Cover Matters is a new monthly feature in which we examine the medium that is first contact between a reader and a book: the cover. This feature will dedicate more separate space to a topic that has always intrigued, irked, and befuddled us. We will be talking about issues such as whitewashing practices, covers in poor taste, misleading or completely inaccurate covers, clichéd covers and, of course, covers that manage to get it right. We plan on having guests (bloggers, authors, cover artists, and publishers if possible) join us for these monthly pieces, with the following question in mind: Do covers matter?

This month’s issue of Cover Matters is twofold. Earlier today we published a chat with Fantasy author Celine Kiernan, writer of the Moorehawke Trilogy (published in 10 different countries) where we talked about her different sets of covers.

We are now happy to present the results of our Cover Matters Survey…

Cover Matters: The Survey Results

In our survey, we asked you a bunch of questions to get to the bottom of this puzzling conundrum: Do Covers Matter? And if so, how do they matter? Do they influence or even change your decision to purchase a book? Are they mere marketing tools or artistic representations of the book within? 616 people took the survey and…

Well, folks, here are YOUR answers:

Do covers matter at all to you? That is, do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book?

Yes (482) 79%
No
(131) 21%

On an approximate percentage scale, how large a role do covers play in your decision to purchase a book?

A Dominant Role: (20) 3%
A Major Role: (294) 48%
A Minor Role: (250) 41%
An Insignificant Role: (33) 5%
Other: (15) 2%

Let’s talk hypotheticals: You’re in the bookstore, browsing leisurely amongst the stacks. A cover catches your eye – it’s a book you’ve not heard anything about. Do you buy this book?

Yes(38) 6%
No(135) 22%
It depends(436) 72%

Hypothetical #2: A trade/hardcover book that you’ve been interested in reading has just been released…but the cover for this book is especially terrible. Do you still cough up the dough and buy the book, or do you wait for the mass market paperback release?

Yes (I want to read the book now, and a really bad cover isn’t going to deter me) – (119) 20%
Yes (I want to read the book now, and I will buy it DESPITE my distaste for the cover) – (250) 41%
No (If I’m paying for a hardcover or trade edition, I want a decent cover) – (241) 40%

Hypothetical #3: Take situation #2 above, but say that the book is a mass market paperback with a truly hideous cover. Do you buy the book?

Yes (I want to read the book, and the awful cover isn’t enough to deter me) – (184) 30%
Yes (I want to read the book now, and I will buy it DESPITE my distaste for the cover) – (322) 53%
No (I’ll borrow it from the library or a friend or something) – (104) 17%

Hypothetical #4: How much do you associate a cover with the actual content of a novel? That is: If you read a book and loved it, and the next time that you are in a bookstore you see a similar looking cover, would it make you purchase that book in the hopes that you will have a similarly pleasant reading experience?

Yes (225) 37%
No (383) 63%

On Whitewashing: You’ve seen the fallout online surrounding the book covers for LIAR and MAGIC UNDER GLASS. If you know a book’s cover has been whitewashed, will you purchase the book?


Yes (328) 55%
No (161) 27%
Other (110) 18%

Do cover “cliches” bother you? (i.e. Hooded figures wielding swords on fantasy novels; bare-chested half-faced dudes on romance covers; chicks in stilettos, tight pants, and tattoos on UF covers)

Yes (353) 58%
No (258) 42%

In general, what do you think of the state of covers in genre fiction (SF/F/H, UF/PNR, Romance) today?


They’re great! I love the majority of covers on the market! – (52) 9%
They’re fine/average. There are great covers and not so great covers in pretty much equal measure. – (440) 72%
They’re terrible! The majority of covers on the market are drab/uninspired/awful. – (119) 19%

Can (or has) a cover ever be the SOLE driving factor in your decision to purchase a book?


Yes (245) 40%
No (365) 60%

In your opinion, what role do covers play for a book?


Covers are a Marketing Tool (that’s their main role, and that’s the only function that I really care a cover serves) – (157) 26%
Covers are the artistic representation of the book (they should be accurately representative of a book’s genre, tone, and/or characters) – (373) 62%
Other (75) 12%

In your opinion, are “cliched” genre fiction covers useful? That is, do you believe that they signify or inspire a sense of reader familiarity that encourages readers to buy the book?


Yes (399) 66%
No (209) 34%

Let’s assume that books with “cliched” covers dominate genre fiction sales. Why do you think this is?


They inspire a sense of familiarity – (308) 51%
They are all that is on the market right now - (252) 42%
Other (46) 8%

SURVEY TAKER PROFILES:

Which of the following genres do you read the most?


