hair to long blond hair!).

    For all other novels, including romantic suspense, I prefer objects or settings as the cover art. Especially with mystery and suspense novels. BTW, I think your Cathedral Lake covers are awesome and really deliver an impact. A Bleeding Heart is a good cover that works well with the genre.

    • Everything you said about readers (and what writers need to consider) is spot on. I have my wishes and dreams, but I know readers are drawn in or forced away by the covers. And I definitely agree with you about objects and settings rather than people. Definitely my preference.

      My cover designer at Oghma will love to hear that you liked his covers. I, too, think they’re pretty strong. And you’re right, Bleeding Heart’s cover works well for the genre. I made him change the girl’s hair color, but that was about all the say I had in that.

      Thanks for commenting, and for sharing your cover resource. Readers always like to hear about vendors who are good and reasonably priced.

  4. Back in the day (LOL) when I shopped a brick and mortar bookstores, I first went to the section for the genre I wanted to read. If it was a well known author I liked, I went straight for his or her books. I didn’t care about the cover and scarcely paid attention to them. I’d read the back blurb for an idea of the story, buy the book, then delve in. For new authors or those unknown to me, I was (and still am) often intrigued by the title, but many times I’ve seen a book cover (especially in the mystery/suspense) genre that drew me to the book. Some times I was disappointed in the content, other times I loved the book.

    So as you say, covers are subjective. And I do like the idea of deciding what the character looks like in my own mind – not looking at a book cover photo.

    • When I shopped in brick and mortar stores, my process was pretty much like yours. Author first, then intriguing titles. You don’t see many front covers at bookstores (just the ones who get preferential treatment, which is usually saved for the big names, anyway), so I shopped for titles on the spines. Then the back blurb. I’m not sure I ever looked at the covers until I got home. Ah, the good old days. Now, the first thing I see is a cover because that’s the first image online sites show. I don’t let the ones I don’t like deter me from reading a blurb or sample, though.

      Thanks for sharing!

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