Judge a Book by its Cover.

Though I don’t do so very often, I’m going to take today to do a wee little bit of ranting. Because, you know what? I judge a book by its cover. I know, I know, we hear it said that we should never judge a book by its cover, and, in quite a few instances, this is true. It’s not entirely fair to always judge a person based on appearances, but, you’ve got admit, sometimes, the judgement is right on the mark. And while traditionally published books may sometimes suffer from a disconnect between what is depicted on the cover and what is printed inside, more often than not, I’ve found they tend to be fairly harmonious. Traditionally published authors get the excuse that they don’t always have a choice in the cover art.


Wheel of Time: Lords of Chaos. Some notoriously bad traditionally published cover art. Sorry, Darrell K. Sweet…but it’s true.

Independent authors, however, have absolutely no excuse for producing a bad cover.

This post has been festering inside of me for a while, and it was sparked when I was checking out an independent publisher’s website and simply could not get over how poor the quality of the covers were. I tried to get over it, I really did, but I could not. They were just so offensive to my eyes…and, if we get right down to it, offensive to my head as well, if I was expected to be impressed by these covers and urged to think, ‘Now this is a company I’m interested in being a part of!’ I’d rather not think about all the author’s websites I’ve been to, as well, that have poorly crafted banners of their works, their already iffy cover art stretched and blown up to horrifically pixelated sizes that make me question their judgement if they honestly think it looks good. I feel bad; I feel like kind of a pompous ass, actually. But then I think about it a little bit, and I just get kind of mad.

Having a bad cover, to me, is like showing up for a job interview in holey jeans and a dirty t-shirt. It’s our first impression of you; do you really want it to make us recoil, be it in disgust or in the attempt to suppress giggles? Now, if you’re traditionally published, sometimes you’ve got to wear the suit that the company gives you, and there’s nothing you can do to help it, but as independent authors, we have the choice. Why are we choosing mediocrity? Why aren’t we taking that extra step to be as obsessed about our covers as we are our editing?

I’m definitely not suggesting that my cover is perfect, it isn’t. I’d even say that it looks more amateur than it does professional, but I feel that has to do more with the style than anything, and it is exactly the style I wanted. But there’s no denying that it’s well done. It is the only part of the books production I spent money on, and I feel it was money well spent. I gave the task to a friend of mine who I knew could create something unique, original, and pleasing to look at, since she works professionally in this field. It could be entirely possible that I’m delusional, like some of these other indies, and the cover doesn’t look nearly as great as I think it does, but I’m willing to hedge my bets on the fact that it’s appealing and whimsical, just like the book itself.

Thankfully, for every bad ebook cover out there, there’s at least one completely phenomenal one out there, too. Do yourself a favor. Spend the extra effort to make sure your cover is a good one. Be mindful of how your cover might look when stretched out across a banner…if you’re stretching your covers across banners, don’t. It looks awful and diminishes your credibility. Take the time to fix it into a more appealing banner, even if it means getting someone else to do it for you. This is especially true for publishers: how are you going to appeal to new authors if you’re making your current authors look bad?

Your work is probably amazing. Don’t let it sequester away behind a bad book cover. Because, as much as they tell me not to, I probably will judge a book by its cover, and I suspect others will do the same. Is anyone else with me on this? Will a bad cover make or break your decision about checking a book out? Do you believe in the importance of a good cover, or do you think indie authors can be given a little bit of leeway in quality? Am I just being a bitter cover Nazi?

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8 thoughts on “Judge a Book by its Cover.

  1. I think you are spot on! I’m not saying this just because I design book covers either. I really think a cover should be well done. That’s what catches the reader’s eye first to even make them pick up or click on the book to start with before they even read the title or the blurb. That’s coming from a reader’s point of view.

    You have to market your book and the cover is part of that marketing. Look at how companies advertise their products on the television. Pay attention to those that really catch your eye. What’s special about them. Look at movie posters. Which ones catch your eye? Your books need to marketed the same way.

    And if you are an indie author yes, you do have more control over your book cover. You are communicating with your cover artist so let them know what you like and don’t like about the cover they have created. They shouldn’t get upset about changes because after all it’s your book it should be how you want it. Of course you need to listen to you cover artist as well because they may have some good ideas for your cover that you haven’t thought of as well. You could be pleasantly surprised. Tell them your idea of what you are looking for on your cover and then let them create a couple of ideas for you to look at.

    A good cover doesn’t have to be expensive either. There are lots of cover artists out there that are good that don’t charge an arm and a leg. Look for them. They are there. 😉

    Sorry for the long comment but this is something I feel strongly about. Indie authors get a bad enough reputation still without their book covers making it worse.

    1. “Indie authors get a bad enough reputation still without their book covers making it worse.

      I think that right there is what really set this off in me, especially seeing it on an indie publisher’s site. As a publisher, they should be striving to avoid bad production and really working to elevate the form, not diminish it.

      It’s good to have a cover artist’s input on the subject, too. Thanks, Anya! I’ll bet you probably get that “Aarrrrg, I could have done so much better!” feeling even more than I do when you look at awful covers. ; )

  2. I think the issue might just be skills and education. In traditional publishing sometimes the covers are god-awful (current trends for YA covers make me cringe) but at least, even if the author doesn’t get any control, the covers are designed and created by professionals in the fields of graphics and illustration. I think a poor book cover absolutely reflects badly on an indie book, but someone trained only in writing just may not have the skills to recognize a poor cover—the same way independent artists working on their own comics may not have the skills to recognize stilted dialogue. These disconnects are what makes an indie project appear unprofessional, and I definitely agree that if a creator wants to be taken seriously, they need to do whatever it takes to get a cover for their book that represents the quality of its writing.

    1. I was trying to think of it from that perspective, too, LadyGrave, but, I have to admit, it’s hard for me to fathom that someone couldn’t look at these things and realize that they don’t look good. Then again, I’m an artist as well as a writer, so it’s probably just difficult for me to remove that part of my brain when I’m viewing things….just like how I can’t turn off my inner editor when I read a bad book.

  3. I think a bad book cover can put you off reading a book, or it can me anyway. Ok or great covers don’t necessarily make me read a book, but it means I’m not thinking about it, and I’m thinking about what is in the book itself.

  4. I’ve noticed that alot of Indie authors seem to find it necessary to overlay twenty images so that every plot line and character is included somewhere on the cover. I think sometimes they need to remember that less is more. Ignoring the quality of content in these books most of the best selling series of the past few years – Fifty shades, Twilight, Hunger Games – all had very simply covers.

    As you said, there is no excuse for pixelation, or poorly blended images – quality covers can be produced professionally for a very small expense, i think the money is worth it.

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