Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cover Art – Does it Actually Matter?


After posting this yesterday about cover art (with several links to other discussions), I thought some more about it. As I’ve said before, I often take issue with the cover art, but does it actually matter to me anymore? Really, I know cover art can be terrible, I know that the cover art rarely reflects the quality of a book – so does it actually ever change my buying habits?

Since I’ve become more involved in the internet, message boards, blogs, etc., I generally know what books I want. I’ve read reviews or seen recommendations – in other words I’ve already judged the book in some limited way on something other than its cover. I’ve never picked up a book that I wanted to get and put it back because of the cover art – that wouldn’t make much sense to me.

I don’t browse at bookstores as much as I did in the past – though I do still buy books that aren’t on my ‘Waiting List’ when I find something that piques my curiosity. But it’s the title of a book that’s much more likely to catch my eye. The way books are shelved, you can’t see cover art – it’s the title that makes me pick up a book. Then I immediately read the synopsis and see who blurbed what. I may flip through the first chapter – notice I haven’t mentioned the cover art. It simply doesn’t matter to me.

While I still dislike cover art and can’t help feel a bit of shame when I’m reading a book in public with some cheesy, fantasy cover showing some amazon in armor with flowing hair. Or dragons – ugh dragons on a cover almost never work. Anyway, I digress – the point is that cover art does not matter to me in anyway when it comes to choosing a book. I know marketers will tell you different, as will many people, but for me it is not a factor.

So the take home message for me is that the title is the important factor in selection. I know authors don’t have near as much control over this as they’d like – so authors, publishers take my advice (like you need it) – pick good titles. Not some terribly cliché fantasy/sci-fi title The Heart of the Serpent or the like – something good, unique, catchy. City of Saints and Madmen or The Land of Laughs – these work, I’m already curious; I’m beginning to get sucked in and I haven’t even opened the book. And give me some credit – Temeraire is much more appealing than His Majesty’s Dragon – it’s insulting that a change was made because of perceived limitations in the American audience (it’s even more insulting because it’s probably true).

I’ll probably still rant from time to time, and I’ll appreciate cover art that I like, but the realization that it just doesn’t matter to me one way or another is comforting.

7 comments:

Carl V. said...

You probably have the better attitude about it all. I am still very, very influenced by cover art...at least when it comes to whether I'll purchase a hardback or just pick a book up from the library. At this point in my life I am very obsessed with illustration. I wait impatiently every year for the newest Spectrum art book as I always discover new artists that I like. That in turn leads me to check out the books that they have done covers for. A very large amount of new authors that I try is because of cover art that appeals to me. But that is the thing about art, what appeals to me doesn't necessarily appeal to others.

Bad cover art certainly wouldn't stop me from picking up a book by a favorite author: Neil Gaiman, Patricia McKillip, Jonathan Carrol (Land of Laughs is GREAT). It would, however, make me less likely to try someone new unless someone I trust raved about them.

I'm also the type of person who likes to 'collect' books, in the sense that I most often buy new hardbacks, the reason being that I like the art and presentation of the book and want to possess it, to read it, and hopefully to love it enough to read it over and over again. By and large judging a book by its cover hasn't gone wrong for me. There have been a few stinkers but mostly I am pleased with my purchases on some level.

I hope you continue to 'rant' about covers that you both like and dislike as it always makes for fun conversation.

And I agree with you on the His Majesty's Dragon thing. I have hated that title all along simply because it makes me think of Christopher Stasheff's book Her Majesty's Wizard that I read long ago. Everytime I see it I think of this other book, that I enjoyed long ago, and it feels to much like a copycat title. I know that is ridiculous, but that is the effect it has on me personally.

Neth said...

Well, I do enjoy good cover art, but even then, it still holds very little actual value to me. I guess I'm just not passionate about that sort of art - I don't think this would surprise people that know me well.

I do like to 'collect' books again, but it's not really the asthetic quality I'm collecting - but the story itself. So I'm less worried about the art or that it matches other books in a series.

I'll think about making this a 'series' of rants - I could regularly pick a 'good' and 'bad'cover and discuss why I think that way - but then I'm hardly an art critic. I'm far less 'qualified' there than I am for offering my thoughts on books - and I have no 'qualifications' for books other than the fact I read them.

Neil Clarke said...

Actually, the cover art seriously influences what books you will see in a chain store. Aside from prior sales figures, chain book buyers will use the cover art as a criteria which books to buy and how many. This says to me that their data suggests the cover art is extremely important.

This information comes from a friend in publishing on dealing with the buyers for B&N.

-Neil

Carl V. said...

In my opinion anyone who can communicate why they personally do or don't like a piece of art is qualified enough to critique art. So go for it.

Neth said...

Neil - thanks for the info. I imagine that cover art is a big factor in marketing and the like, but if I'm any example, it's impact is less now than it has been in the past - and maybe book sellers should take notice. Of course, I could just be a bit on the cynical/skeptical side of the line (which isn't exactly uncommon).

Best of luck with the store closing and all. I'm sure it's a very bitter-sweet time.


Carl - we'll see. I've been kicking the idea around in my head for a couple days and it's still there.

Carl V. said...

At the very least I'll come over and agree or argue with you about your choices. ;)

Carl V. said...

Don't know if you've read this older post of Scalzi's or not, but his comments about cover art later in the post reminded me of you. Thought you might enjoy it:

http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003914.html

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