Cover Art – Help or Hindrance?

This past week we had a lot of fun with the covers nominated for the 3rd Ugly Covers competition – many of them were horrible and your comments reflected amazement that they were published. The question most frequently asked was ” What were they thinking”?

As some of you know, I get very exercised about cover art (probably the only exercise I get):) because I believe it is an essential part of the marketing process in selling a book. Much has been written elsewhere about book covers and we poke fun here at cover art and a few publishers which one anonymous reviewer said “are almost re-defining the concept of deliberate hideousness!” You will probably guess which publisher(s) she meant since you  have seen many of their covers in the Ugly Covers competitions. It boggles my mind that some publishers release books with covers that, quite frankly, price of temptation 3give new meaning to the word tasteless. One book cover that has been discussed on this site many times this past week is The Price of Temptation. I really don’t know what the publisher had in mind when this cover was published but it sure garnered lots of attention, which might have been the original intent.

Very few, if any, authors influence the selection of their book covers which is a pity, because covers seem to impact (positively or negatively) on book sales, and the authors are dependent on the income. Decisions re book covers are made by the Creative Directors, the marketing departments of individual publishers and, I suppose, the ultimate accountability rests with the publishers.

I’m restricting my comments here to M/M books, but het book covers are just as bad and I’m wondering if there’s a special school for cover artists to show them how to produce some of the abominations that pass for cover art these days. There are obviously many excellent cover artists – Anne Cain, April Martinez, Croco Designs, P.L. Nunn, Trace Edward Zaber, Scott Carpenter, Paul Richmond – to name just a few whose work I admire, and I know that there are many, many more who produce excellent work. M/M covers seem to range from man titty headless torsos, Poser art, the same overused cover models, one armed men, sometimes a guy with three arms (on a contemporary book cover)*g* and on and on and on.

Some of the contemporary covers I admire most are those on Jordan Castillo Price’s books. Here’s one –crisscross450

I do understand that book covers can’t and won’t exactly represent what the story is all about but what if the tall, thin hero in the book is a bulky, muscular guy on the cover because muscle sells? Is that misrepresentation or marketing? Authors are asked to produce descriptions of their protagonists and a blurb for the cover artists, but no one knows whether this information goes into a big black hole, never to be seen again, because what emerges as the ultimate cover in most cases bears no resemblance to either the story or the blurb. Why are authors asked for this information as part of the process of coming up with cover designs for their books if  they’re going to get the same old, same old? Whenever I ask this question of publishers the answer I get varies, but the most truthful one I’ve seen seems to be the following “the cover doesn’t illustrate the book. It’s a sales tool.” If covers are “sales tools” and are decided by the marketing department, why ask the authors for input? Is this just a PR exercise?

The last mini poll I ran on the blog several months ago indicated that 70% of M/M readers were either strongly or moderately influenced in their purchase decisions by book covers. Surely publishers have this same information from their own surveys, but maybe they interpret it differently! Why is it that so many excellent books end up with cheesy looking covers? One telling example is the first cover for Captain’s Surrender which many readers panned mercilessly. Here’s the original cover and the one on the re-released version of the book.  The first cover was not offensive – it was just blah and didn’t say anything about what the book was all about – an Age of Sail romance – while the second one definitely says something about the story and would make any reader want to snap up the book.

original cover

original cover

updated cover

updated cover

 

 

 I know that there are issues around cost and budgetary constraints which each publisher faces, especially with the current state of the economy,  but it should cost the same to produce an ugly cover as one that’s attractive, and in addition, says something about the book. Why hire a cover artist if the cover art has nothing to do with the book and is just a marketing tool? Would it not be cheaper to produce a whole bunch of the same covers and slap them on different books, regardless of the content? (Wait!!  I think some of them do that already on their cheaper line of books which is fine because it holds the price down at $1.29 to $1.49)*g*

Here are a few covers that I like, that I’m sure they didn’t cost any more to commission than some that are truly horrendous!

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SearchSoaringHawkHidden Conflict for ARE

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Mute Witness Final Cover 9 8 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some that are on the flip side of the chart, IMO.  The first one looks like the guys’ makeup went strange – I know they’re shifters but WOW; the second is a giant red (or burgundy) arm and 3/4 of a chest – no head; the third (Bad Boys) has an extra arm out of nowhere – maybe the guy is an alien); the 4th – a naked man on a book cover??? I thought that was a no no; #5 – another chihuahua against a background of two headless, bland looking torsos; and the last one is just a horrible cover. Not candidates for the Ugly Covers competition but certainly not art, at least not in my humble opinion.

