Judging An E-Book By Its E-Cover

With the rise of self-publishing in today's digital marketplace, one of the most important aspects is cover art. This is nothing new or earth-shattering. An attractive cover will, in theory, attract readers, hence give the potential for more sales. Obviously, the work itself is the most important thing, and there are times when a really great cover can't hide the fact that the book is a dud. Sometimes it happens, just as sometimes really awful covers almost shoo potential readers away from a really great piece of art. Such as:

This cover is designed by Chip Kidd, and while I like a lot of Kidd's work, I'm split on what he did for the hardcover design of The Road. It almost seems like after much thought and consideration, he said "Screw it" and drew the design using a paintbrush program on his Mac. Either that or he woke up one day, realized he'd missed the deadline, and knocked it out in that before-mentioned paintbrush program.

And yet ... I do sort of like it. It definitely sets the tone of the novel, though I think this is one of those instances where Cormac McCarthy's name is what sold readers on the book and not the design. Or, to say it more bluntly, had this cover been given to any other writer, the book probably would have failed. Of course, that's just my opinion, but here's what Kidd had to say in a 2007 interview:

"I piggy-backed my career on the backs of authors, not the other way around. The latest example of that is The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I'm lucky to be attached to that. Cormac McCarthy is not lucky to have me doing his cover."

Another cover Kidd is famous for is the original Jurassic Park novel:

Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures had the foresight to buy the rights to the design, which was eventually plastered everywhere when the movie came out. It is, quite simply, iconic. Of course, Kidd didn't think so:

"Jurassic Park would absolutely have sold a similar amount, whether it had my cover on or not. I'm very much against the idea that the cover will sell the book. Marketing departments of publishing houses tend to latch onto this concept and they can't let go. But it's about whether the book itself really connects with the public, and the cover is only a small part of that."

A year or two ago I would have agreed with Kidd, but nowadays I think a cover is so much more important, as many potential readers are browsing these covers on Amazon or on their Kindles or iPads or whatever other e-readers they might have. A reader can no longer pull a book from the shelf and flip through the first couple of pages to decide whether or not they want to purchase it. Well, okay, a reader can still do that, but as we move toward more and more e-books becoming available, what happens now is a reader looks at the cover, description, possibly reviews, and then decides whether or not to spend the extra second to download a sample. Do they then immediately read that sample? Perhaps. Or maybe the sample goes unread. It's impossible to say. I know personally I always download the sample before I purchase an e-book, because sometimes the formatting is wacky, and if that's the case then I'm not going to bother.

But the cover is what is becoming more and more important in this digital age. And it's not just a cover so much as a thumbnail. That's basically all potential readers are going to see anyway, so I always find it odd when authors want to add small text to their e-book covers, like a blurb or "something-something award winner" because, as a thumbnail, that text becomes gargled.

But hey, to each his own. There are a lot of great graphic designers out there, and a lot of great book designs. If any (graphic designers or books) stick out to you, please let me know in the comments, maybe even include a link. For the time being, I leave you with some other of my favorite Chip Kidd designs.