My Struggle with Book Covers

Book Covers

Today’s ‘Ramble’ (And goodness it’s been a minute since I’ve done one, I’m like four behind) – is about book covers. I’m not sure about anyone else – so this entire rant will likely be a narrow view on the world – but the point is honesty which helps me come to terms with an issue and hopefully entertaining you in the process.

We’re going to hit roughly on the following with some deviants based on ADD.

  1. Below threshold cover causes
  2. Above impact causes
  3. The blah in-between and why my mind ignores them
  4. In summary

 

But first! You may ask, what made you want to ramble at us about covers?!

Well, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. As many are aware by now I take review requests, peruse the store for new content to read on my downtime, and suffer through the process of having someone else create my covers (Poor Dafeenah over at http://indiedesignz.com/ – I’ll get back to her below, in part 3, in about five minutes of reading).

Ultimately; covers matter to me, but once they reach a certain threshold I don’t even look at them. The problem I face is that covers are also the bait you set up as people roam through the interwebz…Aside from word of mouth)

To recap so far; as a person who’s…

  • Read too many books to count for decades
  • Taken review requests from random people seeking advertisement and feedback
  • Attempted to get my own works covers

…I simply don’t care about the cover unless I’m annoyed. As I pen under the online nickname of FrustratedEgo – we’re going to start off with the …frustrating things. This leads us straight into…

 

Below threshold cover causes

Or, where I judge the shit out of your book based on its cover – now this isn’t to be confused with the blurb – but I’m going to share a very hurtful review I got once upon a midnight dreary.

“I’ll never read your book because the cover is crappy and clearly you’re stupid.”

No that didn’t happen in exactly those words, the original one was deleted – but over on RoyalRoadL (A both encouraging place and mentally taxing one) – one of my other works got that type of response along with a 1/5 – so regardless of how well written any story is or enthralling the plot and characters – covers turn away readers.

So this part will focus on my own reasons for turning away from works based on their cover. You can use it as a point of reference or simply a way to be amused. I would use examples but that might be a bit cruddy of me. Instead I’ll point to common issues that irk me and hopefully in doing so – imply that everything else isn’t noticed.

The most recent one I ran into was a case of excessively bright colors, and while not naming names or implying the content is terrible – overwhelming yellow is a prime example. This type of cover nearly made me turn away from what ended up being an interesting book. This sort of offensive to the eye situation does crop up and my gut reaction is to judge the book by its cover. There’s a whole series of books that people have recommended to me where the covers are simple [Insert title here] in some kind of bloody font on an insanity causing yellow backdrop. LIKE A PAGE OF THIS NONSENSE – really. I mean about six of them in a row that were decently priced and had sizable content, with a topic that looked at least mildly interesting (and for my own personal reading time, those are all I care about, topic, content size, price point – I’ll read utter garbage if it hits the right tones, but translated works are for another day)

Other issues; cartoony covers drive me batty because they can taint the entire perspective I have going into the material. Am I reading an anime? Why would I read an anime when I can watch it instead? Stop putting bug eyes on the cover. Stop. Ones with people’s bodies bending at weird angles, flailing matrix like backflips or a man riding some giant spiky dragon without a saddle are all improbable as well. Improbable covers make me want to put the book down.

Next are covers that look distorted, poorly meshed, or like bad paint shop meshes can make me smile, nod then back away quietly. There have been a few examples – one I saw recently looked like someone lifted a cloudy sky, slapped the title over it, and it in no way implied the story was about future science fiction. A cyberpunk moon would have been more effective, or a cat pissing on a badly photoshopped fence. Let’s use a more relative example. Have you ever gone into a store, looked at a box of diapers (I can’t be the only parent here) and wondered why the kid’s arm looks disjointed from everything else? I have, and then I picked up the other brand (when my wife lets me shop…and there isn’t a sale…we’re not talking about sales! Back on topic!)

Here’s the last one – a man’s chest on proud display tells me the story probably won’t offer anything new. There are about fifty thousand books out right now with a man’s chest. Take a look at the superhero subcategory of Amazon. Half of isn’t superheroes, it’s man meat displayed. Look at my chest! Read my heroic deeds! They all feel the same, men’s chests – wait no I mean books. They’re all the same books.

Well, this last one is more a matter of my personal taste in genre – since it’s always applied to some sort of modern supernatural female main character fiction with a hot / cold relationship with resident bad boy and headache causer Doug Smith from Totally Not State Farm. Now we all know what he’s wearing and it’s only kachi and a bow tie. Party for two incoming – /wink /wink /nudge /nudge – practice safe interspecies mutual molestations, people. At the end of the book we’ll learn that Doug’s an animal but when he calls in the morning it’ll be about updating your policy. We’re getting off track – which is a shame because there’s a whole unexpected series of innuendoes here. This ramble is about covers!

*steers the ship back into charted waters, his reef, drowns, and keeps writing*

See, you keep writing even while drowning! That’s how you do it! Chop – chop people!

