Covering the Subject #bookcovers #choosingbooks @mishaherwin @corrineLeith @saladoth @razumova

Picture1There is an unending debate about the effect of cover art on the choices people make when book-buying.

Except where a book is specifically recommended to me, or is by a writer I admire, I generally stand in the ‘cover first’ camp on the presumption that no matter how fabulous the content may be, a publication first needs to catch the buyer’s eye. And that is the job of cover art and design.

Having worked in DTP, I always look at how the book cover designs are put together; I want to see what types of cover are currently being used to promote titles, to encourage the book buyer. Browsing, whether on a traditional bookseller’s shelf or via Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc, I am presented with hundreds of books that (especially on social media) vie daily for my attention, so without a specific title or writer in mind the first thing to attract me will always be a quality piece of cover art.

Naturally what I consider fabulous may not attract the next person because all art – written or otherwise – is subjective. For me there are certain turn-offs that can’t be denied – and I don’t just mean poor quality artwork. I also allude to the cliché ‘woman in a red/blue coat’ and/or ‘desolate stone cottage’ images. I know I am not alone in rapidly bypassing books with these covers. When one reads six plus titles in a week those generic, content-signalling, covers take on all the lesser advertising qualities of woodchip wallpaper.

When buying my next read I generally adhere to a system of:

  1. look at the cover
  2. read the blurb
  3. sample the first page – even if those books come into the three for £5 book deal (we all know the shop!).

Last week I threw caution to the wind and bought a trio of books without going through that three-step mantra. My main (poor) excuse being that I was in a hurry, and yes I could have just bought the one book that captured my attention; but call it weakness or just plain greed, I couldn’t resist that notion of ‘bargain books’!

I shan’t name the books in question because as a writer I would be mortified were it my baby critiqued for what is often beyond the author’s control, but here are my views.

ARMED FORCES SALUTES 03Book one: the culprit that enticed me into this ‘madness’ in the first place.  I’m currently researching the WRNS in the WW2 era and wanted to see how other writers have dealt with the subject and  so the cover caught my imagination as a result. The cover in question is dominated by the central female characters superimposed against the story’s location, a style typical of historical romances. (Romances are generally out of my comfort zone but it’s never a bad notion to stray now and then.)  The two design elements (three Wrens and remote harbour circa 1940) appear to be separate stock images and I suspect few people would notice the joins. I did note that one of those Wrens is saluting with the wrong hand, and with fingers touching her cap – not at eye level as per Royal Naval regs. With a grandfather, father and elder brother in the Royal Navy, I could imagine what their comments would have been. Yes, I’m nit-picking. But the cover, while not outstanding, works within its remit; it did, after all, draw my eye to its core subjects.

Book two: I grabbed this one simply because it was by an author I’d read before and the cover more-or-less telegraphed what to expect. As with book one, it uses stock images; in this case a ‘village street’ and a ‘rider and horse’. It got me at ‘horse’ as I’m always a sucker for anything equine! What makes it a poor cover, in my humble estimation? At the risk of getting technical, the saturation and image densities are poorly matched and, despite a blue sky, there is a total lack of the shadows that lend dimension to outdoor images. The horse rider’s head is also level with an upper storey window without any nod to perspective or proportion – horses are big, but not that big! Had I not read other books by this author, I might have been put off by such clumsy graphics.  Other books from the same publisher don’t appear to have the same issues, so perhaps just an aberration on their part.

Book three: has one of those generic ‘desolate country cottage’ photo covers. Here, at least a single image is used, which removes the need for image manipulation. The writer is one whom I’ve heard praised in various book groups, but had yet to read, so I cast a rapid eye over the blurb (remember, I was in a hurry) and thought that at that price it was worth a punt for my third choice. Once home it only took me a couple of chapters to realise it was not to my taste and I’ve set it aside unfinished for the charity shop run. It was not the cover that persuaded me to buy it but the power of reviews. Now I’ve done my share of reviewing, both professionally and via Goodreads/Amazon  etc, and recognise their importance but in this case that word-of-mouth route failed me. C’est la vie.

Conclusions:

  1. The use of stock images are said to be a marketing shorthand but frequently make this reader’s job of selecting books a great deal harder.
  2. Blurbs can be very misleading.
  3. Recommendations are not always the best guide if the recommender(s) have vastly differing tastes to you as a reader.

I will always be happy to take the plunge into the unknown when buying books because it’s good to try things outside of my usual sphere, and I know I shall continue to be delighted or disappointed by them as the case may be; but beautiful covers will always be the first thing to attract my attention.

Ideally though, I shall remind myself never buy books in a hurry.

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