What’s in a cover?

By PD Martin

Covers…while all the research suggests that the most important factor in a book’s success is word of mouth, I think most people would agree the cover is incredibly important too. After all, the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” wouldn’t exist if we didn’t tend to do just that.

For those of us who come from a traditional publishing background, we’re used to having little or no say in our covers. (Unless, perhaps you’re a massive best seller and the tables have turned — from the agents/publishers calling the shots to YOU calling the shots.) But, for most of us, the covers of our babies are out of our control.  Certainly they were for me with my Sophie Anderson series.

For the most part I used to think They’re the experts, they know the book, they know the market, and they know the publishing business. And, I was normally very satisifed with the covers that my publishers came up with. However, despite LOVING most of my covers, there were also a few I didn’t like. For example, the hardback cover for the American version of my first novel, Body Count. What do you think?

To me, it looked like an “adult” (porn) book, but I was assured it was very sleek and ‘perfect’ for the market. Mind you, they changed it for the mass market edition and I liked that one much better. Here it is:

The other two covers I wasn’t mad on were the Aussie and American covers for The Killing Hands. Weird that I disliked both of them. Perhaps the subject matter made it difficult? Or maybe it was just personal, and others liked the covers.


Now that I’m moving into the Kindle ebook world, it’s a whole different ball game. Guess who is involved in the development of the covers and writes the design brief? Me. Guess who sees drafts and gives further direction? Me. And while there is work involved I’m LOVING having this level of control. Never again, will there be a book cover with my name on it and a design I don’t like (unless I go back to traditional publishing houses, and then I guess it could happen again!)

So, what do you think of the latest effort? It’s for my new pen name, Pippa Dee, and it’s a middle grade fantasy book.

Initial feedback on this one was that the computer image was too hard to see – people didn’t realise at first it was a laptop. And people said for children’s/YA it was advisable to have a teen on the cover.  Plus, a couple of people thought because it said “Returns” in the title, it was part of a continuing series (not book 1).  

Take 2: Versions 1 & 2

What do you think?

So, how important is the cover to you, as a reader? And authors, have you got any good (or bad) cover stories to share at Murderati today?

15 thoughts on “What’s in a cover?

  1. Susan Elizabeth

    I've recently noticed that when I download a book from Amazon, my Kindle automatically opens to the start of the first chapter, so I have to flip backwards to see the cover (and copyright, dedication, and acknowledgments). In my first year of Kindle I definitley missed out on a lot of covers.

    As far as print is concerned, I find the cover to be monumentally important. Everytime I walk by my nightstand I'll see a book cover and remember that I want to keep reading that book.

  2. Jake Nantz

    I think the cover is MUCH more important in the print version, but it can still be a big part of what makes me go after a book on kindle (or not). As for your chosen covers, I think I would go with Take 2, V-1. The shadowy figure standing in the doorway (or at least that's what it appears to be) in Version 2 seems like one too many prominent elements to me. Makes it look busy. The first one has the hint of something over there, but it's like a little extra after you've studied the laptop image that dominates the cover (rather than competing with it).

    Just one Southerner's opinion, though.

  3. David Corbett

    I like the last cover best, it's easiest to make out the teen figure in the doorway, but I want your name at the bottom, with "The Wandered and Guardian Series" above that. I want your name to anchor the cover.

    I think this works great, Phillipa. Or Pippa. Or PD. Or …

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I like the last cover best by far. Hate both the hands ones, I don't know what they were thinking!!

    Covers kind of perplex me. I never seem to have the same opinions other people do about them, and I NEVER assume a book is going to be something I want to read just because I like the cover art. (I might want it on my wall, though….) As long as a cover gives an idea of the genre, that's fine with me. E books have added the new wrinkle that whatever the cover is has to read at the size of a postage stamp, which is bad news for someone with a name as long as mine.

  5. Sarah W

    I'm with Alex on this one — I see so many books per day that covers have become little more than genre-tags to me, though I still roll my eyes at some of 'em.

  6. lil Gluckstern

    I like book covers to give a hint of what is in the book, but after that I'm easy to please. I look for the author, and usually I'm happy.