Fantasy (469) 77%
Romance (289) 47%
Young Adult (399) 65%
Science Fiction (245) 40%
Horror
(81) 13%
Comics/Graphic Novels (139) 23%
Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance (399) 65%
Literary Fiction (197) 32%
Mystery/Thriller (178) 29%
Other (38) 6%

You live:


In the United States (358) 62%
In the United Kingdom (71) 12%
Other (147) 26%

Where do you get the books you read?


In a bookstore (461) 76%
Online (454) 75%
Library (295) 48%
Review Copies (116) 19%
Other
(54) 9%

You are:


A Reader (597) 98%
A Blogger (233) 38%
An Author (83) 14%
A “Publishing Professional” (25) 4%
A Bookseller (21) 3%
An Artist (39) 6%

So there you have it. Phew.

Observations:

We’ll keep it short, as this post is long enough as it is! But we did want to highlight a few trends.

It’s interesting to us that the majority of responders identified themselves as readers – not necessarily bloggers, authors, or professional industry folks. The picture this survey paints, then, is even more interesting as (ostensibly), the results are from the target audience. Our results should be a little more accurate and indicative of at least the online reading community (and not JUST the blogging community). On that note, we also found it very interesting that responders say they buy books online and in stores in roughly equal measure. Also, it’s worth mentioning that most of our responses originated from US residents – and we wonder if UK or other international readers have different spending, reading, and cover association habits.

That said, here are some of our general highlights, observations, and conclusions:

Covers clearly DO matter (a whopping 80% of folks surveyed agreed)

Covers CAN and DO play a role in influencing survey responders’ buying habits, although a large majority of survey takers need a little more to go on than a cover when buying books (which is perhaps not indicative of the “casual reader”).

PRICE seems to be a central determining factor regarding whether or not a reader will purchase a book – especially one with a bad cover. More people won’t pay HC prices for a book with a terrible cover – but they WILL for a MMPB (and they will buy the book despite their distaste for the cover). Imagine then, if a book had a great – or even decent – cover…

“Cover ‘cliches’ sell…just not necessarily to me” – According to the results of this survey, folks literally aren’t buying the whole “similar covers sells!” That is, they personally do not equate a book with a similar cover to a book they have previously read and enjoyed. However, survey responses also indicate that these same readers believe that *others* DO make this association with covers – as noted by the consensus response that readers find cover “cliches” do inspire a sense of familiarity and thus sell.

On Whitewashing – it appears that whitewashed covers do even more damage to a book’s sales, even if it isn’t the author’s fault. A majority of survey takers show they will not buy the book at all – and not because they are bigots and not into books with PoC characters, but because they do not want to show any form of sales support to the publishing house that put out the whitewashed cover.

Cover “cliches” are split down the middle in terms of reader reactions – although 10% more of survey takers think these “cliches” are annoying and bothersome.

And finally, the most interesting result of all (in our opinion) is how READERS perceive of covers. Unlike the cut and dry, “it’s a commercial vehicle for a book, dammit!” outlook, readers that responded to this survey rather see covers as the artistic embodiment of a book and thus should be accurately representative of a book’s genre, tone, and/or characters. This answer took the clear majority at 62%.

Some comments from survey takers:

(These are all anonymous, unless a survey taker provided their information)

One trend we noticed in the comments was that our responses – and again, from predominantly genre-fiction readers – agreed that they buy books DESPITE covers. Good covers are awesome and will help a reader make a decision to buy a book for which they are uncertain, or buying on impulse. On the flip side of that, a bad cover for a book they are excited to read won’t persuade them NOT to buy it – they’ll still buy it, eventually, regardless.

“I love a good cover, a good cover will get me to pick a book up. But a bad cover has never ever kept me from buying a book that I’ve heard good things about. A bad cover will keep me from looking at a book I’ve never heard of, usually. There are a few exceptions, I wish I could recall titles for you, but there have been some covers so bad I just had to read the blurb to see if it was as bad as the cover.”

“If it’s a book that I really want to read, then the cover doesn’t matter. However, where cover matters most for me is for books that I buy on impulse. The blurb is the deciding factor, but the cover is usually the first thing that catches my eye at a bookstore. If I see a cliched cover, all I think is “Oh, it’s another one of THOSE.” and it doesn’t inspire me to pick up the book and read the blurb. The original PB cover of Brandon Sanderson’s “The Final Empire” is what got me to read the blurb and buy it, despite the fact that I was sick to death of epic fantasy at the time. (I’ve since bought all of the Mistborn books in HC, because I hate the current PB covers and the HC ones are so pretty :P)”

“Book covers may not play the biggest role in deciding whether to buy a book, but an attractive cover will make me pick it out from the shelf rather than a visually unattractive book.

