I'd Rather Have Fabio than a Petunia

(Or - Judging a Book By the Cover)

Part 1

April 2008

I have always been a person to judge a book by its cover. Now for authors I already know, this is not an issue, but what about new authors, or new-to-me authors? There are too many books available to be able to sit and read the blurb for every one. There has to be a reason for me to turn the book over (or click on the cover) to read the blurb.

I remember shelving at the bookstore where I worked part time. I would see a book, and slip it aside to look at later. But it would be the cover of the book that would grab my interest.

I remember a day in 1991. What is this? A man in black clutching a woman with a moon in the background - and is that a bat flying across the moon? What? Could it be a Vampire Romance? Oh my, this definitely needs to be looked at. And it was, in fact, the first vampire romance I had ever seen, and I quickly bought and read the book. There were so many clues as to the nature of the storyline in that cover. It grabbed my attention and the book matched the expectations set by the cover, so I would call it a successful cover. But if the cover had been a petunia? Nope, I would not have spared it a second glance.

I typically only read romances, and this article reflects my opinions for romance covers only. I believe that different genres have different needs. For romance novels, I definitely like to have people, places, and things on my covers. I want the cover to reflect the storyline of the book. In fact, I believe that the covers are probably the most important piece of marketing for the book. But am I alone in this? Do other readers consider covers to be important? I asked six questions of romance readers pertaining to book covers. They were...

1) Do you like People/Places/Things on Covers, or Flowers?

2) For unknown/new to you authors, does the cover influence you to read the blurb?

3) Do you hide covers of books easily recognizable as romance novels?

4) Do you like the trend of "branding" an author's book covers?

5) Do you mind when a cover is changed when the book is reissued?

6) Has there ever been a cover so bad that it prevented you from buying/reading the book?

First and foremost, and quite eloquently stated, readers want covers that reflect the storyline. They do NOT want a flower, unless the hero and heroine are standing in a garden. A flower on the cover would represent a gardening book, not a romance novel.

Readers are busy. Like me, they don't have time to read all the blurbs. The cover needs to reflect the storyline at a glance. If it is a historical, show the proper clothing and setting. If it is a sweeter storyline, be sure that the hero and heroine are not in too intimate an embrace. Likewise, if the story is spicier, they can show more intensity.

Most readers who responded stated they are proud of being a romance reader, and do not hide their covers. However, it was universally acknowledged by readers of spicier romances that the covers must be tasteful. They don't mind the cover implying the spicier side of the storyline, but in a subtle manner.

As for questions 4 through 6, I'll leave those for "I'd Rather Have Fabio than a Petunia" Part 2.

I would be interested in learning your opinions about covers or your answers to my six questions. Feel free to e-mail me also with questions or topics you might like to have addressed in future columns. Although I do not make any guarantees, I will take all e-mails into consideration.

Continue to Part 2.