Judging a Book by its Cover(s)

I’ve never before received an e-mail that had someone else’s entire blog post copied and pasted, followed by the words, “What do you think?”

So go read the post and all the comments over on Six LDS Writers and A Frog, then come back here for my opinion.


As a reader and book buyer, I have never purchased multiple copies of a book just to get a variety of covers. I have, however, purchased new copies of books when a cooler cover came out. For example, I had the whole set of The Chronicles of Narnia, purchased about 20 years ago. When the movie came out, the market was flooded with reprints, all with new covers. I bought the trade copy with all seven books in one and the picture of the Snow Queen on the front. Did I “need” new copies? No. But the cover was really cool.

Also, as a reader and book buyer, I have browsed books on the shelf, picked them up, then put them back–only to see the same book on a different shelf with a different cover, picked it up for a second look, and bought it. Because the cover was more appealing and enticing to me. You’d think, being in the business and all, I would know better than to select or reject a book based on its cover. But I don’t. I’m just like everyone else–easily seduced by a pretty picture.

As a publisher, there are reasons that justify multiple covers–all of them to do with marketing. Multiple covers are especially good for books that are genre or age cross-overs, like the Harry Potter books. Because they appeal to both children and adults, having a separate cover to target each age group is a good idea. How many adults want to be caught engrossed in a book with little kids on the cover? Okay, bad example. As proved in the U.S., where we only have one cover and no one cares. But you get the idea.

It’s also a good idea with classics and blockbusters, like aforementioned Chronicles of Narnia. You know you’re going to sell a lot of them, so the cost of multiple covers isn’t a big deal. You do a cover that appeals to different types of people to seduce (there’s that word again) them into purchasing a copy. You want to make the book as irresistible as possible to as many people as possible.

Another time for new covers is when a book has been out for awhile and you’re doing a reprint–especially if there is any significant revision of the book (common in nonfiction, not in fiction). Cover art, fonts, and layout go in and out of style. If a book has been around for ten years or longer, you might want to do a new cover to update it and give sales a new shot. We’ve done that with books before. And yes, people will buy a replacement book with the new cover.

We always test market our book covers. Recently we did a book cover in pink, yellow and blue. No one liked the yellow, but the blue only had a small margin over the pink. If we’d expected to sell 50,000 copies, we might have considered doing a cover in both colors, but since we only expected to sell 5,000, we went with the blue. It wasn’t the cost of the multiple covers (which isn’t that big a deal), it’s just that having multiple covers in a small market seems a little silly.

Now for the anti-multiple covers argument. In a small market, like the LDS market, your book cover is part of your branding of the book. Brands are important. They provide instant identification, which you want. If an author has multiple books, particularly if they are in a series, you want to extend that brand as much as you can. A good national example is Danielle Steele. You don’t have to read a thing on her books to recognize the cover as one of hers. Good LDS examples are Heather Moore’s Out of Jerusalem series and the Work and the Glory series (both sets of covers). The cover designs are part of the branding of the series. A bad example of this is Robison Wells’ Wake Me When It’s Over and The Counterfeit. (Sorry, Rob. What was with the cover of that first one, anyway?) You can’t tell by a quick glance that these two books have anything to do with each other; or even that they’re by the same author. In my opinion, that was a mistake–or at the very least, it didn’t optimize the added sales potential of branding.

You want your books to stand out, to be unique, yet very recognizable to your rabid fans. You also don’t want to have readers re-purchase the same book by accident. (How many of you think OSC’s Woman of Destiny and Saints are two different books?) So in our market, the only time I’d do multiple covers is if the book has been around awhile and needs updating for some reason (like the Work & the Glory). Or possibly, if I did both a hardback and a paperback release–but even then, I’d keep the covers similar enough that you could tell it was the same book.

So who wants to argue with me?


Just a bit of this and that.

Keith/Attending LDSBA: Usually, individuals cannot come to the LDSBA convention. Some publishers schedule book signings during the convention and provide name badges for the authors, but usually only those who have a new book the publisher wants to promote. You can purchase a name badge at the door for $25, but this is NOT the time to be talking to publishers. They are busy promoting authors they already have and selling their books to the bookstore buyers. They will not have time to talk to prospective authors. If you come, plan to walk the aisles with your hands firmly in your pockets and your lips sealed. You can observe, but don’t interfere.

