A book cover experiment – Part II

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):

Subject #1:

Subject #2:

Subject #3:

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.

9 thoughts on “A book cover experiment – Part II

  1. James Maxon

    Very good point. In Design school, they always said, above all else, know your target audience. That seems to be the case in books too. Though, as a designer, anything that looks “cool” tends to catch my eye.

  2. Jeffrey Allen Davis

    Hmmm . . . Would one of these be mine? If so, which one? It’s been too long and I can’t remember.

  3. Darryl Sloan


    Ah, but what you see as cool, another may not. What I see as cool is largely determined by my genre interests.

  4. James Maxon

    Nope, what I think is cool, is cool. What other people think is cool, is stupid ;-p J/K

  5. Michael Reed

    #3 also seems to have a slight preference for sans-serif fonts. In all fairness, the correlation might be between the genre that he prefers and sans-serif fonts.

  6. Darryl Sloan


    I hadn’t noticed that! However, I’d go for a slightly different take on the font issue. I’d say that, to some extent, a book’s genre dictates the style of font used. Hard-edged sans serif fonts are more at home on futuristic sci-fi works, whereas we tend to have fonts with more flair on fantasy novels. My guess would be that sans serif fonts attract reader #3 because they communicate sci-fi to him.

    When I was choosing the font for Chion, I was conscious of picking something that communicated sci-fi. No surprise that it ended up sans serif. In fact, if you wind the blog back over the various incarnations of the cover, I think most, if not all, of my choices were sans serif.

  7. ali

    HEY…….sorry to be way off the subject here Darryl but I’m just back from bulgaria and I got you a pressie while i was there…….I risked life & limb (well reputation) getting through customs with it….a ninja star.
    So I do hope you haven’t sold off that dart board.

  8. Darryl Sloan

    Ali, that’s fantastic! Thank you so much. This is a great surprise. And yep, I still have the board.

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