Ugly Book Cover

A recent reviewer of More Deaths Than One liked the book well enough, but thought the cover was SO UGLY. (The capital letters were the reviewer’s.) Perhaps it is. The printed version is not what I had envisioned. It was supposed to be an eerie night-vision-goggle-green painting with purple lettering (as you see on the right sidebar) and it turned out to be emerald and raspberry sherbet pink. The painting also lost much of its detail. However, whatever the vagaries of the printing process that gave More Deaths Than One a less than appealing cover, they gifted Daughter Am I with a stunning cover. Instead of the happy turquoise you see on my sidebar, the cover printed up as a gorgeous deep and brooding turquoise that is a perfect match for the story.

I have no idea any more if my covers are good or bad. They are what I wanted at the time. I do know they are not standard fare, and they do have an untextured glossy cover, which, apparently, readers equate with self-published books. The fad today in the publishing industry is embossing, foil accents, textures, and matte finishing, but once upon a time if a book didn’t have a glossy cover, it wasn’t considered worth reading. I found an interesting article about shunning glossy covers here: “An open letter to Trade Publishers“.

Like all prejudices, this prejudice against glossy covers is based on ignorance and assumption. Covers do entice people to buy books and covers put people off from buying books, but a cover isn’t the book. Nor do glossy covers mean self-published books. Even so, some self-published books are better than the books published by the major publishers, and all of the books I have read recently that were published by small independent presses are vastly superior to any recent book published by the majors.

I’m not sure what the answer is. People will buy what they want to buy, or rather they will buy what they are trained to buy. That is the nature of fad and fashion. Personally, if I see one more book cover with a man’s naked torso on the cover, I am going to scream. We are no longer allowed to objectify women, but apparently it’s okay to objectify men. But that’s beside the point. The point is that naked chests are the current fad for romances and so that is what readers have been trained to look for. Before naked chests, the fad was jewelry on the cover. Before that, it was men and women together. Will small presses ever have the clout of the big ones so that they can dictate the public’s taste and prejudice to this extent when it comes to covers? I doubt it, yet that doesn’t mean small press books are less enticing, nor does it mean the independent presses should become “me too”s, trying to catch the leftovers from the big guys by copying their phony fads. 

It’s nice to think that there are real readers out there, readers who will buy books based on the quality of the words, but I wonder how many there are. Not enough, probably, to afford small press authors the esteem given to those published by the major presses. But the major presses publish pap — stories so homogenized and tasteless that all they have going for them is fancy coverings, so where’s the esteem in that?

19 Responses to “Ugly Book Cover”

  1. knightofswords Says:

    I wonder if the Internet–or goodness knows what–is changing people’s perception about book covers. I thought the first version of “The Sun Singer” had an outstanding cover as a blue-hued duotone. But I wonder if the new color version will do better even though it’s slightly less mysterious.

    Odd how tastes change and how the covers we like best may not resonate with readers the best. Sigh.


  2. Edward G. Talbot Says:

    Most people buy self-published books and books by very small presses somewhere other than off the shelf at a local bookstore. Maybe online, maybe a special order, maybe some other method. As such, the glossiness/embossed nature of the cover is totally irrelevant. If your reader liked the book but would be less likely to buy the next one because of the cover. . .well, I think that’s a reader you’re not going to have much luck with in the long run anyway.

    That said, I think what the cover looks like online CAN make a big difference. That’s where I’d focus my attention. Make the design something that catches people’s eye. Not because it is supposed to take the place of good writing, but just for basic marketing.

    Regarding your last points, I guess I disagree on several levels. Which is fine – differences make the world go ’round. I think plenty of great books are published by major presses along with plenty of homogenized stuff. The real problems with the publishing industry are structural, not that everything they publish is bad. Even midlist authors can’t make a living, while new authors and authors seeking their first publishing deal essentially have to spend years (or decades) earning a living some other way.

    And I still think good books are primarily what draw readers. Being judgmental about fads and what is “good” doesn’t serve anyone. Dismissing the popularity of such and such a book or topic or genre or even dismissing popular books as badly written is at best pointless and really also shows disregard for readers. They are our customers and while we certainly do not need to write for the latest trend, neither should we dismiss it. It’s a reality we deal with. Many literary readers and authors would consider the books you and I write to be “pap” also. Enjoying a book is a very subjective experience. So you put your best work out there and do your best to market it and there is no need to make anyone else “wrong” for their preferences.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re right, of course — there are good books published by all venues. And I did go a bit too far with my rant. It just got my goat that people were prejudiced against small press books simply because the cover was glossy. They never even bothered to look at the books, simply dismissed them. What bothered me even more was the suggestion in the open letter that everyone should follow along path that the major publishers have blazed. Why? The whole point of small presses is that they offer an alternative.

