Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Isn't This Book Selling?

Folio had a great article about a month ago about "turkeys." That is, magazines that underperform. The article discusses how covers do or do not communicate the content and by so doing compel a reader to pick up the magazine.

The same applies to books. Really, to any product. Packaging is hugely important. If you've made a great product but can't get it off the shelves into consumers' hands, what's the point?

My tastes skew literary. I like quirk, which tends not to get too much screen time in commercial fiction, where formulas are more adhered to. I like commercial fiction, too, and am in fact of some unpopular opinions about how literary and commercial should meld. But that's another post. Covers like this appeal to me:

But, you say, that's...weird. It doesn't tell me anything about what the book's about. True. But, first of all, this is a story collection, so it's not "about" anything. Second, this is effing quirk, people. This is going for it. The cover promises me quirk, which I like to read. As a lover of quirk, you couldn't beat me off this book with a stick.

(Note: the three following books are Janet's)

Not only does this cover have great colors and composition, it immediately tells you the two most important things about the book: it's a mystery (note the shifty eyes) and it's set in ancient Athens. No, put that stick away. It's not going to work.

Sean Ferrell's NUMB:
Who doesn't love a white cover? This book is about a man with amnesia and how he rediscovers himself. And look. This guy on the cover has no head. Coincidence? I think not. This cover promises the unexpected. The book 100% delivers.

Evan Mandery's FIRST CONTACT

This is quite possibly the funniest book ever written. The cover tells you this, and also hints at the circular and slightly chaotic story inside. This is a book for lovers of Vonnegut, and I think the cover screams "DID YOU LOVE HARRISON BERGERON?!"

Unlike products like clothing, where the sum total of the piece can be readily displayed (Those shorts are just shorts. There's no deeper message.), books require an investment. You have to take the time to read some of the book to appreciate what's written. The only way to get someone to make that investment is to convince them that the content will interest them. The only way to do that is with a kickass cover.


  1. Agree, First Contact = funniest book ever. I picked it up at a book reading in NYC and started reading it aloud to my son on the train ride home. Everyone in ear shot was hanging on my every word, trying to make it look like they weren't.

  2. I love the cover for the Pericles Commission, and the one for numb is definitely something that makes you stop and take a look at the book, but every time I see the one for First Contact, my automatic reaction is that it's about intestinal distress. :/

  3. This is an interesting topic, considering how many self-pubbed books in the Kindle store look like they were done in MS Paint. You can, and should, judge a book by it's cover, because if the cover was an afterthought or a rush job, what does that say about the writing?

    Your cover is the suit you wear to an interview. It doesn't have to be custom tailored in Milan, but it should at least be color-coordinated and freshly-pressed.

    The Numb cover is great - I particularly like the use of white space, which helps it stand out.

    I've got a lot of book where I would consider framing their covers, but my all time favorite is Money Shot by Christa Faust. That drawing by Glen Orbik is amazing, and it perfectly sums up the book. It may have been the first book I bought just because the cover looked awesome, without any recommendation or prior research.

  4. My vote goes to the cover of “Numb,” too. Love that one the most!

    I mainly read women’s fiction and single title romance novels. (Yes. Really.) It’s strange how a cover can turn me off of an otherwise engaging story. I remember reading one novel with a very detailed graphic of the two protagonists on the cover; the male protagonist turned me off. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t get the face of the cover model out of my head, and that subsequently ruined the experience for me. Now, I realize that’s pretty shallow. And obviously, Cover Dude was selected because he had mass appeal with the ladies. Now I’ll ‘fess up: the cover model was Fabio, and he does absolutely -0- for me.

  5. I read recommended books now, so it would have to be a bad cover to put me off. I like the cover on The Pericles Commission. A favourite cover is on Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement. When I was a kid I loved Wilbur Smith's covers.