Why Artists and Authors Often Don’t Understand What Makes a Selling Book Cover
Artists, authors, and marketing people can all have very different objectives when selecting book cover art.
The artist wants an attractive cover that will look good in a portfolio, please the client, and perhaps win an award. All these are objectives that will advance an artist’s career.
The author wants an attractive cover that honestly depicts characters and/or scenes from the story. An author can be very proud and comfortable with such a cover. An author, like the artist, welcomes praise for the beauty of the cover.
A marketing person wants to sell the most books from the cover art. To do this the marketing person wants cover art that will attract the favorable attention from those readers who would most likely buy the book if they knew what it was about.
To the marketing person it is not necessary for the cover art to be beautiful or even represent anything in the story. It often will but it is not essential.
Amateurs often think that the best advertisement is the one that attracts the most attention of the public. There are even tests for determining how many people noticed an ad in a magazine after they have looked through the magazine. (These readers did not know they were being tested.) Professionals know that this test score can be misleading or even meaningless.
If your ad attracts the attention of 90% of the public, but it only attracts 5% of your best prospects (those most likely to buy your product if they see the ad) then the ad is very weak and most likely will fail. However, if your ad only attracts 10% of the public but it captures 90% of your best prospects, then that ad may sell almost twenty times more than the ad with the 90% attraction scores. Any salesman will tell you that you want to talk to prospects and not non-prospects.
A golden rule in marketing is to do your best to attract the favorable attention of the very best prospects for your product. This rule can often lead to uninspiring, non-award winning, little praised artwork. Yet, artwork that would sell, sell, sell!
Of course, it is very nice to have a marketing person in charge who is also an artist and expert at keeping authors happy. The most powerful marketing ad is not mutually exclusive with beautiful, award winning, author and reader pleasing cover art. All that praise is nice if it can be done. But job #1 is having the cover attract the favorable attention of the readers who would buy the book -- if only they knew the book existed.
Sometimes the most important element in the cover art is the author’s name. Yet there are artists and art directors who do not want type to cover up their beatiful artwork. These 'art-types' don't mind making the type hard or impossible to read. Ask any copywriter and they will tell you that the marketing world if full of artists like this.
Authors who want to think like marketers should try to define what type of reader would most likely buy the book on the spot if they just knew what the story was about. This is why it is so important for an author to get out and circulate. Lean who your fans are and what they like best about your writing. Then tell the marketing people that you want a cover that will be sure to attract the attention of these readers.
The Tale of Two Covers
Below are two covers. Both are from the same publisher and same author. One is outstanding, the other is not.
Example; “A Family to Cherish"
A Five Star Rated Book
This cover is beautiful. Its says inspirational romace. Notice the mystical lighting in the background. It also shows two adorable little girls. This will strongly attract readers who like inspirational romances that feature adorable girl children. These readers are also the best prospects to buy this book. From a marketing POV, this is an ideal cover.
Please note: this cover will instantly turn off many romance readers. When romance magazines run surveys on what readers would like to see less of, books with children in them usually top the list! Comments include: “Kids are not like that!” “I want to get away from kids!” “I read romances to escape. I sure don’t want kids in a romance.”
You get the idea. So even if 40% of readers will be turned off by this cover, that’s no problem as long as this cover attracts the attention of those readers who want a book like this. This is a great cover for selling the book which is inside. I know this because I have read this book.
Example: “Mended Hearts”
A Five Star Rated Book
This is an attractive cover that serves almost no marketing purpose. It attracts no specific audience. I have no way of knowing what the story inside is like or if I would like it.
How does a cover like this come about?
I have been in many marketing meetings and I can hear in my mind the arguments for this cover. “It will be the only ‘still life’ over on the shelves with the other romances.” “It will attract more attention because it is different.” “It’s a beautiful piece of artwork.” “It’s classy.” "We already have the same theme romance for the month this comes out. Let's not have them compete with each other. Hide the theme. Our job is to sell the whole line." I've been there and I have heard it all.
It Could All be True
All the above comments may well be true. But one thing is certain: these arguments won’t better attract those readers who are the best prospects to buy this book. From this cover readers will not know that this is a book for them. They may like the cover but while they are looking on the book shelves, they may see one or two other books that specially 'speak' to them. These readers are more likely to buy those books than read the blurbs on every other book that is ambigious as to who the target audience is.
Marketing may seem cruel. The artist has a beautiful still life painting that can’t find a cover. She is sure it would win an award and draw praise to both herself and to the author. With such artwork the author at least can say that nothing in the book was misrepresented by the cover. However, with a cover like this, a generic cover that could serve for almost any story, a great selling opportunity was lost.
Remember: a good cover will attract the favorable attention of the prospects who would mostly likely buy the book if they just knew about it.