I’m fully aware that “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a famous idiom that means that you shouldn’t prejudge the worth of something based on its outward appearance alone. However, I’ve been discovering recently that the phrase can literally apply to the books I’ve been reading over the past couple of years as well, and unfortunately, not in a positive way.
When I began publishing my own work and was tasked with the job of creating my covers I found myself torn between the concept of what I wanted to convey to the reader and what appeared to be the most sales worthy. My stories fall mostly into the category of Adult, Paranormal, Fiction, and Romance, which would generally mean a close up shot of some model-dude’s really sweet six-packed abs either with a cowboy hat, or a pair of dragon’s wings, or heavily tattooed arms on full display depending on the sub-genre. And while I’m not at all opposed to seeing the male torso in all of its jacked up, muscular, naked glory, what I am opposed to is the kind of false advertising I’ve come across on covers so many times as of late. For instance, if the cowboy inside the pages of our saga has sandy blonde hair, a sexy goatee, and a hairy chest — why the hell am I looking at a picture of a some oiled up bald guy with no facial hair and a torso so smooth he’s like the poster boy for Mr. Universe? Putting a cowboy hat on a duck doesn’t make that duck a cowboy no matter how you slice it, and I don’t understand why any author would slap such misleading packaging on a product that they spent so much time and effort creating.
Now, I do understand about click bait, eye candy, and trying to encourage sales and all that jazz — apparently the hot, nude, beefy male upper body sells no matter what the occasion. Go check it out people — at least seventy-five percent of romance covers, no matter what the genre, have some form of a naked or mostly naked man on them. And do you remember Fabio? Of course you do! Because Fabio built an entire long and illustrious career as the Romance Cover guy based on his looks alone, and long, blonde hair is still synonymous with his name to this day. The guy’s got to be in his sixties at this point, but he’ll forever be frozen in time mid-bodice rip, pirate shirt torn open to reveal just the right amount of bare chest, beautiful locks flapping in the breeze (possibly with a tub of butter product in his hands). So clearly this fascination with male beefcake is far from new. I also realize that the price point for a really well done or original photo cover with a real life model can be exorbitant. Been there, done that, paid my royalties. My problem as both a reader and a writer is that, for me, a particularly erroneous or misleading cover can seriously hinder my enjoyment of the book itself and I can’t think of a writer in the universe who would want to do that for any reason at all, sales driven or otherwise.
Conversely, a really good cover can rock your literary world. I had nightmares for years when I was younger because of the cover of the Jaws novel and I think that it couldn’t have been more spot on. A couple of my favorite covers over the years have been Flowers in the Attic, The Great Gatsby, and The Watchmen as much for their simplicity as their accurate representation of the work inside.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Do covers make a difference when you’re choosing or reading a book? As always — I want to know!