It’s not uncommon for me to buy better illustrated hardcover copies of books I already own in paperback version (if I like the books itself, of course).

I’m probably biased due to my artistic/design career, and I don’t expect most people to place the same importance on covers.”

We thought this comment was very interesting – does a shoddy cover mean that a publisher simply doesn’t care as much about that title? It certainly is a valid observation!

“The cover tells me how highly the publisher thought of the book and how much effort they went to to make the book stand out to me, the buyer. If it’s a truly awful cover, I won’t want to buy it unless I’ve actually heard great things about that book. I know that the artistic value of the cover isn’t really connected to the value of the novel, but I will be persuaded to buy a book I’ve never heard of by how much personality the cover has.”

On the other side of the spectrum, there are these keen responses that put less of a premium on covers.

“I pretty much concentrate on the author when making my decision to buy a book. I will always buy books from established authors I like. The second thing I look for is the blurb or description of the novel. I only really consider the cover of the book last (and that’s not a huge consideration). What’s important to me is the story in the book, not the cover. Having said that, books covers do catch my attention, but my decision to buy is always based on the blurb, followed by a brief scan of the first 2 pages of the book. If I’m not hooked in the first two pages, then the book goes back onto the shelf. I can safely say I’ve never bought a books based solely on its cover.”

“I love discussing covers, especially the whitewashing topic a few months ago – covers do matter. However, the survey perplexed me. Do most people really put SO much weight on covers? Covers matter, but ultimately, it’s the story being sold, not the packaging. I can’t imagine ever buying a book at whim *just* because I liked the cover. I will still stand in the store and read 30-50p before purchasing.”

“Whilst this is a fascinating discussion and I do fully support cover discussion (especially when it can do such good things, e.g. stop whitewashing), I can’t help but feel much of it is all fairly academic. I mean, like everything in publishing covers are entirely subjective and what’s one person’s meat is another person’s poison – personally I loathe covers with half-naked guys grabbing women with their clothes falling off. No matter how great the book I think it makes it look cheesy and racy and honestly I’m embarrassed to be seen reading it. But then I have several friends who like those covers because they think they’re pretty, and show it’s going to be a romance novel of the kind they probably enjoy. So if there’s a romance novel with a cliched cover, she’d pick it up and I wouldn’t. If it’s got a new and original cover, I’d go for it and she wouldn’t – either way it’s one sale to the publishers so it’s up to them which way they want to swing it. They can’t please everyone.

Then again, I think if romance books all stopped using cliched covers and went for original exciting things it could do great things for the genre – it might draw in a new audience and encourage the people (like me!) who are currently too embarrassed to buy the cringe-worthy Clinch Of Almight Passion covers.”

On that note, what do survey takers have to say about “cliches”?

“A cover is a great way to get my attention. This is why the “cliched” genre fiction covers work for me. I tells me, “Hey, this is what type of book I am.” Once it has gotten my attention I will read the synopsis and maybe do some more research before buying.

However, if I hear about a great book, or already like the author, a bad cover or cliched cover won’t deter me. It just might not attract my attention in a book store. “

“If I am just browsing in a bookstore, without my trusty little notebook that lists the books my favorite bloggers are forcing me to buy, my attention has to be snagged in some way and that is usually by cover art. Personally, it is not the clinch, the glowing sword, or the mantitty that grabs me but maybe something just as mundane or “cliched” if you will….a beautiful dress worn by a heroine, my favorite color (purple!) utilized heavily, an unusual font. A cover, like any kind of artwork, is very subjective. A cover will get me to at least pick a book up and read the blurb and a paragraph or two. At that point it becomes the author’s job to keep me interested.

It seems to me that cliche is often used as a derogatory term. I don’t always see it that way. A cliche becomes so because of its popularity or worth as a truth: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you can’t always judge a book by its cover, and finally, to each his own.”
~ Amy

“To expand on the last survey question… “Let’s assume that books with “cliched” covers dominate genre fiction sales. Why do you think this is?”

While I am sure these covers do inspire a sense of familiarity, it is hard not to when it seems every other book has a similar cover. I have a hard time believing that just those of us around the online communities for these genres, the vocal minority, are taking issue with cover art these days. It just seems a massive disconnect that I cannot wrap my head around. Basically the argument is akin to saying that we, this tiny island of the informed that would like to see more varied and artistic covers, are surrounded by an ocean of the uninformed, readers who want nothing more than to be served up more helpings of the mediocre.”

