Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sometimes, you CAN judge a book by its cover

Interesting post by Joelle Charbonneau at Do Some Damage today. In it, she wonders about the effectiveness of cover art for e-books. What's the point, she wonders?

With physical books, the covers provide a very specific purpose - to draw the reader in, to make her curious about the book, to get her to open it up and skim through the pages, with the ultimate goal, of course, being to interest her enough to make a sale.

But with ebooks, there are no readers wandering through the bookstore, pulling your book out and examining the cover. There's no physical book at all!

It's a really good question, and one I wondered about myself for quite a while. My answer is a long one, though, so I thought instead of writing an endless comment at Do Some Damage, I would write a post on the subject myself.

You may or may not know the history of my debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR. I originally signed with the publisher, Medallion Press, for a mass-market paperback edition of the book. A few months after signing the contract, however, and almost a year before the book's release, Medallion bowed to the new realities of the publishing world and eliminated mass-market paperbacks entirely, choosing instead to publish ebook editions of those books slated for MMPB.

This gives me an interesting perspective, because although FINAL VECTOR was released this past February as an ebook, the cover art was designed to be placed atop a paperback book.

And it's a damned good cover, I think. I've gotten literally dozens of compliments on it, and although I had nothing to do with it beyond providing some ideas, I believe it represents the book well.

That's the point. Although you will not find a single copy of FINAL VECTOR in your local bookstore, the cover still matters, for a couple of very important reasons:

1) First impressions still matter, whether the book is inked onto dead trees or transmitted through the Interwebs to your handy dandy reading device. Whether the reader finds out about FINAL VECTOR through the "Readers who bought (X) also bought" feature at Amazon, or through a review they read, or a blog post, or whatever, they will still form a powerful first impression when they see the cover art.

A cover that appears sloppily designed or unimaginative or generic will likely not invite the reader to check out the book further, and will leave certain negative impressions foremost in their minds, both about the book and the author.

On the other hand, cover art that is interesting or entertaining or different may just convince the reader to pursue the book further, maybe check out an excerpt, which is exactly what I'm going for as an author, particularly an author most people have probably not heard of.

2) Ideally, the cover should give a potential reader some idea of what she's getting herself into when she downloads the ebook.

The design for my upcoming release from StoneHouse Ink, THE LONELY MILE, captures the feeling of the book perfectly, and in several different ways. In the book, a divorced father faces what might just be every dad's worst nightmare: His own teenage daughter is kidnapped by a sociopathic killer, and he's responsible.

The cover is meant to evoke a feeling of brooding, of darkness, of a man facing a gathering storm alone. Check it out, and tell me if you aren't left with that exact impression.

Same thing for the cover of my September horror novella release from Delirium Books, DARKNESS FALLS. The plot revolves around a big old farmhouse whose owner went insane twenty years ago and savagely murdered the main character's entire family while he was at school. My protagonist's name is Tyler Beckman, but the star of the novella is really the house - it stands at the heart of the entire story and drives the plot.

So when the folks at Delirium asked for my input on the cover art, I immediately thought of a creaky farmhouse, dark and disturbing, with ghostly-looking windows and an overgrown yard. My goal was to draw the potential reader's attention and at the same time try to pass along a little taste of what the book is all about.

So that's my answer, Joelle: Yes, the cover of an ebook is absolutely as critical to the book's success as the cover of a mass-market paperback, trade paperback, or hardcover offering. You can write prose like a master, but if the outside of your book turns people off to the point they're not willing to try it, no one will ever know.


Anonymous said...

Man, I am dying to read Darkness Falls! But, as for the covers on ebooks, I have run across a few ebooks with no cover and that loses points for me, especially if I don't know the author. I still want some eye-catching cover art.

Michelle V

Al Leverone said...

I think the cover art is extremely important, and there are some really good artists out there doing cover work.

By the way, if you're interested, there is an excerpt from DARKNESS FALLS up at my website and also one from THE LONELY MILE, too...