Covers: The Wisdom Behind the Obsession

Jeannie, I love your cover for KATERINA’S WISH. It’s colorful and gorgeous. Even if there wasn’t a girl on the cover, I don’t think it would convince a boy to read a “girl” book, though. I don’t know who said it, but I once heard that if Harry Potter were Harriet Potter, it wouldn’t have been the smash success it is. Boys prefer to read about boys, so my guess is, you probably lost the majority of that gender from your first line. The good new is, your book could be a huge success with only a small percentage of female readership!
I am happy to see that you came to love your cover more over time, once you got over your disconnected status. It truly is lovely. And bottom line, you want people to buy your book, so whether or not it looks like the character you had in mind is not so important. What’s crucial is that it grabs the readers’ attention as they browse the shelf, and I believe it does that.
Now, I must admit that I am jealous! You have a cover and I don’t. Waaaah. This had led me to do the awful thing we writers sometimes do: compare. Ah, I see J. Anderson Coats has a cover for THE WICKED AND THE JUST, as does Michelle Ray (her wonderful book, FALLING FOR HAMLET, is already out!) Oh, and look, so does Mike Jung with GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES. But that’s not all, look at Cynthia Levinson’s cool cover for WE’VE GOT A JOB. Lynda Mullaly Hunt has a cover for ONE FOR THE MURPHY’S…I think that only leaves Natalie Dias Lorenzi and me, but she has an amazing cover artist, which is very cool. (Note to Natalie: You don’t have a cover yet, do you???) Now I am not evil jealous or anything. Perhaps envious is a better word. We writers must choose our words precisely.

The mantra for my cover

I also just read an article about the obsession with cover art on Publisher’s Weekly called Real Books Don’t Die by Marc Schultz. The take away is that the author of the article believes that  people will always prefer physical books. He also thinks they will appreciate them more for the brilliance inside than for the beauty of the cover. Hmmm. While I agree with the viewpoint from an adult perspective, I have to say that I’m not so sure it’s true for kids. Call me a cyncic, but….Kids are way more technologically savvy than us adults. This means they may, someday, feel more comfortable with the latest and greatest electronic book toy than an actual book. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. I worry that no matter how much adults like the concept of a physical book, kids are open to different presentations and change may be inevitable. Only time will tell how this all plays out. I pray for the book; I really do.
But back to cover art. With kids, I think the cover design is crucial. Yes, we adults may read the New York Times book reviews and carefully select our list of To-Reads, but I bet we’d all be hard pressed to find a kid who does the same. The closest they get to research comes via Goodreads. But most kids still go to the library or book store and take out many books, glance at the covers, and put them back or…joy of joy, flip it over and read the jacket copy. In my opinion, here is what typically happens before a kid will buy, or get Mom to buy, a book:
  • Cover design must be intriguing.
  • Jacket copy has to be engaging.
  • Inside cover copy has to add more detail while keeping interest high.
  • A random paragraph inside the book must interest the reader.
  • Kid must have extra money from Grandma from the holidays or have a parent willing to shell out $16.95-ish.
Then, at long last, the book gets bought. This tells me that cover art is worth all the obsession. Sure, we writers toil over words, working through endless revisions, to get it all just right, but if the cover is boring or the jacket copy is ho hum, most kids won’t progress to the buying stage. Adults may slap down the Visa, perhaps with bad-cover-blindness because they know something about the book’s outstanding quality ahead of time. But kids? Not so sure. For them, I think the cover is Almost Everything. And I think authors, when they score a good cover, should thank their lucky stars.
I hope my cover is as nice as yours, Jeannie. Look at the shading! Look at the beautiful sunset! I want to hang it over my fireplace, seriously! I feel certain that your cover will sell books, and that is the cover’s number one job.

When one is waiting, email is the devil's tool

Now excuse me while I go back to chewing my nails and checking for a certain email with the subject line: COVER!

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6 Comments

Filed under Book Promotion, cover art, jealousy

6 responses to “Covers: The Wisdom Behind the Obsession

  1. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Lisa, I do have a cover, and I’m in cover love with it! (You can see it on my Facebook page.)

    Working as an elementary school librarian this year, I’ve been shocked by how much covers really do matter with kids. If kids are looking for the next book in a series or a character they know and love from other books (like Fancy Nancy, for example), then the cover doesn’t matter one whit. But when I see kids browsing, they literally pull a book, glance at the cover, then put it back on the shelves if they don’t like it. When I see this happen in the future, I’ll have to ask them why they put it back and see what they say. If I find out anything good, I’ll report back here. 🙂

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  2. I felt bad about my choice of topics when I realized you were my follow up blogger this week, L.B., because I realized you were the only EMU in the flock without a cover! I hope yours comes through soon, and that it’s wonderful.

    I agree that covers sell books. I think titles do as well–at least I find myself at the library scanning the spines on the shelf, and pulling one off to read the jacket copy when a title catches my fancy.

    I would add to your list of things that get kids to buy books, word of mouth. I think kids will select a book that a friend recommended, but that still has to start with getting the first kid to read the book.

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  3. Hey, LB! Great post! I can totally understand why you are anxious to get your cover. We all felt that way!

    I recently interviewed my teenagers for the 2k12 blog about what they look for in books. I asked them about covers and my son said that a good cover makes you give the book a chance–makes you read the flap to see if you’d like the story. I think that’s true! It opens the door….

    I, too, love Jeannie’s cover! I know that it will “open lots of doors!” Honestly, though…We all have pretty great covers! I’m sure that Lisa’s will be just as wonderful. Can’t wait for the big reveal!

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  4. Since my upcoming Dec. 26 post is the last Monday post of the year, I’ve been thinking about the issues we EMU’s Debuts writers have been dealing with purchase to publication. We’ve written about Getting our Agency, Getting The Call from Said Agent about The Sale, Editing and Revising, Promotions, Jealousy and Envy (thank you for the careful word distinctions, LB), the Dreaded Rejection, Research–so many issues we’ve been dealing with! Covers seems to be an appropriate topic to begin to close out the year. During this time, most of us got ours and rejoiced or scratched our heads and then rejoiced. Because, looking back over the year, Covers, as essential as they are to luring readers, are, for debut authors, a luxurious worry. When we get to the point, as we all have, of fretting about the cover art, we’re pretty far along the path from deal to debut.

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  5. J. Anderson Coats

    I’m not sure I agree that kids will look beyond the cover to the brilliance inside, but the codex ain’t going anywhere. Not until I can get an iPad for $2.99 at Goodwill.

    That said, technology has made us all a heck of a lot more visual. Grabby, dynamic covers feed into that, especially so for kids who don’t remember the beforetime.

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  6. Michelle Ray

    People despaired over the switch to away from records once upon a time, but we’re all still listening to music. People want stories. Whatever way they come to us, as long as we’re all still reading, I say huzzah.
    As for the design, it really is important to catch the eye. My daughter refuses books based on their covers. It’s such a strange thing to be out of control of this hugely important part of ones’ own creation.

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