Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can YOU judge a book by its cover?

Another observation from my late-evening blog-hopping (and one that was confirmed by a little vid I saw featuring an editor from a NY publishing house): Covers can have a significant impact on book sales. Some readers might be resistant to this notion. I know I was. Hey, we're all about content, right?

Well, apparently not.

Packaging plays an extremely important role in the peddling of a product. Any product. Corporations and their advertising firms spend bundles of money researching the effect various visual elements have on consumers' psyches. Many of our reactions are "visceral" or subconscious, but that doesn't lessen the importance of those reactions in our decision-making processes.

So, back to books. One might assume covers only count when they're arrayed on the shelves of brick-and-mortar outlets. I've come to realize this isn't so. E-book covers also catch readers' attention, often in a distinctly positive or negative way, and thus influence their immediate impressions--of individual companies, authors, and any given book's literary worth. This initial impression then affects a reader's decision whether or not to take a chance on that publisher, author, or book.

Here's what I've noticed within the e-publishing community. Certain high-profile reviewers--those whose attention is most coveted--seem to gravitate toward certain publishers' output and avoid others'. It's a bit mystifying, since the same authors often have titles out with different companies. Mrs. Giggles, for example, seems to favor Samhain and Liquid Silver books. Dear Author seems to favor Samhain books. Ellora's Cave offerings don't show up with nearly the frequency one might expect, although they do occasionally appear. Loose Id, a highly regarded company, is beginning to make its presence known. However, I can't remember ever having seen a Changeling Press book reviewed at any of the more "influential" sites.

Hm. Why the seemingly preferential treatment? I think a lot of it has to do with covers . . . and the resulting perceptions of those companies' (not to mention others') products. This has to be it, because, quite frankly, quality and crap in terms of content are spread pretty evenly throughout all e-publishers. Print, too, for that matter.

Samhain, Liquid Silver, and Loose Id do have classy cover art. Whether subtle or stunning, their covers are well thought-out and artistically composed. They have both visual and emotional appeal. Such art speaks well for--and, at its best, reflects--whatever story lies behind it. Ellora's Cave covers are heavy on chests. (I guess a pun is lurking there, but just ignore it.) Bare chests here, bare chests there, chests chests everywhere. Or what the Smart Bitches, bless 'em, so aptly call "man titty". This seems to strengthen the oft-expressed opinion that all EC books are essentially the same: They're porny pap; they're sexual romps devoid of substance. (This is very much NOT the case, by the way, but try to convince some people of that!)

And then there's Changeling. I publish with this company. And I love it like crazy. Changeling is a standup operation run by wonderful people. Many EC, Samhain, LI, and LS authors also publish with ChP, so it isn't some damned waste dump. But, alas, Changeling's much maligned covers seem to have put it at a disadvantage in the first-impression race. Needless to say, this can be a worrisome situation to authors. A well crafted piece of fiction deserves to be fronted by a well crafted cover . . . and, when it isn't, can suffer in terms of both critical recognition and sales.

So, yes, something as superficial as the way a book looks is often viewed as an indication of how a book reads. There's absolutely no relation between the two. But you'll never convince all buyers of that.

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