Book Covers: How Important are They?

Some of these covers are good, some really turn me off.

What makes a good book cover? Everyone has an opinion.

What do I think is a good cover? Clean design, large font that is easily read, something interesting that captures my attention. The color red is eye-catching, and I try to use it whenever I can.

I don’t like writhing torsos or headless, shirtless male models. I’m not fond of faces, either, the reason being that “attractive” is subjective. What you may think is spank bank material, I may overlook as a complete yawn.

Putting a face on your cover carries with it a risk that the reader may not like the model’s looks. If that’s the case, they’ll move on to the next book/cover.

Study mainstream covers. They usually don’t offer half-naked models rolling around against a collage of sky and ground or city skyline. I think these weaken our genre tremendously. Meant to indicate there is a plethora of sex scenes inside, the m/m industry is offering narrow choices to readers at a time we should be breaking boundaries, stretching out, moving into mainstream.

I’ve been as guilty as others in putting half-naked covers on my self-published books, but I’ve put my foot down, too. The original model forΒ Blue River was naked. I made them put a shirt on him.Β Phoenix Rising has a flaming bird on the cover because I worked with the artist to put it there.

The original Precog covers were of Tarot cards with nary a man in sight. Following the advice of friends, I changed them out for flesh, expecting an increase in sales.

Didn’t happen, so I’m back to my original idea of using covers that appeal to me and not following current trends.Β TransgressionΒ has no nudity at all, and I love the cover because it offers a glimpse of what’s inside.

Covers can make or break some books, so choose wisely, and if that means following your own path, do it! What do you have to lose?

What do you think makes a good cover?


About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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24 Responses to Book Covers: How Important are They?

  1. wulfginn says:

    And I was going to ask your opinion on a cover, guess this states it clear. πŸ™‚ But I agree, half naked men is becoming a cliche on M/M book covers, the cover should tell the story but at the same time show the heart of the novel as well as the feel e.g if its dark the cover should give you the sens that its a dark novel. but at the same time it should also capture the readers attention, the same can be said for novel titles.

    • Book titles are very important. Someone once posted a review of a book that sounded interesting, but the title was long and made no sense, so how could anyone remember it? Short and to the point is best: Jurassic Park, Twilight, Oliver Twist. More than four words, and you risk no one remembering what it’s called. πŸ™‚

  2. Karen H. says:

    This is just my humble opinion as a consumer of books, many, many books. I love looking not just buying but the first thing I look at after the author’s name (if it’s an author I like, I’ll stop and look no matter how bad the cover) is the cover and if a cover doesn’t grab my attention I’m moving on, there are just too many books out there to spend time dawdling over ones that don’t appeal from the get go, but it doesn’t mean I won’t go back and revisit. Perfect example Theo is, ok here’s confession time, I read your book Phoenix Rising first because the cover really appealed to me so I took the time to read the blurb that tells me a bit about the story, liked what I read bought the book but it was the cover that made me stop and look and I was thrilled that I did so much so that I went back and looked at your other books and that was when I bought your Precog in Peril series, looked past the lovely male torsos and read the blurb and realized that I was missing out on a good story.

    Ditto on the book titles, not that I won’t read a book with a long title, just less likely to remember it to tell my friends the title of the awesome book that I just read and think they should check out.

  3. valjo44 says:

    If it’s an author I love the cover isn’t as important because I already know that (usually) I’ll like the story. If it’s someone I’ve never read before the cover is more important. I find I’m more likely to check out a book further based on the cover. Case in point, lavender rope. πŸ™‚ That rope lead to all kinds of new and exciting books. After the cover I want a title that’s short and descriptive of the story.
    On the other hand there are some books I would rather have a nice blank cover on so I can read them out in public without strange looks being directed my way. One of the pluses of reading off a kindle or iPad, no exposed covers.

  4. suze294 says:

    It must be really difficult getting it right. i really liked the original Precog covers with the tarot cards – said more to me about the story I might expect.
    I dont mind headless shirtless torso’s but they dont ‘sell’ a book to me. I want the cover to be a bit intriguing, bit mysterious and a torso doesnt generally do that.
    I generally buy JL Merrow’s books anyway (British author and all that!!) but her covers are usually fairly simple with(clothed) models on their own with often a quirky expression. And the issue I know you’ve had in the post about a generic cover for lots of stories will normally put me off.
    I hadnt thought about the red issue before, but having looked at a few books just now, it does seem to catch your eye – or perhaps I was just looking for it!

    • I’m hoping more readers become pickier about what they buy, so it will force publishers to put out a higher quality product, both cover and book. I keep hearing how bored everyone is with the same old thing, but those books still sell in impressive numbers.

