On January 16 I invited readers to take part in a little book cover experiment. To reiterate: I asked you to visit Locus’s 2006 Cover Art Gallery and pick the ten most attention-grabbing book covers from the 557 on display, and we’ll see what we can learn from the results. Here are the three guinea pigs who took part (who shall forever remain nameless):
The first thing I notice is that entirely different covers stood out for each person, which basically tells me that you can’t win ’em all. I use the philosophy that a successful cover is one where something stands out and catches the eye of the casual bookshelf browser. The thing is, clearly, different things stand out for different people.
What’s interesting about the individual choices is that they reveal trends. You can tell that subject #1 likes fantasy and science fiction – military SF in particular. Subject #2 has similar interests, but I would dare to say that fantasy is a firm favourite over sci-fi. Subject #3 is fascinating because he’s the only one with a definite inclination towards darker fiction. There wasn’t much in the way of all-out horror on display, but this subject likes dark atmospheres, weird monsters, and kinky sex! I notice a distinct cyberpunk interest. Conversely, Tolkien-esque fantasy is completely absent from his list and made no impression on his choices, unlike #1 and #2.
The conclusion I draw from this is that people buy books according to the genres and sub-genres that appeal to them. I think the best marketing choice I can make, as a self-publisher, is to produce a cover that most accurately descibes the content of the book I’m selling. It’s pointless trying to appeal to a broad audience, and might even harm my chances of being noticed by the fans of the type of fiction I’m actually writing. So, when designing a cover, don’t be vague: let it scream zombies, fairies, detectives, or whatever it is your book is about.