“I find classic romance book covers are so terribly tragic that I can’t even read most of them in the comfort of my own home. However, some of those covers are a reflection of the book titles the authors have given them.

Strangely enough, I get a funny sense of “homecoming” when I see urban fantasy covers. More often than not, they reflect what I like about the content. For example, covers with badass women with tattoos, usually have a strong female lead which I feels can inspire me to be a bit stronger, even with my one tiny tattoo :)
Although this note is far from cohesive, the general idea is that I don’t care really what the cover is like (if it’s an author I know of have heard good things of), as long as it isn’t embarrassing to read in public.

I have also been swayed to buy books with great covers however, only if the blurb also interests me also.

Aren’t you glad you read this incomprehensible rant? Have a good night ladies!”

“I regularly browse the fantasy section of bookstores only to walk away empty handed, turned off by the awful covers. Some publishing companies (Orbit and Small Beer, notably) are breaking out of that. Last time I was in the bookstore I picked up three or four books I was interested in, then decided to buy one. When I looked at the info I realized that it was published by Orbit, and when I checked the other books that I’d considered I realized that they were all Orbit. The covers clearly showed that the books were more than your average hero-wizard-dragon fantasy novel, and thus caught my eye. If the cover doesn’t bother to rise above the genre baseline, then it’s unlikely that the novel will. That’s my theory, at least.”

We also received a few interesting comments on the US/UK divide…

“As US and UK editions often have different covers, now that I have more disposible income, I will purchase the book with the cover I like most.

I will not read certain books at work or around other people, solely because of the covers. (eg, Nalini Singh’s books with the naked torsos, romance clinch covers)

If I am uncertain about buying a book, an awesome cover (or otherwise) can sway me, but only if I am on the edge.
madscientistnz (www.itemsofinterest.net)”

“Personally speaking (and to make a sweeping generalisation) I think the difference between cover art for work published in the US and that publishing in the UK is massive. Call it cultural differences if you like, but to compare the cover arts from a large company such as Baen Books with those of some smaller UK companies – Solaris and Abaddon books for example – there is such a huge divide in terms of artist ability.

Don’t ask me why this is (or if it is even true – this is just my understanding and perception) but it definitely puts me off buying imports – I would much rather wait for a UK edition with a better cover.”

“I live in the UK and will sometimes order US versions of books because I prefer the cover or have previously bought the first books in a series when there has been no UK version and I am a bit of a completist.

I must admit that I am quite often drawn to books that have covers that are unusual, for instance Soulless by Gail Carriger, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and quite often this means that I will try a book that based on the blurb I wouldn’t necessarily buy. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The problem when covers all start to look the same is that I find I am put off because I feel that if the cover is too similar then the story may be fairly similar as well.

A good cover should spark interset in a book and be representative of the story within and as a bookseller I am aware that when I choose books to do face outs and reviews I have tendency to choose ones that have interesting and unusual covers as they are more likely to catch peoples attention. Yes we shouldn’t judge a book by a cover but I think that all of us have a bit of magpie in us when it comes to shiny pretty things.”
~ Angelshimmery

And then, we have some excellent responses from Librarian survey takers! (And apologies to the librarians that responded to the survey – we had a huge brainfart and didn’t put in a librarian option in the “You Are…” profiling question. D’oh! But THANK YOU for commenting and sharing with us your perspectives and experiences.)

“As a Librarian, I purchase books for our collection based on reviews, and the cover doesn’t have any bearing on the purchase. However, it’s VERY disappointing when a great-sounding book has a boring (or just plain ugly) cover, especially when it’s a YA book.

Personally speaking, I’m tired of books with headless women (or nearly headless), leather pants, and tattoos. Half the time, the main character doesn’t even have any tattoos!!”

“I’m a School Librarian and have a lot of avid teenaged readers who are very swayed by the cover – my heart breaks when a book I love has an unappealing cover – they will not read it no matter how much I try to push it! To them the initial appearance is even more important than the blurb.”

We also found this interesting – as genre fiction fans, we are very familiar with the problems that epically long series’ can pose for readers. Do you stick with the same cover art for the entire series? What if a better looking edition comes out?

“Its not that i wont buy a book with a cover i dont like because it truly is about the back blurb and weather or not i like the writing style. The cover and title are just what gets my attenion if i’ve never heard of the author before. Now when a cover DOES determine weather or not i buy it is when its part of a series. When i work at owning a whole series i like when the cover formats are the same. For example, say the hardback, paperback, and mass market paperback all have different cover styles and I’ve already bought one style without knowing this. Then when i go to buy the rest of the series i make sure i get all the same style. Even if there is another style i like better. I like when they match as a set on my bookself.”