  7. Lisa Alber

    Sometimes I'll pick up a book because ot the cover's design elements–something about it catches my eye. Often, that's how I discover new authors. For tried-and-true authors, I don't care much, and usually for the bigger authors, the authors' names are the prominent feature anyhow. (Good example: Deborah Crombie's latest hardcover.)

    Phillipa aka Pippa, I think the last cover works best. The figure in the doorway could be the protagonist or a ghostly entity summoned by the laptop…There's a nice question there. I like it.

  8. caite

    I vote for the first version of take two. I like the name at the very bottom. I think it looks more balanced and I like the title against a darker backdrop

  9. Ronald Tierney

    I like the last cover best as well. The original, with "returns" was difficult to read because the typeface takes a little more work to read. However, the typeface does its work with a shorter title. I love being involved with book design — though I have incredible respect for graphic designers — and let them take the lead. Congratulations.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    I confess I'm no expert on covers. I look at some and like them immediately, and others do nothing for me, but I couldn't say if that makes them good or bad at doing what they're supposed to, which is attracting readers to the book. I think it's good to have an identity, rather than a rake of different designs, particularly with the same font for author name, even if the covers are all radically different.

    And yes, e-book covers have to do a completely different job — they have to stand out in postage-stamp size, and still have the title and author's name legible, including in greyscale.

    Apart from that I think sometimes there's a temptation to try and work in EVERY image and symbol from the book, rather than picking something that symbolises the book as a whole.

    Great post, and good luck with the new book!

  11. Gar Haywood

    I LOVE a great book cover. Don't buy many books based on their covers alone anymore — I once made a habit of that, I admit — but a good cover will still make me pick it up and start reading, which is really all an author can ask for.

    I vote for the last cover with the bottom text from the previous one ("The Wanderer and Guardian…" above your name, not below it).

  12. PD Martin

    Great info on covers, guys. Thanks! Nice to wake up to such great comments.

    Susan – very cool about the night stand. It's true with print books – the cover brings you in or back in.

    Jake, thanks for your vote. Every opinion is sought and valued!

    Thanks, David. Yes, I think I'm going to get the designer to put the book 1 info back up with the title. It's more logical too – The Wanderer is book 1 in the series…

    And very true Alex and Zoe about the cover having to get the reader's attention at mini size. And even smaller if they're browsing from a smart phone!!

    Yes, Sarah. There are quite a few bad ones out there. But it seems quite personal too. One person loves it, another hates it. Though most people have been lukewarm (at best) on my least favorite PD Martin ones I posted.


  13. PD Martin

    Lil, yes, a book cover should give a good hint about the subject matter. Although that can be hard sometimes! I think once an author is established it's their names, but in the early days the cover has to attract, IMHO.

    Lisa, I agree! And thanks for your opinion on my covers. It's hard making a decision when it's completely up to me 🙂 Wonderful, but hard.

    And thanks to Caite.

    Zoe, definitely re author name. Brand, brand, brand!

    Thanks, Gar. Certainly in a bookstore the job of a cover is to get a reader to pick it up and read the back of the book or maybe even the first couple of pages. How did you go with book choice by cover alone? And thanks for your opinion too 🙂

    And Phillip, thanks for the vote!

    Ronald, interesting about the font and the shorter title. That actually wasn't why I changed the title but I think you're right. Plus it makes it a two-line title rather than three line.

  14. PD Martin

    Where I'm going at the moment on this…

    Use version 1 of take 2 – the one with the three figures in the doorway. Move the Book One info up, above or under the main title.

    So, I know version 2 (the one figure) got the most votes but the more I think about it, the more I'm concerned that it makes the book look like it's YA (older end) or even an adult fantasy/sci-fi novel. I personally think the one figure IS more visually striking (and probably sophisticated) but it does seem to make the book look like it's for older kids (14+ rather than 9-13). And I think that would misrepresent the book. If a 16yro bought it, given Hunger Games and the like is setting the scene for this reader group, they'd find The Wanderer way too tame.

    It was great to get everyone's opinions on covers in general and my contenders. Thanks again. And I'm glad a few people liked the one with the three figures in the door (who look like younger teens than the one figure).

    And who knows, I may change my mind again yet!


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