How Important Is Your Book Cover?

“Never judge a book by its cover.”

I heard the saying a lot while growing up. Most of the time it dealt with making assumptions when meeting new people .
As an author, those words take on a literal meaning.
Covers can make or break a sale. This is true in two respects. Either it will draw a reader in, or it will turn them away. Yes, you read correctly, turn them away. But the reason may not be because the story does not draw their interest. Let me explain.
The cover, in conjunction with the title, needs to capture readers attention. It should tell a story, give the reader a hint of what lies between its pages. A critical moment from the book can be depicted, a featured character highlighted, or elements incorporated in the background can hold a metaphorical or symbolic meaning of the character(s), plot, or setting.
All genres require different types of covers. Action/Adventure tends to have characters on the run or escaping a life threatening situation. Sci-Fi shows different worlds, creatures, or spacecraft. Drama/Mystery feature crime scene images, and Romance/Erotica feature couples in various states of undress and physical contact.
The genres I write in are Contemporary Romance, Interracial Romance, and Women’s Fiction. I’ll be the first to admit a great set of abs, sexy smile, and mesmerizing eyes catch my attention, but what does it tell me about the book? Does a half naked body tell me about the issues the characters are going to face? Is the picture selling the story or sex? 
Anyone who picks up a romance novel is aware sex is involved. Depending on the sub-genre, there are various levels of ‘heat’. Is it a sweet romance? Is it hot? Are the love scenes depicted going to be erotic?
Regardless of the way the scene is written in the novel, do I need to have it depicted on the cover?
I don’t want to feel the need to ‘hide’ the book when it’s not in my hands and worry my 11-year-old son or 10-year-old daughter will stumble across it and freak out. (Not making this up. They get grossed out from a set of abs featured in a cologne commercial or a couple sharing a brief kiss in a Disney movie!) Nor should I feel bad about encouraging my teenage kids to read for educational purposes and entertainment if the book in my hand gives the impression I’m reading about sex.
Let me make this point clear, because it’s one that always needs to be talked about: not all Romance novels are about sex, regardless of the heat levels (sweet, spicy, or erotic). For years, I avoided reading the genre because that notion I had. It wasn’t until I took a chance and read one that I discovered some stories, (depending on the sub-genre), have heart, teach life lessons about finding love, friendship, dealing with loss…all of these concepts woven within the story. The act itself was nothing but a backdrop, a part of the character/stories progression. Sex is a part of life. How can you accurately depict life and not address the subject…unless your character is a monk, saint, of a virgin. The difference is how much detail or focus the author chooses to put into the novel.

Okay, sorry, I digressed…back to the point at hand, sex depicted on covers.

I’d like to share with you a few covers of romance novels I’ve read over the past year which did not feature half naked couples on the front, yet told a very compelling story, while delivering a satisfactory level of heat at the appropriate time. (Click on the picture or links to learn more about them.)

Candy Kisses, by Bernadette Marie.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? The name says it all. It’s a sweet romance novella with a story that’s entertaining and scenes that are surprisingly hot. I can leave this lying around and not feel ashamed. Contemporary Romance

Land of the Noonday Sun, by Carmen DeSousa 
The cover depicts a scene from the novel. A fully clothed couple enjoying nature and each other’s company…and nobody’s naked! Notice the eyes peering out of the background? An ominous sign that danger lurks beneath the romance. Nice scenes here too. Romantic Suspense
Looking For Trouble, by Erin Kern                                                      
This cover has clothed people on it, nobody’s in a state of undressing, but they’re obviously attracted to each other. The background depicts the Texas backdrop to the story. And yes, hot scenes lie within a great and funny story. Chick Lit, Contemporary Romance
Now, even though I haven’t read this novel, and just recently read the feedback, both good and bad, I must say I love the covers. In fact, curiosity about what the items represented is what had me research the book on Amazon to read the blurb and ask others what it was about. Though the subject matter is not for me, and regardless of the writing, the covers are amazing! What if the covers had depicted ‘acts’ addressed in the book? How many people who were surprised – and not in a good way – would have rushed out to buy them? That would have been a turn off and embarrassed those who wouldn’t want anyone to know what they were reading. If you haven’t heard about the series, you wouldn’t know. Personally, I thought the book was a mystery/suspense/thriller based on the covers. That was until I began to ask questions.

