The appeal of a great book cover

The Great Cover Experiment

By Kathryn Le Veque

As a reader, what sells you a book? That’s the magic question asked by every author, everywhere. Is it the title? The cover? The author’s name? To put a twist on an old phrase, ‘beauty is in the eye of the reader’. That goes especially for book covers.

As the author of over 50 published Medieval Romance and Contemporary Romance novels, it’s safe to say that I have a lot of covers. When I first started publishing, I did my covers myself in order to save money. Now that I can afford a cover artist, I still do my covers myself, which is how I embarked on the Great Cover Experiment.

In this case, we’re going to talk about my Medieval Romance covers. The cover of my novels are usually iconic – in other words, they have “iconic” objects on them like swords or shields. It was rare that I had a Medieval knight on the cover and rarer still that I had a Medieval woman.

But as soon as I entered the fray of publishing, I immediately noticed the covers that were being presented to readers – torsos. Male torsos. Male torsos holding swords. Men and women holding swords together, and so on. You get the picture. And here I was with just a sword, or just a helm, or a picture of a castle. My covers were simple but powerful. I stuck with them because I felt they represented what was most important about my book – the quiet strength of the men and women I write about.  I didn’t want, or believe I needed, the overt sex on my covers like some authors had. Not that there’s anything wrong with that because some of those covers are quite beautiful, but I believed my covers set me off from the ‘rest’ of the Medieval Romance authors out there.

Time passed. My sales grew steadily and readers often commented on the fact that my covers drew them to my books because my covers were not like other covers. But I also had my fair share of readers who asked me why my covers weren’t like other covers, as they preferred the naked torso or knight ripping the bodice of his lady.  In fact, my street team members commented on it, too, and soon there was a raging debate – my ‘icon’ covers versus a ‘clinch’ cover (a man and a woman embracing).  The opinions were about half and half – half preferred the old while half encouraged me to try something new.

With the reader in mind – keeping current readers happy and attracting new ones who like those sexually-charged covers – I began my experiment.

Case and point:

The Wolfe is my best seller and most popular novel. The original cover is a graphic I found that, when I saw it, immediately drew me in.  This is my William, I thought, and the cover was the same for a couple of years, a rather simple graphic of a mysterious man looking at his sword.

Readers liked it well enough. It represented what I wanted it to – the strength of my hero, William de Wolfe. But then I decided to change the cover up to something more sexualized yet still keep that mysterious allure that is a very important part of THE WOLFE. I wanted to see if I could attract those readers who like that kind of cover and, if so, how successful could it be? Enough to keep it as the current cover and disregard the original? So, I engaged a spectacular cover designer to  help me update my brand –

I quickly found out that readers loved my new cover. My sales exploded on a book that was already my best seller. I was truly shocked because using icons for my covers as I did, I had discounted the appeal of a sexy torso and as an author, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was wrong

I went back through my catalogue and updated nearly all of my covers to reflect the trend I was seeing.  I tried an experiment by putting a Medieval woman on a cover. She didn’t sell nearly as well as when I put a muscular male torso on the cover.  Not surprisingly, a woman on the cover did, however, attract more male readers. The original THE WOLFE cover attracted more male readers. The new cover almost exclusively attracted female readers.

There’s another old saying that states you can’t please all the people all of the time, and I have found that to be true without exception.  However, as authors, we are constantly striving to understand our readers and their evolving tastes.  Trends come and go, and it’s our job to discover what you, the reader, prefer on your book covers.

Therefore, the question comes back to you, as the reader – what do you like to see on your covers? Authors like me are more accessible nowadays than ever before – via my Facebook page, my website, or email. I answer every reader who sends me a note, comment, or question.  Tell us what you like to see on your covers and I guarantee that we listen. This is, after all, all about YOU, as the reader, and what visually appeals to you on the cover of the book you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on.

There’s a trend right now suggesting that iconic covers are returning (see Diana Gabaldon’s covers, and Game of Thrones). Was I ahead of my time with my icons? Maybe. But I must admit, I really do like the new covers. It’s definitely the strength of a my brand that makes me stand out – and that is the importance of a good cover.