“They Lied… You CAN Judge a Book By Its Cover”

~ by Mercy Pilkington

Those of you who were lucky enough to live in one of the test markets might remember the food fad from about twelve years ago: colored catsup. Yes, some marketing team in some conference room Book coversomewhere decided that what was really missing from kids’ diets was even more artificial coloring (well, more than they already get), so they dreamed up colored catsup. I clearly remember the green and the purple. I remember those because they were so stomach-turning that my kids wouldn’t touch them, and then I remember watching them swirl down the kitchen drain as I finally pitched them out.

Now, I have two degrees in English and one in biology. I am a smart, smart person. I was fully aware that there was nothing wrong with that catsup, that it was just a little bit of food coloring. But that didn’t matter. I threw up in my mouth every time I tried to take a bite of a deep grayish-purple ooze-covered hot dog.

“Hold on!” you say, “I remember that catsup! It was awesome!” Yeah, right. Have you seen it for sale anywhere lately?

Why did that marvelous product fail? Apart from parents’ reluctance to pay extra for the addition of even more artificial coloring? Because it just didn’t look good.

The same is true of a book cover.

Aside from covers that have grammatical errors or pointless illustrations that have nothing to do whatsoever with the genre or content, one of the worst mistakes a self-published author can make is not investing in a great book cover.

“Ugh,” you say, “there’s that word again! Investing! GRRRRR!”

Sorry, investing is the right word to use here. But keep in mind that investing doesn’t just mean writing a check, it also means doing your homework on a great designer, seeking out help from your contacts, checking with other authors who have to-die-for book covers and finding out who they used, etc.

The important thing to remember about book covers is that their purpose has changed. Back in the days of spending idle hours browsing in bookstores or libraries, your book cover had one job: to make me pick up your book and turn it over. The end. Your book cover’s only responsibility on this planet was to get me to stick out my grabby little hand, make a flippy motion, and read the awesome writing on the back of the book.

Now, thanks to internet shopping, your book cover’s job has changed a little bit. It has to be incredible enough that not only can I see it in thumbnail size, but that I have to invest my own time in clicking on it, letting your sales page load, and scrolling down to read the product description. Your cover has to make me want to bother getting out my credit card and typing in all of my information. The days of impulse shopping and plopping a book on the counter at the checkout are over. Your cover has to make me be willing to jump through a few hoops.

“But wait!” you say, “one-click purchasing is easy! My cover just has to make you click the Buy button!” (have you noticed that you interrupt me a lot?)

Sure, if I use a trusted retailer whose name rhymes with Schmamazon and I’ve stored my credit card info in there, I could just poke that Buy button all day long.

And THAT’S the problem. If your book cover is not oozing with sheer awesomeness, even in microscopic thumbnail imagery, I’m going to scroll right past it and click that Gimme button on someone else’s book.

The really great thing about book covers is they have become the great equalizer. Authors who’ve written a fantastic story and didn’t bother getting an equally fantastic cover are going to languish in the depths of the Kindle store, while authors who took their writing careers seriously and bothered to find an artist who is just as serious about his craft are going to end up with a stunning, frame-worthy cover that will encourage readers to click.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Mercy Pilkington is the CEO of Author Options, a full-service solutions provider for authors and publishers. Her sense of humor leans a bit to the sarcastic side, hence her overuse of the word crap. She is looking for romance titles that do not involved chiseled men with giant penises, and no more vampires unless there is something stunningly different about them that doesn’t involve sparkling.  www.authoroptions.com

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