Judging Your Book by Its Cover

Like it or not, most people will only give a cursory glance at your work. That’s because in a sea of choices, the average reader doesn’t have time to take an in depth look at every title. Even thorough shoppers, those who read product descriptions and reviews, are only given a paragraph as a preview and an average review score after they click. In other words, people rarely give a book more than a moment of consideration.

The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. That’s because there is no processing time for an image. Words, on the other hand, require us to remember and attach meaning. So not only are most readers not delving deeper than your cover they may not even read the title. Let that sink in. You are fighting for the attention, and the dollars, of the consumer- one who may not even be reading.

Not only should your cover be eye catching and stand out from the crowd, it also has to visually communicate what the book is about (or at the very least provoke interest.) That’s why genre expectations are so important. Crime thrillers need dark, foreboding covers because their subject matters are dark and foreboding. It would break expectations, and also look out of place, if a crime novel had bright and cheery imagery. (Make people terrified of a smiley face though and you’d have an award winning design.)

Even if you know what colors, fonts, and images to use for your work, you still have the trouble of designing and laying out the cover. Graphic designers spend years learning color and compositional theories and spend even more time refining their creative intuition. Few creatives have the capacity to both master writing and visual design (not to mention editing, marketing, and copywriting.) There is no shame in not designing your own cover, that’s why there are professionals, but there definitely is shame in having a bad cover.

Amazon’s Indie revolution made publishing accessible to everyone but that doesn’t mean that everyone has the knowledge to produce professional products. Consumers do not care where their book originated from, however, they do care that the book meets their pre-determined expectations- expectations that have been cultivated for decades by traditional publishers.

You can measure how much your perspective readers will care about your work, and also how much they would be willing to pay, by looking at how much you yourself have cared for the piece. If you do not care for your product, why should a consumer? Furthermore, it’s baffling to see writers creating products on the smallest budget possible- as if they are the only ones deserving of compensation. True, there are plenty of bargain products and services out there for writers, but those services tend to yield books only suitable for the bargain bin.

If you consider yourself a professional, and you want consumers to respect your work and properly compensate you for it, you must treat your work professionally. Editors, copywriters, layout artists, and marketers are all part of this important equation, however, the cover designer is by far the most important person you hire. Your cover should not be an afterthought or an afternoon on Canva, it should be the crowning glory of your book. It is the symbol of everything you worked for and is also your ambassador to the public.

So here’s the question to ask yourself: do you want your ambassador to be well dressed? Or are you going to take him to a five dollar tailor?