Jannette/Book Covers: I’ve seen some really bad covers too. The one that really sticks out to me is one where the heroine of the book is in her 40s, but the woman on the cover could not possibly more than 25. Geez, did the publisher/illustrator even read the book?

Incognito at convention: No rose wearing for me. I have allergies. I understand that this is particularly unfair because I know who most of you are, recognizing you from your books or your posts which have photos. Sorry about that, but life is full of unfair circumstances.

LatterdayAuthors.com: I love(d) this site. I’ve recommended it multiple times here. I think it is a huge support to authors. Unfortunately, if any of you have clicked that link lately, you will have gotten an error message. You can read an explanation for that here.

Guest blogging: PLEASE send more. Please, please, please. Also, please copy and paste your guest blog within the body of the e-mail. Do not send it as an attachment. Since my computer crash several months ago, I’ve become very paranoid about viruses.

I’m Not Testy; I Have a Positive Self Image

Found in the comments section of yesterday’s post. I moved it here because a lot of people do not read comments and he has a legit concern, complaint. A lot of first time authors ask these kinds of questions. (Although most of them do not call me “testy” or refer to my treatment of their ideas as bull-dozerish.)

Why is that editors get so testy when an author dares to tread upon their creative world and suggest a cover design or a title, but they drive their bulldozers all over the author’s creative world like so much ado about nothing. I know. Covers are what they pay your for. Editing is what they pay you for. But for heaven’s sakes, will there ever be an editor humble enough to recognize that an author just may have a good sense about a cover that will market their book well. Or that an author just may have a better title than the marketing guys across the hall. Probably not!


When I went back to the comments to copy and paste them, I discovered that Robison Wells had answered the question—and he is dead on. Here is Rob’s reply.

Anonymous, I like to compare it to royalties. There’s a reason that authors only get 5-15% of a book’s cost: it’s because the author is only one piece of a very large puzzle. It’s a vital piece, certainly, but it’s still only one piece.

If an author has as much good marketing sense as you stated–if they know that their title/cover/marketing ideas are great–then why not just self-publish? Richard Paul Evans is the perfect example: he was a professional marketer, and he’s made gobs of money.

Besides, most publishers are very willing to discuss titles and covers (though they’ll almost all maintain veto power), but they don’t want to look at those ideas during the submission process. You, as the author, are asking them to make a very big investment in you; the least you could do is show a little professionalism and respect submission guidelines. There will be PLENTY of time to discuss titles and covers and illustrations once your book is accepted.

I would add a few things, based on my 26 years in the industry as a professional (I just love that word) editor and/or publisher:

  1. If you submit a good title, we will keep it! We kept the author’s original titles on the last two books we published. Others titles I tweak by one or two words. Sometimes I’ll reject the original title, but have the author send me a list of alternates. Usually I can blend that into something really good that the author is happy with. But creating titles that sell and writing a story are two entirely different skill sets and some are just really, really bad.
  2. I have never, in 26 years, seen a book cover created by an author and sent with the manuscript submission that was anywhere close to usable. They are usually way too dark, use clip art and dated fonts, and don’t have an appropriate balance to the design. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, or you don’t know why these would be a problem, then don’t try to make your own cover.
  3. I have, a couple of times, had an author who was also a graphic artist. After their books were accepted, they very professionally asked if I would take a look at their ideas. Of course I did. These two covers were wonderful. One we kept exactly as it was. The other we had to tweak a little to fit in the bar code. The point is, they approached me about it after acceptance.
  4. The publisher always retains veto rights. As Rob said, if I am going to invest thousands of dollars in you and your book, I need to control that investment in the way that my experience tells me works best. If title and cover art are deal breakers for you, then by all means, self-publish.
  5. You’re assuming that the author will not like my title/cover art better than what they’ve created. Most of our authors love what we do with their books—even if we don’t use any of their suggestions.
  6. I never, ever bulldoze my authors’ creative world. I’m not investing in a one book deal. I want this to be an ongoing relationship. I want my authors to be happy. At the same time, I am not going to let an author sink a book due to personal preferences. We test our titles and book cover designs on our target market and run them past at least a dozen design, marketing and publishing professionals before we finalize something.
  7. And one last comment: You, as an author, have to invest a certain level of trust in your publisher. You have to believe they know what they’re doing, that they will make decisions based on what is best for your book, that they are current on what is hot in the market, and that their years of experience are more valuable than yours. If you don’t trust your publisher enough to title your book or design your cover, then you’re with the wrong publisher.

Have I answered your questions?