Yes, I Do Judge Books By Their Covers

Apparently, I have strong opinions about self-pubbed book covers.  I should start a business: five bucks, and I’ll tell you why your cover sucks.

Just to be clear: I have absolutely no expertise.  I am writing this post as a voracious consumer of books, and someone who checks the top twenty or so free kindle books every day to see if there’s anything worth downloading.

Usually there isn’t.  And nine times out of ten, I can tell just by looking at the covers.  The tiny, inch-high covers.  It’s not necessarily the artwork, either.  Sure, it’s pretty easy to tell when there’s a badly photoshopped image, but more often than not, the killer is the font.

Yes, you heard me.

Standard Microsoft Word fonts, too large or too small, in the wrong color, unartfully placed (that’s a word, right?).  On the I Should Be Writing podcast (#206), John Picacio talks about the balance between the type and the picture.  It’s not an exact science, but when the words just don’t seem to mesh with the image, it’s almost always an amateur cover—which, these days, often means an amateur writer as well.

I understand the appeal of doing it all yourself, not paying anyone for anything up front, but unless you’re an artist, you’re probably not doing yourself any favors (and let’s not even get into having your self-pubbed book edited).  Still, there’s blatantly amateur, and there’s subtly amateur.  I know nothing on the artwork front, but you can get some great free fonts at  Spend a little time and effort to get the type right.

I also recommend studying professional covers in your chosen genre to see what works.  A cover’s job isn’t to show you specifically what a book is about.  Its job is to help readers identify whether it’s the type of book they enjoy.  Usually, that means conforming to genre norms.  Somebody’s going to have a lot of disappointed readers if they put a scantily-clad couple on the cover of their detective novel, even if there is a romantic sub-plot.

You know what?  I’m going to save myself a couple thousand words, and just leave these here.

Gone GirlSound of Blood
I haven’t read either of these books.  I haven’t even read the cover copy.  I found one on the kindle bestseller list, the other on the kindle free bestseller list.  I chose them because they were similar, and simple enough that an amateur might have a prayer at DIY.

What it all comes down to is this: the cover is your potential readers’ first impression.  If you just slap it together, it shows, and I don’t think I’m the only one who judges those covers, and decides the insides might be just as hastily slapped together.