Now, here’s the cover of my first novel, A Heart Not Easily Broken, the first in The Butterfly Memoirs Series.(currently in query mode) It is a Contemporary Romance, Interracial Romance, and has Women’s Fiction elements. There are some very hot love scenes, but sex is not the focus of the story. Evolution of the characters, life lessons, finding love where you least expect it, and friendship are the focus. A couple embracing or in various states of dress would not be the correct cover. The story is thought provoking, questioning, and address problems many women deal with secretly. Placing a half-naked couple on the front would be a misrepresentation and take away from the story.

I decided to go with symbolism. The guitar represents Brian Young, a bass guitarist, who is passionate about his music career. The butterfly is Ebony Campbell who is at a crossroad in her life, both personally and professionally. Life altering events force her to make decisions she never dreamed of and forces both characters to evolve by the end of the novel. The guitar also represents what brought them together the night they meet and is also a catalyst to other events. Blue is the color of Brian’s eyes, the one thing grounding Ebony during her life trial. The black and white elements…it’s an interracial romance.
So, what do you guys think? I’d love to hear your feedback.
If your interested in having a custom cover done for your novel, contact JayJerkin Productions. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook or here is his Email. He does amazing work!


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11 thoughts on “How Important Is Your Book Cover?

  1. Great blog post Ms. Kane 🙂 You're right regarding judging books by their cover and not feeling ashamed to leave something laying around! Because I ride the subway system in NYC all the time, I don't like overly suggestive covers either for fear of eliciting the wrong kind of attention! You made some very good points! Kudos!

  2. First may I say, thank you for the mention! I have often had the hardest battle with the covers of my books. My first four books do not have people on them at all. I was clear with my publisher that I didn't want a person on the front at all. I also went with the symbol of a cello (as she was a cellist) and a piano (you might imagine there was a pianist) But I felt that putting people on the cover was in bad taste. I have since then changed my mind, but as a newly published author I didn't want the readers to assume they'd know the story just by looking at the people on the front of the book. I agree with Carmen, great observation! You can't judge a book by its cover… but you can make it intriguing enough 🙂

  3. Those are all attractive covers. I did attempt to read one of the books you feature (won't say which one), but at the time it had a different cover. It was still cute, but the new one is better. I just hope the inside content was cleaned up. It had so many errors I couldn't continue reading it! I do like covers with inaminate objects or scenery, especially in these times where the same models seem to be dominating a large number of book covers. Just like you'd hate to attend a cocktail party and see another woman wearing the same dress, no one wants to see the same picture on their book cover!

  4. Great post, MJ, tackling a very hot topic. I feel really ambivalent about book covers. As a reader, I respond to them but I have read (and enjoyed) books in spite of their cover. As an author, I feel very strongly indeed about my covers and am fortunate that my publisher will consider my views. And what are those views? Well, I write contemporary romance (aka chicklit) and I'm not afraid of pink with flowers and butterflies–in fact, that's how I started out. Now I've gone purple with glitzy/glamorous objects, and I do prefer the slightly more 'sophisticated' version of my cover. It dials out a different dimension of the story!I am not a great fan of people on romance covers, whether actual, part-shorts, drawn, stylised, or silhoutte. That doesn't mean I won't read those books; but for my books, I prefer to be people-less. Will that always be possible? Not sure. That takes me to another insight: I think you can have a brand and a plan, but then again, you need to consider each book individually and determine its cover requirements. Great post, MJ, thanks for sharing–hope I'm not taking up too much space with my ramblings in the comment section. X

  5. Great post! As a new indie author creating/deciding on a book cover has so far been one of the most challenging aspects of my journey. I've also come to realize though one person might rave about your book cover, the next person might hate it. 🙂 So yes book covers play a major role in selling books, but the most important thing to remember is that it has to be a cover that you like and can live with.Again, great post!

  6. Book covers do draw readers in. It's the first step in getting them to read it. I love music and guitars so I would pick your book up. The guitar attracts me and I'm curious about the butterfly.

  7. Thanks Peggy! You rock! Curiosity is what I was going for…sort of like the covers for the Twilight series. I understand all of them except for the red ribbon on Eclipse…still haven't figured that out yet, even after reading it twice. lol

  8. Thanks for the post. I'm in the process of working on a book and want to make my own book cover, so it's great to see how you picked a few covers that go against the grain of what's expected for the Romance genre.

  9. Great post, MJ. I'm waiting on my cover and will admit I'm nervous. I don't care if people are on the front of a book or not, but I hate overly suggestive covers–you know the ones that look like porn covers. As a fan of shirtless men, I will say I don't mind seeing one on a book cover. One book I read was about a football player, the cover had a shirtless man on the front and a football field in the background. It wasn't too sexual, told me what the book was about and that it was a romance.

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