Anyway – covers – in my mind – can certainly make or break a book. I attribute some of Continue Online book 1’s poor first two months to the original cover. I’ll also point back to the first cover for Royal Scales Book 1 and say….we tried…and learned! We learned! The wife and I, we’re learners we is – ask my wife about the editing process ‘cus if I ramble about that it’ll turn into a frothing the at the mouthpiece on how ‘I’m a failure and should slash my wrists with a dull knife of frustration that never gets anywhere but I keep sawing’…

Erm! To positive things! Continue Online was our first real switch in covers – and the change in draft between Book 1’s original version and second version was marvelous.

 

27209879

Original

 

 

web

Updated

 

This leads us into my firsthand experience with…

 

Above impact causes

Anyone who’s floated around my blog has probably noticed all the fancy pictures around. If not, scroll slightly to the right and see a cover! Bam! Gloss and bold words for the series title.

Honestly, I don’t even notice the series title or book name. I only see shiny things. That serves as an example of what makes a cover ‘above impact’ – attraction. That’s what we’re all looking for. Attraction. A man’s chest (No matter how well dieted and hard it’s hit the gym – darn you people with self-control) – isn’t attractive to me. Anime googly eyes aren’t attractive to me. One of those books is probably designed to appeal to my genre preferences.

So, between the covers of book 1 there was a change in shine. There’s a gloss to it that’s great – and that I noticed. I will say that shiny covers do rank higher simply because they’ve got sparkles of some sort. By the same token, the only movies I go see better have a ton of special effects. (Who am I kidding, we have two kids, we don’t get to see movies in theaters.)

But, once we get past shine, or male eye candy as I’d call it – the blurb matters far more. I feel confident saying that most people who actually make it through a book actually have much memory what the cover looked like. Answers may be…

  • There was a person. He had a face.
  • There was a lady. She had very effective armor on.
  • I saw a fire. It burned.
  • Maybe an S? There might have been one of those.
  • I didn’t know this book came with a quiz. Please stop.

It’s like window shopping at a store or anywhere else with thumbnails and more content a click away. Initial attraction fades, actual descriptions and content sticks.  I’m not alone in this idea. Now here’s a place that weighs in on the subject – specifically for Indie Authors

*shudders and ventures to the salt riddled K Boards*

http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,236492.0.html

If you ain’t ventured over there – it’s …. worth a look (and I’m saying this under my breath) to glance at their FAQs. The rest can come off as attention demanding, mind numbing, and mire. But the FAQs are good! So good that I won’t repeat a ton of information but simply let the link does a better organized speech than I dare.

And I won’t lie – I see lots of people talk about covers. They like action or funny stuff. Some of them are…very indicative of the kind of story you’re about to read – which purchasers have started to expect! You don’t want to write a story about Doug From Totally Not State Farm and his late-night lovers howling for a good time – without a cover that includes Khakis. If say – you put a cover on there that included oranges and apples – it probably won’t get the point across.  Unless they’re cleverly dangling around the groin area as some sort of innuendo I didn’t get to use above.

This brings me to a good point – humorous covers that are kind of self-mocking can be great but only if the joke is understood.  If – in following the food theme – you place Doug’s counterpart (we’ll assume straight for giggles) – next to him holding forth a lovely pair of coconuts on display – you might seriously get the idea without an ounce of actual skin being displayed. Plus it implies the book has amusing moments to go with whatever feature oriented and probably repetitive dribble is going to be written. (I mean – haven’t all the ways adult interactions can be done been written by now?)

My two works in progress, The Fiasco and Fragments of Aeon – have no covers at all. In the web serial side of the work – books without covers or artwork don’t get marked up much – but do occasionally get marked down a little. It either means they don’t care enough, no one loves them enough to provide work – or they don’t take the work seriously enough to finish it and be worthy of a cover. In a way, no entry into the category can hurt attention worse than a poor cover.

As for me personally – I dig covers with explosions and dragons and anything that looks like things are happening in conflict – but to a point. This leads tooooooooo…

 

 

The blah in-between and why my mind ignores them

I’m going to poke fun at a specific series – ready? Drizzt Do’urden and the Forgotten Realms Drow! (All of them…every single one)

*stumbles off, spell checks, sobs, corrects and continues to write like a champion babbler*

God help me – having a flagship icon to make sure readers know what the story is about is super, super, super important – but at the same time if it goes on for too long all of the covers become dull rehashed nonsense with little new content worth reading.  Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t hatin’ the Drizz…t – but! I stopped looking at cover content and only took note of the author name instead. Which is great for R. A. and his ‘I won the internet’ success – honestly – and I’m not sure how much input he even has on the covers. Those of us gathered down here in Indie land though – we don’t have anyone else to turn to but an awkwardly frowning reflection. (And if mirror you waves while real you hasn’t lifted a hand, break the mirror and burn down your house that day – or wave back and hope they don’t catch on to who’s the reflection)

Anyway, respectively themed covers that are all variations of the exact same two elements can be annoying after book 3 or 4…Don’t beat a dead horse for too long. Please. Not for 30 books. But if you write 30 books that sell as well as R.A.’s do, feel free to roll back here and tell me via a comment below whatever you’d like. I respect success even as I hate people for it. Just know – my commentary tries hard not to make it personal.

