Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Judging Books By Their Covers

Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 5/27/01, and resurrected now because it's a topic of perennial interest:

I can't produce solid figures to prove it, but I can tell you sexy babes do sell books. I've seen it happen -- author X's book XY has a sexy babe, and sells well. Next book, XZ, has a murky scene on the cover, and sells poorly.

In my (admittedly biased, and dependent on my fallible memory) experience, the following things sell books by being in the cover art:

  • dragons (unicorns used to be here, too, but aren't now)
  • spaceships (in a small way)
  • spaceships blowing up or exchanging fire (more so)
  • sexy women (more than anything I can think of)
  • sexy men (slightly in SF/F, hugely in romance)

And I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting. It helps a great deal (mostly for sales of the next book) if the book actually has the cover elements in the text, but it's not absolutely necessary.

If there's a book out there that can be honestly sold by a cover of a mostly-naked woman riding a dragon while a spaceship explodes in the background, I'd love to see it. (I bet I could sell a whole lot of them.)

There are other things that help sell books -- titles are also important, and a book can't beat having been written by someone famous -- but covers are important. And the main job of a cover is to catch the eye of a reader -- not an editor, not a reviewer or critic, not a librarian or bookstore clerk, not even a relatively sophisticated fan, but a garden-variety browser who doesn't have a list of books he's looking for or a catalog of authors in his head. I said this a few days ago in the other cover art thread, but we all here are much more sophisticated and self-conscious about our reading than the proverbial "guy looking to spend his beer money."


Steven Brandt said...

So your saying that if Ring Starr wanted to publish "The White SF Novel," only his name would help it sell :)

Jeff said...

I've noticed a minor recurring theme of cats with hands, in both sf and fantasy. It must work for someone.

Anonymous said...

Ages ago ... like the late 70s? ... at a Boskone someone had in the art show this: under twin moons Mr Spock riding a unicorn. Painted on velvet.

Michael Walsh

Neth said...

As I've said before, I don't know that this all that valid anymore. The market seems to have shifted in several ways, the biggest being the net. I'd argue that amazon reviews for a book has way more influence than something like cover art. I do know that at for me, cover art is something to tald about, complain about, etc., but not something likely to influence my buying (though if it's bad enough, that may influence me).

Anonymous said...

The only title I can think of that might fit is Jack Vance's, The Dragon Masters.

Or one of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels.

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