I am trying to understand the reasoning behind the popular talk nowadays among indie authors about how to best present our book covers. Most of the how-to info is very complicated, and most of the advice ends with “Let a professional do it.” The idea is to hook the potential reader before they look inside the book.
I’m an old-school reader and buyer of books that began in the 1960s. Many of my purchases back then were paperbacks because they were affordable. Even in the 1970s when I entered the workforce and had a weekly income, I still bought paperbacks. So did my friends. Often, we went book hunting on Saturday afternoons, hitting the malls in search of our next read.
The covers on paperback books (and hardcovers) were simple in design. It was often the title that caught my eye. If it sounded interesting, I would flip the book over and read the back cover copy. That’s what either prompted me to buy the book or return it to the shelf.
Most online bookstores today have a feature equivalent to the old back cover copy. It’s the short blurb off to the side of the book cover on display. I call it the “What is this book about?” feature. And it’s here where an author either convinces me to buy their book or prompts me to continue browsing.
Beautiful, fancy, exotic book covers and plain, two-tone, neutral ones have never prompted me to buy a book. It has always been the “What’s this book about?” feature.
Look at this Stephen King paperback of The Shining from one of its first runs.
The book’s title attracted me because I asked, “What does the title mean?” The back cover copy gave me a clue and whetted my curiosity. Until then, I had never read a book by King. Neither had my friends. I ended up liking the story so much, I bought his two prior releases, ’Salem’s Lot and Carrie, on a gamble that I would like them too. I did. So did a million other readers.
Compared to today’s indie writing market, if King was an unknown author selling his books at Amazon, and he used the above cover, would you buy it?
Look at the replacement cover of The Shining a few years later during the movie release.
Would you still want to buy it?
I don’t think it’s wise to worry about eye-catching book cover design. I think we should continue to strive at writing as well as we can and to write a compelling “What’s this book about?” feature. If your story is captivating and entertaining, then people will notice, even if you’ve wrapped it in a brown paper bag.