Of course, then there’s the Embarrassment Factor (the old “hiding the cover whilst reading in public” syndrome)…

“My taste in covers varies greatly. I’m a sucker for good typography, spaceships, and any cover that looks like it was painted by Frank Frazetta or Keith Parkinson. I know they’re out of style now but I still love them. I tend to really dislike covers with heavily-photoshopped photographs on them. The majority of them look very cheesy and in my opinion make the book look like a “beach read”, not a potential classic.

All I ask for in a cover is that if a stranger pulled the book of the shelf I wouldn’t be embarrassed by it.”

“Avoided reading Tinker by Wen Spencer for ages because of the cover. I assumed I wouldn’t like the book when in fact I adored it and have reread Tinker about 8 times at this stage. The cover isn’t so important when I know the author, it doesn’t really even register. But if I’m browsing in the book shop for new authors I find that the cover does play a role in my decision to purchase. Not always a conscious decision but it does effect how I feel about the book. Ciara”

(This comment is pretty near and dear to Thea’s heart as she LOVES Jacqueline Carey too, but similarly didn’t read the series forEVER because of the terrible, embarrassing covers)

“I avoided reading Jacqueline Carey’s “Kushiel’s Dart” series for at least two year because I couldn’t believe that anything good was behind the cliched romance-novel cover illustration. Kudos to whomever wrote the blurbs for that book — that’s what kept drawing me back to it and finally persuaded me to give the series a try. Carey is now one of my favorite authors and I have numerous signed, hardback releases.

Now I’m a little less judgmental with covers, but I still use them as a general rule of thumb: cliched covers are for cliched books. At least use the cliched symbols in a new manner!

Busty women in long dresses and muscular men with swords are especially cliche — just by mentioning them, I bet the genres that sprang to mind were Romance and Fantasy, eh?”

We also heard back from some authors and other publishing/bookselling professionals:

“As an author who understands the lack of control authors have over the final cover, I will never NOT buy a book because of the cover. Conversely, I can love a cover but its what is inside that counts, so if I love the cover and the blurb doesn’t interest me, I won’t buy the book. And lastly, books without back cover blurbs based solely on an author’s name recognition frustrate me. Content still matters!”

“As a graphic designer I feel frustrated that I am quite frequently vetoed by the marketing department (or equivalent, since I’ve not worked for a publisher. Yet!). It’s a tenuous compromise to satisfy my own formalistic interpretation of the content, as well as fulfil the client’s preferences, so in that sense I can understand the reversion to cover clichés; however, I hope though that publishers and marketing departments can be convinced to take the risk in accepting more unique and representative covers of novels. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of hiring the appropriate artist, illustrator or designer who can directly meet the needs of a cover brief (and accurately and innovatively represent the novel as it should be) without the lazy fallback of clichés. Clichés aren’t necessarily bad; I think it would simply be a matter of being selective in how you use them and in what context, so that we’re not all rolling our eyes at seeing the same thing over and over again. It’s a gamble, of course, but the result can simply be magic.

Anyway, thanks for the comprehensive feature on covers! It’s been really insightful.

– Jen (http://twitter.com/dumblydore)”

“As a bookseller, there’s no question about whether or not customers judge books by their covers (and their type and their paper (U.S. much nicer than U.K./Irish paper!)) but what’s almost more important is the spine as that’s the bit that will be seen on the shelf for the majority of the book’s life.
Louisa (Raven Books)”

We also received a ton of great responses from eReaders out there – thank you for sharing with us (another d’oh! moment – we should have had a question about the format of books survey takers read). The consensus seems to be in this case that covers matter a lot less for those purchasing ebooks – which is kind of an interesting (and potentially troublesome!) phenomenon in itself.

“About 10 months ago I switched to reading primarily on an e-reader. Since then, covers have had a much smaller role in the books I read. Before I almost didn’t want to be seen with most UF/PNR or Romance books because of the dreadful covers. Now that I’m reading on an e-reader I’ve read many great books that I would have never picked up in a bookstore because of the terrible cover.”

“About ebooks- can I say I’m totally sad that so few ebooks come with an image of the cover? Because I feel (to steal your words) that covers are an ‘artistic representation’ of the book, I’m always bummed when I don’t get them with the book. I bought the book! Shouldn’t I get a copy of the cover? It makes me feel that covers only serve a marketing purpose to the publishers, and once they have my sale, they can just rip off the cover. That’s a huge difference with how I, the reader, feel. Yet another big miscommunication between the industry and their audience, I guess.”

