Aspiring authors, get this through your head

Aspiring authors, get this through your head. Cover art serves one purpose, and one purpose only, to get potential customers interested long enough to pick up the book to read the back cover blurb. In the internet age that means the thumb nail image needs to be interesting enough to click on. That’s what covers are for.

Larry Correia

12 thoughts on “Aspiring authors, get this through your head”

  1. I’m afraid Mr Correia has bought into some mythology. He has described one purpose of a book cover. He hasn’t acknowledged or described the one for which covers are still designed, even though in this day of electronic purchases it’s much less important than it was a decade ago, let alone when I was in-house and had to sit in cover meetings:

    The cover, especially for (an odd-enough pairing) category fiction and trade/casual nonfiction, is designed to attract the attention of booksellers and store managers, and get them to check stock levels and ordering dates. Far too many cover designers still think that way. Booksellers and store managers won’t bother with the back-cover copy; they will, however, bother with creating an attractive (to them) floor display with just the right proportion of foil-embossed covers, just the right focal point shared among the books, and so on.

    It’s pretty obvious why this isn’t a concern for literary fiction (really, now: if the prospective buyer is looking for the latest from Joyce Carol Oates or Thomas Pynchon, they will focus on the name and nothing else!) or serious nonfiction (ditto as to Robert Massie or Barbara Tuchman; otherwise, it’s the title that attracts the prospective buyer, who has already moved to the cramped part of the store of interest).

    The takeaway is, or should be, that there isn’t a universal description of covers for all books. For Mr Correia’s particular subset of speculative fiction, his description matters a lot more than it would for a guide to copyright from Nolo Press. Just like there is no one publishing industry,† there is no one indubitably correct description of or prescription for book covers. As Professor Harold Hill proclaimed, “Ya gotta know the territory!” (Why yes, it’s not at all coincidental that I’m implicitly comparing the publishing industry — and its sales devices and conceits — to a long-running con game presented inside another long-running con game, in a metafictional conceit that still managed to garner half-a-dozen Oscar nominations.)

    It’s incredibly easy and common to misapply one’s hard-earned knowledge to a different specialty that looks similar but isn’t; just consider the different diagnostic regimens of an orthopedist and a gastroenterologist, or the incompatible worldviews of the maligned “trial lawyer” and the insurance-defense counsel at the table across the aisle in the same courtroom. Grandiose overstatements really irritate the {string of expletives deleted} out of me when they’re in a context implying that they’re universally applicable when they’re not — and even moreso when they’re optimized for soundbitery.

    † Up to 2006 or so, I would have said that there are thirteen (or maybe eleven outside the US and UK) publishing industries; now I think there are two more, for specific segments of noncommercial publishing that have become self-sustaining and canonically independent. But that’s getting far, far deeper into academic controversies and my disdain for the canonical NYC-as-the-center-of-the-universe view of both commercial publishing and what passes for academia that studies commercial publishing.

    • For most authors who actually have any say in their book covers, large-scale bookshop distribution isn’t an option anyway. Correia’s advice applies.

      • And in most cases, even if it were, it would mean spine-out shelving.
        Plus, of course, B&M is an ever decreasing share of the *trade* book market dreamers aspire to enter.

        Yes, there are “many many, many many, many many… uhh…” book markets, but cover presentation isn’t particularly important outside trade books.

      • Tom, for those authors… they can’t turn the cover over to read the purportedly all-important back-cover copy anyway. Turning one’s laptop/phone over doesn’t work.

        Instead, the equivalent of the back-cover copy is now usually alongside, or at least somewhere on the same screen, as the considerably-reduced-in-size-and-resolution thumbnail of the cover.

        That’s the mythology that’s at issue: That the same muscle memory one would have used in 2003 at Pages for All Ages (now defunct) should govern how one designs “covers” for ebooks that will never be viewed prior to purchase at greater than thumbnail size. I’m skeptical even within category fiction, let alone as a universal “rule” that’s trying to be 1960s-packaging-meme “bright and shiny is good” for e-books. (The cognitive dissonance there should be enough to give one pause all by itself.)

        • I don’t know where you shop for ebooks, C.E. – but, on Amazon, you DO NOT see the “back cover equivalent text” until you have clicked or tapped on the thumbnail. Then you see the text, along with a larger image of the cover. (Along with the “Look Inside,”

          This applies both on a computer screen and on the Kindle device.

          In any case, the marketing reasoning behind a cover design is exactly the same, whether on a ebook marketing site, or on a brick and mortar front display – get the prospective buyer to look further.

          • You’re both right. It depends on how you come to the book. If you’re just browsing (where you see a list of thumbnails) then you’re right.

            If you came to the book page directly (via a link in my case) C.E. Petit is right.

            These days I don’t have time to browse for more books, but my BookBub emails present them the way C.E. is describing, and sends me to the direct page.

    • Thanks. I fight the constant recommendations to make covers ‘the same as others in your genre’ – literary mainstream fiction isn’t a genre. There are no recognizable cover tropes.

      And in the indie world, I hope some day soon readers will recognize that a cover designed by the same SPA who wrote the story, or the audiobook read by that author, are parts of what INDIES give the reader that traditional publishers do NOT: the package deal.

      Whether that is a good marketing strategy for people who search on Amazon is still a problem; probably not.

  2. I write series, which means the artist (or analogue) has to be the same throughout. For my 1st -book series, I found a Russian greeting card specialist who had a passel of just the right sort of atmospheric covers to suit me and I could just order her artwork at will (I can do everything re layout except the actual art). But for my 2nd series, I booked an artist but wasn’t thrilled with the results. Both those series are completed.

    For my current indefinite length series (not yet released), I’ve got an artist I really like (Poland) who has produced just what I want so far. The real issue is: can I keep him? He’s done 3 covers for the new series, and I’m trying to get far enough along in the plots for books 4 and 5 that I can commission those covers, too, but I am in a race to keep his availability for the length of the series (happily he’s a lot younger than I am, but still…). The cost of replacing the covers on a long series, esp. if it’s not yet complete, is not insignificant.

    Part of this is the fight between brand-recognition (“oh, this is a fantasy, in this series, by so-and-so”) which any pro can capture, and any added signaling (“like the good old adventure tales”) which is largely a matter of individual style, guided by the author’s goals in association with the genre history and expectations.

    If I live long enough to do, say 10 books in this series, and the artist becomes unavailable… ouch. Defensive styling to avoid that problem is too generic and simplified to satisfy me.

  3. “…one designs “covers” for ebooks that will never be viewed prior to purchase at greater than thumbnail size.”..

    Not exactly.
    If you click on tbe thumbnail, Amazon pops up a much larger image that you can zoom in on. And if you download the sample, the ebook cover is visible full screen, ahead of the sample text. In full color on PC, Tablet, phone, or cloud reader. No need to buy to zoom in on the art in its full glory.

    Or, if you right click (or click and hold) you can open the image full size as its own web page.

    Effort going into a good cover (or the blurb beside/under it) is not wasted. It still aims to scream: “look at me, I’m Sandra Dee”. Or something like it. 😉

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