Book Covers: How Much Do They Influence You As A Reader?

by | Jul 26, 2017 | On writing | 11 comments

One of the books offered by

Our last blog post asked whether it mattered to you if the author was a man or a women and many, many of you read it and some commented. One bookseller stated that while selling books they noticed women buy books written by men but that few men bought books written by women. This bookseller noted that covers should be neutral to avoid this issue. This comment got me thinking, how much are we driven to read a book by the messages we receive from the cover?

I started researching, my favorite thing to do, and found this site above, which offers books wrapped in brown paper and with only a quick synopsis on the cover. This image caught me. Those five lines are some of my favorite elements in a thriller and I wouldn’t need more to buy it. And if it introduced me to a new author or to one I hadn’t yet read, all the better! So what would happen if I unwrapped this book and the cover wasn’t to my liking? Based on that first impression I’d still read it. How lucky would it have been that the author would have reached me despite a less than desirable cover?

Before I go any further, I should mention that as authors we often have little control over the covers we receive. We get to view them in advance and weigh in and sometimes our suggestions are adopted, but we rarely have the final say. In my case I’ve been more than willing to let the cover designer have at it–I’m an author not a graphic designer and more often than not the cover has been well done.

And this intriguing idea led me to think about all of the misleading covers on books that I’ve seen over the years. Most of these covers must have been driven by a marketing decision made somewhere by someone who didn’t really understand the book or who picked up on one aspect of it but not the rest. For example, check out the cover to the right. If you saw this, what would you assume? Romance, right?

But you’d only be half right. This book is a sweeping story of India and two English citizens caught in the brutal Siege of Lucknow in 1857. At almost 800 pages and based on an actual wartime event, it’s more aligned with Gone With The Wind, and the battle scenes are brutal depictions of historical fact. The incongruous cover must have been the subject of discussion, because I also found the alternative cover below, which plays up the exotic locale more than the romance.

All of this is not to say that covers that point us in a certain direction are bad, they’re not. It would be strange to have a romance novel set in Regency England with a picture of a woman in modern dress, but I think that the idea of neutral covers and perhaps gender neutral names has some merit. I haven’t yet gone that route, but I’m currently working on a historical thriller and it’s not inconceivable that I use a pseudonym in order to clearly delineate that historical from my present day thrillers. I haven’t yet made up my mind, but Karna’s last post and the recent Wall Street Journal article discussing such names have me thinking.

Whatever I decide, I’ll try to keep my covers true to the full expanse of the story and still give the reader an idea of what’s within. In the meantime, I’ve written five short lines about my upcoming Emma Caldridge novel:

Dark Secrets
Conspiracy Thriller
Ruthless government
Tracking Assassin
On the Run
How do covers affect your choice of what to read? Do you recall any covers that surprised you once you’ve read the book? Would love to hear about it! 
Best, Jamie Freveletti

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Thanks, Jamie, for this thought-provoking post. When I peruse a book store and check out the "New Release" table, instead of concentrating on the cover art, I admit I am often swayed by the "blurbs" on the front and back covers….meaning the comments/praise from other well known authors or officials I respect. So, while an author may not have control over the choice of the cover art (since you are right — publishers often hang onto that power) — an author can have control over the blurbs when she sends an advance copy of her new novel to various contacts and reviewers.

  2. S. Lee Manning

    AT this point, I tend to buy certain authors – either who've been recommended or whom I know personally (always support my friends) or whose work I already know I like. The cover really doesn't make much of a difference. On the rare occasion that I'm stranded in an airport in a snowstorm and need reading material, I'm more likely to be interested in the description and/or the blurbs than the cover art.

  3. Jamie Freveletti

    Hi Sandy and Karna: So glad you're able to look past the cover! I sometimes think a bad cover will make me less likely to even pick up the book to read the description. I also read my friends and known authors, and my TBR pile is sky high with those. But now I'm going to make an effort to read more widely and try some authors I've never heard of before.

  4. Gayle Lynds

    Great post, Jamie. And from my viewpoint, covers matter a lot to most readers. They send subtle and not-so-subtle signals about what kind of book it is and the publisher's belief in the importance of the book. One of the biggest problems is those covers that don't accurately portray the book's contents … readers who buy that book and are disappointed because it isn't the kind of book they thought seldom forget, and seldom buy the author's next book. The power of the publisher is enormous in covers, too.

  5. Tad Ottman

    I am always influenced by the cover art. As I scan books, it's the first thing that catches my eye. If it seems like something I might be interested in, then I move onto the title and then read the description. Blurbs from authors do nothing for me. They seem to me to be indiscriminate (I'm looking at you Stephen King). Blurbs from reviews, especially Kirkus or Publisher's Weekly, will catch my eye. This isn't to say that I won't read a book with a bad cover, but a bad cover is something to be overcome.

  6. Jamie Freveletti

    Yes, it kind of works that way for me too regarding bad covers. I'm going to try an experiment where I just read descriptions and try to ignore covers and see if it expands my reading list. I'll post about the results. Thanks for the input!

  7. Jo Wendland

    I'm very influenced by the cover. But if it's an author I like I'll get it no matter.

  8. Ally W

    I'll be honest & admit that when I was reading "real" actual books, the cover would sway me – if it looked half or misled the genre then I probably look close enough to read the synopsis. Now that I'm an e-reader convert (apologies to those who consider that sacreligious!) I'm much more driven by who the author is & I quite often go along with my Kindle recommends prompts.

  9. Ally W

    Sorry, didn't proof read that very well! 'half' = naf !

  10. Jamie Freveletti

    Quick question about E reading (don't have an e reader myself), are the covers too small to really impact you and so the author name is the better guide?