Covers. They are hugely important but, generally-speaking, not where a writer’s skills lie. Yes, we often know what we like, but that doesn’t mean to say we have the right ideas. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t think about them.
If you write a book that is traditionally published, then your contract will usually contain a clause stating that you will be consulted on the cover. That does not mean you will have the final say. Far from it. It just means that the publisher might approach you and say, “Here are three ideas, which do you prefer: A, B or C?” You might reply that you love B, detest A and are indifferent with C. Your publisher will probably go with A. But it doesn’t matter because you were consulted. They have met their contractual obligations.
But covers mean different things to different people, and sometimes publishers don’t always get it right. Many a time has a publisher selected a cover and then sent their sales team out with the mock ups only to discover that one particular retailer doesn’t like it and won’t stock it as a result. Back to the drawing board. (Because the publisher will want that retailer to take the book, and so they’ll try to come up with something the retailer does like.)
If you want to self-publish a book, getting the cover right is so important, although one of the beauties of self-publishing is that if you self-publish in ebook or print on demand formats you can change/update your cover at any time.
A useful exercise is to sign up to any readers’ groups operated by publishers. I recently joined HarperCollins’ The Readers Room, and it’s interesting to see how they go through the selection process for a book’s front cover. They last survey they conducted was mainly about a new novel by Fern Britton, called Coming Home. They produced four different covers and wanted feedback.
What I found interesting was, of the four covers, only one had a house/property on it. The other three had gates and pathways leading into a scene depicting a typical Cornish countryside, because that’s where Fern’s books are set. But immediately it raises the question: where is home? If only one front cover has a house on it, then perhaps, as far as this novel is concerned, Coming Home refers not to a physical building but perhaps to a physical area or region? These different covers actually portray a different interpretation of what the book is about. That’s how important it is to get a cover right.
With my first book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human, the image is of a puppy (to highlight the word training in the title) but also to draw more people to it because of the cuteness factor. But it’s not a puppy of a specific breed. Publishers know that breeds can sway people’s emotions. Some dog owners prefer one breed to another. Put a specific breed on the front cover and you might deter readers from picking it up. That’s no good for sales.
The same goes for magazine covers too. This week’s issue of The People’s Friend contains an article I’ve written about Ludlow. The front cover is based upon one of the photos that I submitted, and I’m always trying to think about the front cover when I’m taking photos for The People’s Friend. But the article is about where to go to get the best view of Ludlow, and the cover image illustrates one of the town’s most iconic views. So it conveys quite a lot of information about the article contained within, without the reader realising.
Covers have a lot of work to do. And as a writer they are not, necessarily, your responsibility (unless you’re self-publishing). But If you’re writing something for a magazine, and the slot you’re targeting is the flagship slot that the magazine pushes on its front cover, then it’s worth thinking about potential front cover images. (Writing Magazine’s front cover is usually a photo of the big writer interview, for example.)
Sometimes, the best way of selling your words, is to think about the pictures.