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Bad boys bad boys1209

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Readers, what attracts you when you look at a book cover? Would you buy a book if the cover was really in poor taste? Would it make any difference if the book was print or ebook?

Authors, is cover art a hindrance or help in selling your books? One author was quite upset several months ago because there was a woman on the cover of her M/M book, giving the definite impression that the book was a menage, which made many  M/M readers steer clear away from it. Have you had experiences where the cover art for your book was misleading and perhaps affected your sales negatively? On the flip side there was one author whose hero had three arms on the book cover and she used that mistake as a promotional gimmick.*g*

I know that some readers could care less about book covers and there are others who would buy a book just because it had a beautiful cover. Different strokes!

Looking forward to a lively debate.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

59 comments

  • Hi JFM
    I’m one of those readers who is definitely put off by a cheap looking cover like the ones on the Changeling website. Ugly covers – same thing, especially if it’s for a print book.

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    There are not that many stock photos but surely they can give them different clothes.

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    The best thing for erotic literature was the advent of ebooks because many women were too embarrassed to go into a bookstore and buy what they wanted (not me but others.) Same thing with ordering online. The advent of amazon has freed a lot of readers, women especially, to order the erotic books they always wanted. My postman is very curious about my reading matter and he doesn’t understand how I can read so many books:-D

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    In your example I would definitely buy the book with the attractive cover if I could only afford one.

    Reply
  • Late to the party again! My thoughts anyway. I can’t deny that cover art will affect me when buying. It must affect readers, because otherwise all books would be published with plain colours with nothing but the author and title on them. It’s more like to affect me negatively than positively. I’m be unlikely to buy a book I didn’t fancy otherwise purely based on the cover (though there’s this Mill & Boon from a couple of years ago I’m looking out for second hand because the cover guy is just so… well anyway…)
    ~
    But I could be put off buying a book by a really hideous or embarrasing cover. It’s not fair, I know, it could be a perfectly fine book, but I’m only human and have a negative reaction to ugly things.
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    It could be I’d never even get as far as reading the blurb to have my mind changed and give it a go, because a lot of my To Read list is populated by books I’ve found on the “related” or “recommended” pages when I’m looking up a book on Goodreads or a retailer site. Usually all there is to entice me to click through and check that related book out is a thumbnail of the cover and the price. If the cover is bad even at that size, there’s a good chance I’ll be put off clicking to see the full horror – I mean details.
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    If the cover isn’t so much hideous as just amateurish and cheapo looking, then it makes me nervous about what else the publisher has skimped on. Like proof reading. That may be unfair, maybe they spent the money on editing and proof reading instead, but am I going to take a chance on that? I’d rather just have quite a plain cover. Fathom’s Five that was reviewed on here a few days ago is an example of that. Without the good review it would be one I’d probably pass over, since the cover while not horribly ugly, does looks cheap and thrown together. And it sounds like I’d miss out on a good book because of that.
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    Do you think ordering online as opposed to going to a bookshop makes a difference? There’s some covers – more the ones with nudity on that ugly ones – I might be a bit shy about buying in a shop. Silly I know, but I am! On-line, well, I’s not as bothered. If it’s really, really too embarassing to take out in public I’ll just have to read it at home!
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    I found a site recently that collates all the Mills and Boon and Harlequin historical romances that use the same cover images tweaked a bit for different books. There are some that have been used four times! Hey, sometimes they’re subtle, they change the colour of the heroine’s dress. ;-)The one I like most is one I spotted myself, where the same image was used on two different books by the same author. That made me chuckle. Would it be offputting? Category romance fans go through a lot of books, they can’t recall all the titles, which are kind of samey anyway! So a reused image might make them think, “I think I already read this” and not buy it. Maybe that would just be me. I have a good memory for pictures.
    ~
    In the end I suppose it comes down to, you’re looking at two books, they both sound like good books, they appeal to you equally. They both cose the same. You like both those writers. But you can only afford to buy one of them. If every other consideration is equal, how many of us can say we wouldn’t choose the one with the more attractive cover?

    Reply
  • As an author, I’ve been incredibly lucky with my covers, for the most part. I have a whole bunch of Anne Cain creations, for one thing 🙂 But most artists I’ve worked with have been great. They’ve been open to my input. Scott Carpenter even used a picture my husband took on Mount LeConte as the background for the cover of Twilight (3rd book in the BCPI series). I realize that cover art is pretty important to most readers, so I’m grateful to the artists I’ve worked with for the wonderful work they’ve done on my covers.

