Judging a Book by its Cover

How do you pick the next novel you’re going to read?  Probably, it depends.  If you’re like me, you get recommendations from friends, read book reviews, go to your local bookstore and troll the “New Fiction” or “Recommended Reads” shelf.  Maybe you go online and look for something by a favorite author or maybe you even pay attention to that annoying (for me) prompt that comes up at the big online retailer that says: “people who viewed [this book] also viewed [this other one.]  So, let me ask you this:  How important is the book cover to your selection?  How much can you really tell about what’s inside by looking at the cover?  We all know the old adage — don’t judge a book by its cover.  And yet…

I’ve recently connected up with a small local press that’s interested in publishing my first mystery novel.  (Hurray!  And — more about that to come in future posts.)  But here’s the thing.  I’ve been tasked with looking at book covers of mysteries like mine and thinking about what I’d like to see on the cover.  This is exciting.  And also a little intimidating because I’m told that the three most important things in marketing a book are:  the cover, the title and the blurb.  While considering covers, I’m to remember that these days many potential readers are only going to be looking at a three inch rendition of the book cover that appears online.  Okay, I’m ready.

EvanovichHere’s the first thing I notice:  big name writers have big names on their books, like Janet Evanovich’s.  When I’m looking at a rookie writer’s first book, the author’s name will be smaller than the title so what’s important here is what the photo or graphic art portrays about the novel.  Here’s one I like a lot:OuterboroughBlues-Cvr-05.indd

I also notice that when the author is relatively unknown, there may be a quote from another better-known author on the cover which will give the newbie writer some cred.  But back to what the cover can tell the potential reader.  Within the mystery genre there are many sub-genres and the cover can be an easy tip-off.


Romantic romanticmysterymysteries often feature pastel covers; noir mysteries are all black and white photography, shadows and empty streets; cozies have cute drawings of bakeries or small towns or dogs; bigchihuahuamystery series usually have a theme that runs through them (think Sue Grafton’s alphabet series.)





But the covers I’m drawn to are atmospheric, street scenes or photographs of houses off in the distance, definitely not the cute graphics on the covers of the  two mystery novels  I found which seem most

highheelssimilar to the kind of book I’ve written (female amateur detective – newspaper reporter.) They’re nice, they just don’t seem right for my book:

Layout 1







Now that I’ve looked at so many book covers that my eyes are starting to glaze over, I start reading some blurbs.  This is even more fun because, as a writer, I know how difficult it is to distill a three hundred page novel into a few sentences.  But it’s true that I get bogged down in the blurbs that don’t grab me right away.  Here’s one I like a lot from Outerborough Blues:  “A beautiful young French girl walks into a bar, nervously lights a cigarette and begs the bartender for help in finding her missing artist brother.”  (Though I would take out the word “nervously.”)  Here’s another one from French Silk:  “Like the city of New Orleans itself, Claire Laurent is a vibrant beauty FrenchSilk2laced with a mysterious elusiveness.”


And here’s a really awesome blurb that made me put The Map of Lost Memories on my reading list: “In 1925 the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no one understands this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for a coveted museum curatorship because she is a woman.”  Okay, it isn’t just the blurb that pulls me in here.  It’s the fact that this author was short listed for an Edgar award for best first mystery novel and this quote from author Jennifer Cody Epstein:  “In The Map of Lost Memories, Kim Fay draws us into a universe as exotic, intense, and historically detailed MapLostMemoriesas the ancient artifacts her unforgettable heroine seeks. It’s a deliciously unexpected journey: Indiana Jones meets Somerset Maugham meets Marguerite Duras.”

So, I’ve got work to do.  If I can’t get something French or foreign onto my book cover (which I appear to be quite drawn to, but would be difficult since my novel takes place mostly in Seattle) I’ll have to find a great photo.  I’m kind of drawn to photos of the old Aurora Avenue Bridge since, on the first page of my novel, a woman jumps to her death from it.  And the working title has been Leap of Faith.  It works for me.  Now, if I could only get Stephen King to write the quote for the cover…..


About writeinseattle

Two Seattle writers examining the writer's life.
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