Why Book Covers Matter

I’ve recently posted a couple of blogs about what goes into making a good book cover. It’s an obvious area of interest for any writer (especially if they’ll have to design it themselves) and it’s easier to talk about covers than about writing. “Today I wrote ten words and deleted nine of them” isn’t that interesting. Well, it is to me. But I’m special. My mummy says so.

Anyway over the weekend my brother asked me why I was “obsessed” with book covers. We can debate the semantics, but it raises an interesting question: why do book covers matter?

A writer could have written the greatest masterpiece history will ever see. But a reader won’t be able to see that. All they see is the cover. A bookstore browser will spend on average eight seconds looking at the front cover[source]. That might seem too short to worry about, but in eight seconds a book cover can:

• tell the reader that this is their kind of book;
• intrigue and encourage them into reading the back;
• impress the reader with its quality and suggest the content is just as good.

I know what you’re thinking: anyone can say that covers matter. But where’s the empirical proof?

Thankfully those chaps over at The Book Smugglers have conducted a survey of 616 readers. I recommend reading the whole thing, but I’ll summarise the best points:

• 48% said covers play a major role in their decision to purchase a book (though 41% said they played a minor role);
• 72% said “it depends” when asked if a good book cover could compel them to buy a book;
• an astonishing 40% said a book cover could be or has been the sole factor in a book purchase.

You’ll notice that none of these figures have blown your socks off. That’s because the cover’s job is not to sell the book. It’s to get the reader to pick it up. Those 72% who said “it depends” were probably thinking “it depends on the blurb and a sample of the writing itself”. The cover gets the reader’s attention. The content sells it.

And in a world that is seeing more and more books published, getting noticed is more important than ever. So I think my “obsession” is rather well-founded.

What are your favourite book covers? And have you ever bought a book based purely on the cover?

2 thoughts on “Why Book Covers Matter

  1. Christopher Kelly

    As the brother who said you were obsessed with book covers, I do agree they are quite important. But after venturing into my local WHSmiths, one thing that suddenly struck me: In a large book store, most books on the shelves show only the spine, where upon the only way to see the cover is to pick up the book, so surely what is on the spine is important to make the reader want to pick it up to see said cover.
    What say you, brother?

    Reply
    1. James

      Thanks for your comment! I say unto you, brother, that you’re absolutely right. Spines are absolutely vital in a large book shop, and it’s very hard to grab a browser’s attention with just the spine. So every inch of it needs to pull more than its weight!

      However book design is out of the hands of writers whose books are going to be in book shops. And for writers who can dictate what their spine looks like the book shop is often off limits. That means that, to a certain extent, the spine doesn’t matter so much to the indie. It should still look good, but it doesn’t need to sell anything; the reader will only see it once they’ve already bought the book!

      Reply

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