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    As a reader, though, I don’t really care about cover art. I mean, I love to admire a beautiful cover. But I’ve never bought a book just because of one, and I’ve certainly never passed over a book because of an ugly or boring cover. I’m far more likely to be influenced by the book’s title. I’ll skim on past a title that doesn’t grab me, but if I see an intriguing title I’ll click on through to the blurb (or in a bricks and morter store, pick up the book and flip through). I first picked up Stranger In A Strange Land because of the title. I was skimming spines; couldn’t even see the cover. I’ve found a bunch of my favorite books that way 🙂

    Reply
    • Ally
      I’m sure you know how lucky you are to have Anne do most, if not all, of your book covers. Most authors are not as lucky and they struggle with inferior covers and hope that someone will see past them to what’s inside

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      Presentation is just as important as content,as many authors have found out. I’m one of the readers who would have a hard time buying a print book with a cheesy looking cover. Lots of readers do look at the cover art and many of them are influenced by what they see first – the book cover. If they can’t get past the cover then there’s no sale and many authors depend on the income from the book sales.

      Reply
  • Covers actually matter a fair bit to me, but especially when it’s a new(ish — to me) author. I find I’m more willing to ignore craptastic covers if I’m familiar with the author’s work.

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    Add to this the fact that I’ve had covers that represented the main characters as entirely different from their actual appearances (wrong hair colors, body types, etc… and in one case, tattoos when neither main char. had any) and I started campaigning for “no people, especially no faces” on my covers.

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    I’m not saying that most readers will necessarily compare people on covers to the descriptions in books. I do it rarely, myself. That said, though, I sort of feel like it’s misleading and I can’t be sure when someone WILL compare in that manner, y’know?

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    Personally, in my pre-ebook reading days, I did judge much more based upon cover art. I intially passed on one of my favourite series for years, just because I didn’t care for the covers. Eventually I bought the first book as a used paperback and discovered that I loved it, cover aside, after which I purchased the rest.

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    Sadly, I have zero graphics skills and I find that it’s incredibly difficult to translate my mental image of what I’d like a cover to be into words that will mean the same thing to an artist reading those words (assuming they ever do).

    Reply
    • TC
      I think you made the point of what I’m saying. Many readers (who have no graphic arts skills but know what they like) pass on wonderful books because of shitty cover art.

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      I can’t say enough about the craptastic cover art on the majority of Changeling covers except for Jordan’s Channeling Morpheus series. I’m not sure if Changeling are having fun at our expense or if they really think that their covers are awesome. All you have to do is check out the entries in the last 3 Ugly Covers competitions (and the ones you see do not even represent 1/4 of their covers that were submitted) to find that a large proportion of the covers nominated by readers are from this particular publisher.

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      Many readers compare the cover photos to the characters in the book and mention them when we’re discussing reviews. Personally I like to see a face rather than the man titty covers. The M/M books without faces suggest to me that the publishers and cover artists are somehow ashamed to portray gay men in romantic situations. Why be in the business if you’re embarrassed by your product?

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      Obviously there are authors who are not technically competent to judge cover art, or don’t believe they are, or could care less, and that’s fine. But for those who want input I think there should be an avenue opened for them.

      Reply
      • I gather that what Changeling likes about the Poser covers is that you can have total control over what the character looks like: skin color, hair color and style, tattoos, props and pose.

        I would think a poser model could be an OK starting point if you’re going to then take it and make a digital painting out of it, but I don’t care for Poser or other 3-D rendering output as a final product. It looks unfinished to me. I also find I don’t usually care for the composition on those covers with characters at middle distance, centered, with too much space around them.
        _
        It’s great that the covers on my Changeling work are well-liked. I was encouraged numerous times by Changeling to just go with a Poser cover.

        I was not the creator of the covers; it goes against Changeling’s policy to let an author do her own cover. I was particular on my cover art request form about what I wanted, and included thumbnails of how I hoped my final product would look, with links to all the source stock photos.

        Reply
      • I have to agree, Wave, about some of the Changeling covers I’ve seen. I HOPE they’re having a bit of fun, but who can say? 😛

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        I’m not a big fan of the headless-torso covers, though I can’t say they bother me overly much. What I meant when I said I prefer no faces is simply that. No full-on front views of faces. Partial views because the guys are hugging or something along those lines? Fine, and definitely better than neck-to-navel only.

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        I guess I’m saying we’re in agreement, for the most part… in an odd sort of way. *hee* Though I also agree with Lee Rowan. It doesn’t help at all when a publisher asks for an authors input and then ignores it completely. Eventually, that leads to seeing ‘art request forms’ as a useless exercise, but hat’s a whole other story, I think. LOL

        Reply
  • Great topic! “Help or hindrance” is right–it’s always one or the other and sometimes both, depending on the reader.

