Judging Books, Judging Publishers

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Details count!

We all know the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” We all know it, but we all do it anyway, right? I find it very hard to bring myself to read a book with an ugly, ill-conceived, or poorly-executed cover. Why? Because the amount of care and attention paid to the cover sends a message about the amount of care and attention paid to the contents.

Yes, of course it’s possible to have a great book hidden behind an ugly cover. But you have to find readers willing to take the chance. I suspect a lot of decent books suffer this way, and don’t get the readership they deserve.

However, today I’m not searching for something new to read. Today I’m searching for publishers to submit to. And I’m here to tell you that I’m judging them by their covers. The covers they put on the books they publish.

There are a lot of factors that I consider–that I expect most writers consider–when deciding where to submit their work. Turnaround time is a big one for me, because I now make it a policy to leave manuscripts in submission (without a decision) for no longer than a year at the outside. Sure, I know that in publishing terms a year is not that long, but I’ve been burned before and I’m not going to do that again.

Payment is also a big one. Many publishers list their royalty structure right on their websites now, which I think is great. No surprises down the road after a long time waiting for an answer. I also have limits below which I won’t go on that score, because if a publisher does not value my work, I don’t trust them to help me attract readers.

Other considerations: I like publishers that accept simultaneous submissions, although it’s not a deal-breaker. I like publishers that accept attachments, although ditto. I like publishers that deal in both print and ebook, although I might consider ebook only if other aspects are attractive. I have little use for publishers who don’t plan to answer me unless they’re interested. And I might break my own rules on any of these things depending on circumstances.

But these days, I’m not even *looking* at any of these details first. The first thing I do when I scope out a potential publisher is go and look at their current catalogue and see what their covers are like. And if those covers are–to put it bluntly–crappy, then I don’t bother looking any further.

Maybe that sounds snobbish, like now that I have one book published, I’m full of myself. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I just think that especially now, in the days of shopping mega-bookstores online, where book cover thumbnails have about eight seconds to catch the eye of a potential reader, it’s the single most important element in getting a reader’s interest.

Some may argue that the most important element is price, but I beg to differ. Even at .99 or $2.99( or whatever the magical perfect ebook selling price is this week), a bad cover is not going to interest a reader in making even a small investment. Not when there are hundreds of beautiful, intriguing, eye-catching covers out there at the same price.

Some may also argue that it’s a matter of taste, to which I will agree–conditionally. Not even the most deftly-executed cover is going to make me pick up a horror novel. But I believe that even readers who profess to have no artistic appreciation will be turned off by a bad cover. Bad covers look cheap. They may be confusing. They’re often unreadable. They just don’t sell books, and after all, that’s their job. A cover is supposed to say “what lies within here is something you want to experience.” They won’t work if they say “we just didn’t have the time/money/talent/experience to make this look good. But spend your money anyway. What’s inside is better!”

If you don’t believe me, there are numerous curators of bad book covers around the Internets: like here, here,and here. Take a look and tell me if you really want to read these books. And would you really want your own book to join them?

Photo credit: mailsparky

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2 Comments

  1. I do the same thing. I looked into submitting my latest self-published book, a historical romance, to some publishers. When I saw the covers that the biggest e-book-first publisher in my genre was putting on their books, I decided to go it alone. Some of them were OK, but a lot of them were not. My cover isn’t perfect, but I did not want to be stuck with a hideous cover (and not-very-favorable terms with no advance, but the covers were what pushed me over the edge).

  2. I think your cover is delightful, Amelia, and it’s head and shoulders above what some of these publishers are putting on their books. I wouldn’t hesitate to submit to a publisher with covers like yours. But some of them out there…*shudder*. I’d just be horribly embarrassed as the author.

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