We also received a few intriguing comments concerning whitewashing. On the impassioned end:

“Also, I think if one is truly against whitewashing, they should put their money where their mouth is. I don’t advocate not buying the author’s book, but rather, make that decision to also purchase a book with a person of color on the cover. Send the message that covers with people of color sell. Let’s make it so youth such as Ari can go into a bookstore and see an aisle truly filled with diversity, and not just relegated to the African American section.”

“While I think that whitewashing is a huge problem and reflects some very disturbing marketing practices, I do not necessarily think it should result in a boycott of the book, the author or even the publisher. Rather, I think that what you all are doing is the best route. Point out the infraction, discuss it, and push the publisher in a public venue to change the cover because whitewashing is unacceptable. New authors generally have little to no say in covers nor do established authors. As such the whitewashing is not so much a reflection of the author as the publishing house. We need to continually point out that we, the readers and consumers, are offended by such covers and object to this way of thinking and marketing. Not buying the books is not enough because that can be construed as being for different reasons. We need to publically state why we aren’t going to buy the book, why we are unhappy with the cover because without that public statement the message isn’t going to get across to the publishing houses that this is an unacceptable practice and that we as consumers are aware of it and it affects our decision to purchase books.”

“Publishers are guilty of hot-washing as often as they are whitewashing; even if the character as written is plain, or even ugly, they’re always hot on the cover, esp. female characters. The closest they ever get to unattractive cover models is Ugly Betty ugly, not real ugly.”

Other perspectives on whitewashing…

“On whitewashing–I think it’s more a matter of carelessness than deliberate malice. Do the artists even read the book in question? If not, and someone gives them a brief summary of the plot, are they going to mention the race of the character? (“It’s about this girl…” or “It’s about this black girl….”?)”

“Frankly, most whitewashed covers would just deter me, just not for the “right” reasons. I don’t read books because I want to make a social statement; I read books to be entertained and I want to identify with the heroine, at least to an extend. And since I’m not exactly thin and my hair is neither blonde nor red, I won’t read certain books because the girl on the cover is the antithesis to how I look (hello there Paranormal Romance covers and your anorexic blonde chicks with tattoos, I won’t buy you), and, what can I say – I’m superficial. So, yeah, I would have preferred the second version of the cover of “Magic Under Glass” but not because the model is black but because she looks more interesting and easier to identify with (for me).”

And then, there’s this comment:

“Covers shouldn’t matter. The same people who are whining that publishers are racists for not putting POC on covers are racists themselves. A book blogger on her letter to Bloomsbury said that she reads many books regardless of the main character’s ethnicity, yet on her review policy she states that she’ll on read books where the MC is not Caucasian. Can you say hypocrite?

Plus, like I wrote earlier, there are far more important things to worry about. There’s world hunger, rape used as torture in Africa, homelessness, child abuse in foster homes, poverty, global warming, etc.”

Well, we can’t end our post like THAT. Here’s a final comment (concerning covers in general) that we truly enjoyed:

“When I’m walking through the Barn (B&N), hunting for a new book because I have stumbled upon 20 bucks, I pick up the covers that check my eye. I take everything into account, the coloring, the cropping, the typeface and placement of the title. These things makes me pick up the book and flip it over to read the blurb. If the blurb is good, I buy or settle in to peak at the first chapter. On more than one occasion I have not bought a highly recommended book because of its cover. I’ll wait for the paperback or hunt for a different printing online.

Books are beautiful. The craft of the story, how words create worlds, even the layout of the text. Why should a gorgeous story be given such a disadvantage by being published with a horrendous cover? Poorly done covers make me think the publishing house didn’t care enough about the story to put for any effort on having an artist construct a fitting advert. It’s all propaganda, baby. SELL me the book. If it looks like it was slapped together in MS Paint, it will not be displayed on my bookshelves.

Just my opinion as an avid reader,
Shannon”

There were so many wonderful, informative comments to sort through, and we wish we could quote you all (well, except for those who explicitly asked not to be quoted!). Our thanks to everyone who took the time to fill our survey, we think the turnout was pretty awesome and we are floored by your support. THANK YOU!

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27 Responses to Cover Matters: The Survey Results

  1. I’m sorry to immediately focus on the negative, but… really?!?

    Plus, like I wrote earlier, there are far more important things to worry about. There’s world hunger, rape used as torture in Africa, homelessness, child abuse in foster homes, poverty, global warming, etc.