  5. ameliabishop says:

    I agree with you about the half-naked guys….sort of. I’ve used them on my more “erotic-romance” titles, and I think they were appropriate there. For the not-quite-so-erotic romances I didn’t use them, at first. But after some experimentation and market research I have concluded that half naked men sell books. Or rather, naked half men (usually there’s just a torso, or a back). Clothed men sell books too, if they’re kissing.

    The ones I changed to naked half men did well with the change, sales wise, but I was happier with the original covers. Maybe someday I will be able to sell books on the power of my name alone, and use whatever covers I love the best? LOL….a girl can dream πŸ™‚

    • Some publishers are starting to use what I consider more mainstream covers, i.e., no naked writhing men on them. I hope this indicates a change in how they want their books perceived.

      You’re right about nudity: if I see naked, I tend to pass it by because I’m tired of reading sad old sex scenes that have been done a million times before. I’m not interested in reading erotica. If I want to be aroused, I watch porn. πŸ™‚

      I buy books for the story and characters, and if sex is part of their lives, that’s okay, but I do not want to read sex scene after sex scene, tied together with a flimsy plot.

      Perhaps the naked covers are doing me a service, in that they indicate graphic sex is in the book and may be the point of it, rather than the story.

      One book I read recently that had plenty of sex but no nudity on the cover was Gulliver Takes Manhattan, and in that book, the sex worked beautifully. It was part of their lives, not the point of them, and the author knew how much to reveal and when to move the hell on. So many sex scenes I read in m/m books seem like fantasies written by authors who aren’t getting enough. πŸ˜‰

      • ameliabishop says:

        Interesting. Well then, I will continue to put half naked men on my covers. I wouldn’t want to pretend my books have a plot, or any substance!

        • In the movie “Working Girl,” Melanie Griffith tells her friend after getting her hair cut and styled, “If you want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair.”

          When m/m started out, those collage book covers with headless naked men were common and accepted. They weren’t generally an indication of what was inside other than lots of sex scenes. But our industry needs to grow, and I think better covers are important. Not everyone shares my opinion, and that’s fine.

  6. Judy says:

    You’re only stuck with me because of one very beautiful, stunning cover. It was enticing enough I strayed from my usual reading habit and tried something completely unfamiliar to me. I was so lucky. But I have to agree with Karen, once I’ve come to like an author the cover is less important and I focus more on the blurb / the reviews. With one exception : if the cover is loveless, cheesy, looks cheap (clothed model or halfnaked one doesn’t really matter) I move on. That’s probably not fair, cause I don’t know how much say the author had, if he offered an opinion at all or just left it to the publisher / cover artist. I just wonder : if you put so much work into your book, don’t you want it to look inviting as well? Call out to a potential reader? Some books really do, they stand out, but I figure it can be quite a challenge.

  7. Which cover would that be? I’m curious. πŸ™‚

  8. CaryLory says:

    The cover draws me to the book. I will not even consider reading some books because the cover turns me off. The shaved male chest and abs plus the shoulder and sleeve tats has been done–move on cover artists.
    Safeword is one of the hot covers. Hot guys are still good but I will not buy a book w/a chick in the long flowing dress. Usually a chick on the cover turns me off unless it is so provocative I cannot resist– very rare. The clean cute smiling guys are a turn off too.
    ‘Into this river I drown’ cover is prefect too. I want to read edgier stories so the cover gets me to read the reviews.

    • The frolicking half-nude male covers do tend to give one the idea that the story is without substance, pure fluff, something to read and immediately forget.

      I love that title: Into This River I Drown. It’s five words and a touch too long, but just saying it is glorious. πŸ™‚

  9. A.M.B. says:

    I agree that a clear design with large font is best. There are way too many examples of unreadable titles (for example, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” and “Building Stories”:

    • Some of those I liked, some I didn’t. The one you mentioned with the wavy text was annoying, and I’ve never liked Rowling’s cover for that book.

      Sometimes “fun” fonts make you misread a title, too. A recent book title contained the word “fae,” but the font was so awful, it looked like “fag.” Uh, no. LOL

      • A.M.B. says:

        Ha! It’s hard to believe anyone would approve a font like that, but I’ve seen some terrible examples out there.

        As for Casual Vacancy, I’ve never liked the cover either.

  10. Helping Out says:

    With the new ebook media, I’d say covers are very important. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but in this media day and age that dated analogy is no longer viable.

    Yes, the Tarot series covers have flesh but the design looks like shit. You are a writer, don’t try to do a designer’s job. Hire a good designer to do your covers.

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