Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the Phoenix Comic Fest (aka Comicon), and there were a good number of authors present. Some of the books on display were very clear in their genres and what kind of audience the author was trying to reach, but my varied experiences just brought to mind why it is so important for self-published authors to not only invest in a well-designed book cover (if they aren’t a pro at it themselves) but also take the time to understand who it is they’re writing for or who their book(s) will appeal to.
A lot of people aren’t going to learn about most novels by word of mouth alone, which means your novel literally has the few seconds of a first glance to capture a potential reader’s interest. Whether they are looking for something specific or something that just catches their eye, what they see and what the entirety of the cover design communicates to them will be a huge factor in whether or not they decide to buy it. (And they expect it to match what’s on the inside.)
Granted, I met an author who had some book covers that weren’t well-designed, and she managed to sell me on one anyway by word of mouth. The point is most authors aren’t going to get that kind of opportunity with their readers.
It’s also possible to have a crappy cover design that still sells well, though chances are it’s just aesthetically lacking in the fine points but has some genre-specific element, usually artwork, that speaks to its target audience. I’ve been seeing this a lot. So it’s less about what “looks good” and more about what it communicates about your novel plus how that matches up to reader expectations.
This mirrors my experience with design in general. Good design combines both form and function. However, some people will prioritize one over the other. I’m the kind of person that will take a pass on a book if its cover (or form) sucks while others may be more willing to take a chance if there’s something that communicates it may have what the reader is looking for (function). At the same time, an ugly but functional cover could attract some of its target audience to make a purchase while alienating readers like myself who value aesthetics, just as a pretty cover with poor function (one that doesn’t accurately portray the kind of story that’s inside) could ultimately result in buyer’s remorse and negative reviews once the novel is read.
Anyway, I talk more about my Comicon experience at the event in the video—including an example of a book whose design didn’t match the story its author was trying to sell to me verbally—as well as other thoughts about doing market research, so if that sounds interesting to you then you should definitely check it out!
Are you a self-published author?
What has your experience with cover design and market research been like? Let me know in the comments!