    Of COURSE there are far more important things to worry about. Of course all of these things are ‘more important’ than discussing book covers. But this is a blog dedicated to books and book reviews. Why would The Book Smugglers suddenly start discussing world hunger?

    *bemused*

  2. [...] fantastic folks over at The Book Smugglers just posted the results of their cover survey. The results are interesting–to sum up, people do judge books by their covers, although they [...]

  3. katiebabs says:

    Looks like the bookstore just squeaked by in buying over the internet.

    Nice survey ladies. Very educational.

  4. Sharon Bially says:

    Having spent many years in France, I’m fascinated by the cultural differences in perceptions about the importance of covers. Most French books published by the major literary firms such as Gallimard have generic covers with just the title and no design whatsoever. Check out the original French version of the popular book, The Elegance of the Hedgeghog: http://www.amazon.com/Lelegance-H%C3%A9risson-French-Muriel-Barbery/dp/0828860092. (The U.S. version is designed.) I’ve always appreciated this and viewed it as a statement about the importance of, simply, words in literature. After all, does a well-written story really need to aid readers in creating the relevant mental images? Isn’t leaving this entirely up to the imagination one of the beauties of reading as a medium? And to make purchase decisions, why not go right to the first page and start reading? What does it say about our books — and readers — that often, we don’t do this?

  5. Excellent and madly thorough post, ladies!

    Of course the whole thing is bone-chillingly terrifying for a writer, as covers are so, so important… and they are the thing the writer has no control over.

    Forget horror: I’d fight a hungry zombie for a total knockout of a cover…

  6. KMont says:

    Holy information, Batman! I remember the survey being thorough but clearly I had no idea. :D

    I’ll have to come back a few more times to digest it all. In the meantime, good job, friendly neighborhood book smugglers.

  7. Jess says:

    Interesting stats there. (And I’m still squeeing you quoted me!)

    I do have to reply to the commenter who ranted about white-washing not being that important and called the RIC blog a hypocrite. Someone can read anything they want but only choose to review a specific portion for their website. It’s not hypocritical, and that entire comment made my jaw drop. Of course there’s all that other bad stuff in the world, but should you ignore ‘smaller’ wrongs? They aren’t any LESS wrong because they’re small scale and/or don’t affect as many people. … and just scrolled up and saw Kaz’s comment, and YES EVERYTHING SHE SAID.

  8. Ari says:

    I’m with Kaz! Obviously there are more important things to talk about,but this a blog dedicated to books. Plus we book bloggers and readers do step up and help out (hello Operation Teen Book Drop!). As for some certain comments made: No comment. haha

    This was fascinating to read. I never even thought about a bad cover meaning that a publisher doesn’t care, but that makes sense. I can understand how someone could think that. Also, I try not to judge covers too harshly, since authors (usually) don’t get a say in their cover and I feel bad for debut authors.

  9. Linnae says:

    Kudos to you for a great article and a fascinating survey. I am the Committee Chair and website coordinator for the Cover Cafe website. Cover Cafe sponsors an online romance cover contest each year. Often, one person’s favorite romance cover is another person’s pet peeve. We have a committee of 25 volunteers that vote on nominated covers all year long and we seldom agree 100% on any cover.

    BTW – Our annual online contest for romance covers published in 2009 is open for public voting from April 28th through May 28th, 2010.

  10. Courtney says:

    Congrats on a wonderful survey that possesses a tremendous amount of data to be mined. From my position as a former librarian….I can say covers DO matter and very much. It is one of the hardest selling points in reader’s advisory to get a patron to take a book with an unattractive cover no matter how great the story may be especially with children and reluctant readers!

  11. Jay says:

    This was a really interesting read. Thanks for putting it all together.

  12. I just had to comment on this post. This was done very nicely. I really liked all the survey questions.

    I have to agree I love my covers. First the cover, particularly if I have not heard of the book, catch my eye to make me pick it up and read the synopsis. Now, they got the book in my hand. I will flip through it and read a short paragraph or two or even the first page to see if it will catch my attention. Sometimes I am tempted at that moment, other times I will come home and think on it even look up the author and book on line – Check out the authors site. Sometimes I go back not to long later and purchase the book.

    I think covers help with the story as well. I love when they relate to the story. When I can connect things in the cover to the story, I like doing that.

    Great post!

  13. [...] in The Book Smugglers survey on book covers and they now present to us the results of the ‘cover matters’ survey with some very interesting results and [...]