Here’s an odd bit of information. When I shop – I do so mostly off of category, other peoples’ recommendations or things that show up in my suggest Amazon reading. I’m super terrible at finding new stuff and don’t have time to sit in Barnes and Nobles looking through shelves. I’m old with a child. He wants the toys, and I can’t leave him alone ‘cus kidnappers are real.

This matters – if only because I go off the short list and check out what the blurb says with only a glance at the cover. If it looks like a shiny piece of neatness – I’m a bit more attracted. If it assaults my eyes with yellow I cringe. If it’s anywhere in between it won’t stand out at all in my head. I literally do not take note.

Here’s where the whole point of this ramble comes to light. Finally, some of you say, finally. I’m only here because I’m bored and you’re hurting my head (One of you thought that, I’m sure)

In working with Dafeenah at Indie Designz (at http://indiedesignz.com/) – I’ve come to realize that I am terri-bad at figuring out what goes on the front. Working with a designer on the Indie side essentially comes down to ‘provide me as solid an idea as you can, and I’ll try my damnedest to make your insanity work’. Being unspecific hurts and gets you strange results (the first draft for CO Book 3 was…. really, really red).

Items that are neither outstanding or glaringly bad don’t spark anything in me. Being wishy-washy gets me yelled at. But I don’t have a solid idea (Nor do a lot of us) what gives the cover an extra oomph into neato land.

I do know what makes a cover bad, but not what turns it into awesome. There’s a clear difference in attraction between CO Book 1 and CO Book 2 in my mind – and changing it up is weird.

 

In summary

The cover matters. I get it. You already knew it. It’s a hook into the ‘everything’ and can net us writers an extra chunk of internet money pie – but going about it is hard when it’s a small operation (Me and my wife – which involves me grunting and her trying to get monosyllabic answers out of me). There’s a lot of thinking required, and reaching out to people – Emails – paying money – and that’s simply a daunting task for me.

So, here are questions to the random folks of the audience – both writers that have tried to find covers, reviewers who take on books, or readers that poke around on pages like this one…

  • What do you think about covers?
  • How much do they matter?
  • What makes it really stand out?
  • What tanks them?

And a freebie –

  • Cats or dogs?

I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

 

For giggles:

http://lousybookcovers.tumblr.com/

4 responses

  1. Book covers fascinate me. I suppose it’s because there’s a “fu” about it that I don’t understand. It’s something that may never be completely understandable to anyone. Just Google “book cover design elements” and you’ll find tons of rules (often conflicting) and guidelines and studies and theories about what makes this one a good cover and that one a bad cover. As soon as someone has a best-selling book, you suddenly see a bunch of covers that look almost the same, right? All I know is that I’ll notice the cover first. If it grabs me, I’ll read the blurb. If not, I’m on to the next thumbnail.

    OTOH, I just finished reading an astonishing novel I’d heard about (because it won a Pulitzer) and wanted to read because of its content: an Asian perspective on the Vietnam War and America. The article I read showed only part of the cover. When I went to buy it on Amazon, the cover – in my opinion – was terrible. I’d never have given it a second look! Yet, the writing was exquisite, the story compelling, and it made me think deep thoughts. I couldn’t have asked for a better book. But the cover was off-putting to me. Obviously, though, professional people in the big-deal publishing biz put a lot of time and talent together to come up with a cover for a book that ended up winning most all of the major prizes. So what do I know?

    The book is The Sympathizer. You have a thing about yellow covers? What about this red cover with yellow lettering? And the font, if indeed it was a font, looked like a mess. Ugh!

    Dogs. (But I do love cats, too.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree completely – and often find myself perplexed at the sheer awesomeness that can go into a work – yet somehow next extend to making the cover what I consider ‘passable’ – and I have to remember that most of this is purely objective. I’m not even sure the name of the book series I looked at months ago that had absolutely nothing but yellow and red lettering.

      I’d agree that blurbs are important – and a headache for another day. I’ve struggled over, and over, and over with them but managed to fail too often.

      Thanks for dropping a line! (I prefer dogs too but they’re higher maintenance than cats…so…cats it is)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephan, this was hilarious! Perfect to start off my weekend with a few laughs 🙂
    For me, I just can’t help it when a really intriguing cover catches my eye, but I try to cut the mediocre ones a break and read the blurb anyway. I agree with you, that when a cover image is distorted, that really puts a bad taste in my mouth.
    And cats, for sure. My little kitten is turning 18 in a couple of weeks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for dropping a line! I understand exactly what you mean – especially for those of us who take reviews or are looking past the A list books – sometimes covers do not do the content justice….but we can’t help that first reaction.

      I think our cats are almost 12 now. It’s crazy how time flies.

      Like

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