    Ransom’s on its 3rd cover now. I didn’t care for the first one, mostly because of that frizzy perm they put on Davy, and the ‘fog bank’ effect always looked like a bad print run. To be fair, it was their first m/m cover, and I think they were hedging their bets by airbrushing out the nudity. LBR’s cover artist had a real flair for m/f, but I don’t think she had the same feel for m/m. Even so, it was a big step up from the poser covers on so many other m/m books. The revised cover done just before LBR was bought out was much closer to what I’d hoped for (the boys on deck, from the back, bare from the waist up but hey, maybe it was a hot day?) but I don’t think that was in print for more than a few months before the Cheyenne edition came out… which has ships yay! and I think the strong color gives a sense of menace.

    Call me a perv–I think if there’s explicit material in the book, there’s nothing wrong with a slightly sexy cover–though I don’t see anything appealing about the slab-o-abs. I prefer the cover models embracing as a way to screen the faces, or at least in some arrangement that suggests an emotional connection–very tough to manage on a small-press budget! I think if I won a lottery, some of the $ would be earmarked for cover art.

    The duplication of pictures is pretty much inevitable, and the worst thing is that there’s no warning that the cover isn’t going to be nearly as original as the artist hoped. I’m almost superstitious about not unveiling the cover for Walking Wounded until the last minute, because Alex did such a beautiful job and one of the pics we considered has already appeared elsewhere.

    Those nice-vs-not so good covers… I’m picky; I only liked about half the ones you chose. That little boy cover doesn’t have anything about it that suggests anything positive in the sense of m/m, and could be badly misinterpreted. And those two changer covers… the one upper-left makes me think of a horrible photo I saw once of a man dying of untreated facial tumors, and the lower right is either a very spooky dog or a very, very ugly man. (shudder). Those poor writers!

    My preference is the ‘models with some vague resemblance to the characters in a setting relevant to the story.’ Dream on, I know. The ‘two close-enough-to-character-guys over a picture that says something about the story’ seems to be the style right now, and a good artist can do a lot with it. One image, two at most… anything beyond that and my eye moves right past the clutter. I really think a simple design, like Alex first had on Witch’s Boy, would be preferable to a lot of what winds up on book covers. Plain brown paper is better than 90% of the Poser pics I’ve seen.

    As for the author input–I saw tremendous differences from one artist to another at Samhain. Alex and Charlie got artists who actually worked with them; I wish I had not wasted the time filling out the forms. No alteration of image, no chance of working with a different artist… I am inexpressibly grateful to have Alex doing my covers right now.

    As for whether covers put me off? Oh, yes they do. There are a couple of publishers whose sites I don’t even browse because of the awful pictures. But I almost never buy anything without reading at least one excerpt, and I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book for the cover alone. I mean, realistically–I can look at the cover online anytime, no? But you can’t even legally give away a disappointing e-book. (I’ll save the rant on that subject!)

    Covers do matter. Even if they’re not visible on an e-reader, it’s the image on the website that either draws the eye, or scares the bejeezus out of the browsing reader.

    Reply
    • Lee
      I love sexy covers as much as the next reader but when they are all the same old, same old, they get old pretty fast. The days of the headless torso man titty covers I hope are gone the way of the dodo bird. They do nothing for the books and there’s no way to differentiate one book from the other.

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      Everyone has different tastes which is a good thing but I think that most of us can agree on tasteless and boring.

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      I think your newest cover for Ransom is wonderful – the bloggers were raving about it.

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      As I said earlier, it’s a pity in a way that Alex is such a wonderful writer because she could be an excellent cover artist. She has already proven herself with the covers I’ve seen.

      Reply
  • I most definitely think that cover art is important, whether its for an ebook or printed book, and whether its m/m or any other genre. Even though people often use the very well known saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” most people do judge a book by its cover — including me.
    Its very important for a book to have a well designed cover, as well as a cover that depicts what is actually inside the book. If you think about it, its really quite obvious: after all, the title and cover are the first things that a reader sees when they pick up a book. And if the author is not well known, either to the reader personally, or to the mainstream of readers in general, its even more important to have a good cover. When I’m grabbing a book off of a shelf, or browsing online, there are millions of books to choose from, and so the ones that ‘stick out’ are usually the only ones I even give a chance.

    Reply
  • Hi Jordan
    I love most of your covers except for a couple *g*

    I see what you mean about the typography of Captain’s Surrender (the new cover), Mute Witness and a few others.

    Reply

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