  14. [...] The Book Smugglers have a new monthly feature called Cover Matters. In this month’s post, they interview fantasy writer Celine Kiernan about her covers. They also posted the results of their survey on how much covers matter to readers. [...]

  15. alana says:

    That racist comment is so freggin ridiculous I’m not even gonna touch it. (Seriously? Way to miss the point random person on the interwebs.)

    Beside that though this post was really interesting. I’m actually surprised people were swayed by covers as much as they were. For me it’s something I consider a bonus, but not necessary. Of course, I get most of my books from the library.

  16. Peta says:

    Great post and I’m glad you got so many responses. Rather topically, I have just stumbled upon Good Show Sir which is a blog showcasing some pretty awful examples of Sci-Fi and Fantasy covers. Some so bad I almost want them but others are just mind-boggling…

  17. [...] Cover Matters: The Survey Results — The Book Smugglers (Publishing, Book, Cover, Survey, Resul… [...]

  18. [...] Book Covers Matter: a survey from The Book Smugglers. As I found out recently to my surprise, the cover of a book matters. Oh, I’ve always known I get turned off pretty easily by an ugly cover. Even if the synopsis sounds interesting, if the cover is ugly my interest can wane pretty quickly (I guess I’m just that shallow…how sad). I was intrigued to find that other book-lovers had shared my experiences. Now, I don’t buy books very often (starving student here!) so I can’t say having a bad cover would make me not want to purchase them exactly. However, I have definitely been known to pay extra for a copy that looks pretty, and I recently was very disappointed that the only version of The Angel’s Cut they have at our library looks, well, like a fat, chunky kids book with the font to match, which makes the experience of reading it nowhere near as enthralling as it quite possibly could have been. So, yeah. Check out the results of The Book Smugglers’ survey – it’s really intriguing! [...]

  19. Megan says:

    Oh, this is such an interesting/great post!

    I buy a lot of books but when I do, it’s usually a book I’ve already read. I tend to read things first either from the library or borrowing from a friend. So when I purchase a book, it’s either one I know I love, or if I haven’t read it, it’s the next in a series/by an author whose work I already know. So, covers DO make a difference to me. Since I’ve often already read the books already, owning a copy has two purposes – I have a copy to re-read and lend out, but mostly it’s because I’m saying “hey, I love this book enough to own it and display it on my shelf.” Some of my favorite books I don’t even own because there isn’t a version that wow’d me.

    A couple of months ago, I bought a bunch of sci-fi classics for my fiancé. I spend days digging around amazon, trying to find the coolest versions with the best covers. Some of the currently published versions were so hideous (here’s one example – I literally could NOT justify spending money on THAT.)
    That said, publishers should always put effort into their covers. There’s no reason not to improve upon covers, lest people prefer to buy an used version/cover (which won’t make them money).

    One trend I’ve noticed that I really love, is publishers re-releasing replicas of first edition (or other popular) covers (the best example I can think of off the top of my head would be The Hobbit) It’s a smart move because there’s a nostalgia factor and people who buy books for aesthetics love it as well.

  20. [...] my quest for answers, I perused a cover survey conducted by The Book Smugglers. It, uh, uncovered a few interesting points: According to the [...]

  21. [...] Book Smugglers gathered some poll data and dug deep into the way we relate to book covers, and how they can influence our purchasing and [...]

  22. [...] I am making a mountain out of a back tattoo? Then check out the Book Smuggler’s Survey. When asked what they thought of the state of genre covers right now, 19% thought they were [...]

  23. [...] and over and over again. Since we get such an interesting range of opinions, we decide to have a survey about covers and whether or not they play a decisive role in book purchases; and the results are [...]

  24. [...] and over and over again. Since we get such an interesting range of opinions, we decide to have a survey about covers and whether or not they play a decisive role in book purchases; and the results are [...]

  25. J S says:

    As a reader, I remember a few series of books I got started with purely on the cover art. And I remember being disappointed with a couple of books where the art didn’t end up having anything to do with the inside material.

    Now as an author, I know the cover art is extremely important to get the casual reader to ‘pick up the book’ or rather ‘click on the link’ so the copy can keep their attention. There are tradeoffs on what artwork you can get and then there are the infinite opinions on what art is good art for that cover. In the end .. does the art portray the material? And does it create a little bit of it’s own story, it’s own intrigue, to capture reader? That is the challenge. Of course, there are now the Book Trailers:

    The Black Jewel

    .

  26. [...] 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 [...]

  27. […] in the final decision about buying a book. (Great info about covers from The Book Smugglers. Click here to read about the survey and all the […]

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