      • Edward G. Talbot Says:

        I hear you, Pat. It gets my goat that people are prejudiced against all kinds of things in publishing other than the most important thing – finding a book that readers will enjoy. I can even understand making some decisions simply because certain things won’t sell – it is a business after all. But what makes little sense is the variety of situations where things must be their way for no good reason other than to perpetuate the current system.

        Now I personally am still looking at all avenues including agents and major publishers. They are far from all bad. And it is their right to make whatever demands they want. But their non-customer and producer focused behavior is what tends to make businesses go out of business when the alternatives finally break through.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Edward, thank you — those are the words I was struggling for: perpetuating the system. Everything seems geared to perpetuating the current system, one that does not work for everyone. And for small publishers to follow the trends that big business sets is no answer. Maybe what is necessary is for a few books published by small presses to make it big.

  3. Linnae Says:

    I coordinate the Cover Cafe website which sponsors an annual Romance cover contest. The contest was started 10 years ago to promote excellence in covers. One thing I’ve learned is that everyone views covers subjectively and someone’s favorite cover is another person’s least favorite.

    We have 25 volunteer members that narrow down the nominees each year to ten finalists in several categories and we seldom agree unanimously on the finalists. The ones that reach the finals result from a consensus of all of the varied tastes of the committee. When the public votes each year, there are always surprises. And yes, we have a worst category, too.

    Covers are an important marketing tool and they are part of the reading experience just like frosting on a cupcake. People who enjoy and celebrate covers appreciate the artistry that goes into excellent book covers. The fads come and go but an excellent cover really helps a newer author who is establishing their name.

    I don’t mind a naked torso on a man as long as the cover is done well. I don’t think it is wrong to showcase a beautiful woman or handsome man on the cover. To me an excellent cover is one that catches my eye, matches the story inside, is creative, tasteful, and well executed.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Linnae, Of course it isn’t wrong to showcase a beautiful woman or a handsome man, but to show only the chest without a face to make the guy more than a body part strikes me as being insensitive.

      I like your idea that an excellent cover is creative, tasteful, and well-executed.

  4. Dana/Inara Says:

    A lot of covers look alike these days, especially within the various genres/sub-genres. One naked male torso looks a lot like another naked male torso, and women in low cut leather pants with tramp stamps crawling out of their butt cracks pretty much look all alike too. I don’t think your cover is ugly at all.

  5. joylene Says:

    When I’m in a bookstore, the first thing I do is check out new releases, then I go to my fiction corner. The cover may attract my attention, but generally I’m so desperate for a good read that I pick up every copy there. An hour later, it’s the blurb and the first para that make or break my decision to buy the book. The cover might attract my eye, but it doesn’t sway my decision.

  6. Cheryl Haynes Says:

    The cover has no impact on me whatsoever. The title does. If the title gets my attention I will read the back matter, then the first few pages.

    The Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport had a navy blue canvas cover. Nothing more. The title drew me, then the first page hooked me.

    Forget what the cover looks like. You can never judge a book by its cover.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I never judge a book by it’s cover. I grew up reading older books from the library, most of which were rebound, so all I ever had to go by was the title. I know the fad now is to put the author’s name first, but I prefer books where the title is dominant. That’s what catches my attention.

  7. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    Except for when I’m looking for a particular author I’m a cover-seeker. I don’t care whether it’s glossy or matte, but I’m definitely influenced by the design and title and don’t pick it up if they don’t appeal. I’m a bit of a minimalist and also tend to equate garish covers with subject matter that I probably won’t like. (I know… that has no logical basis! It’s just me.) Next comes the blurb and then the opening paragraph. If I get that far and still like it then I head to the cashier. I think differentiating between glossy or matte as indications of quality or how it was published is very strange.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Interesting how we all have our own ways of finding books to read. I never would have considered that people would pass on a book simply because it has a glossy cover. And people’s bias that the books with glossy covers are self-published is so off. I have a book by Thomas Perry, published by Random house — it’s trade paperback, glossy cover, no embossing, no foiling. So it’s not just a print on demand format.

  8. kunal Says:

    “neva judge a book by its cover” :p

Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: