Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Cooper Union
February, 27, 1860
The Shut Mouth Society is a contemporary thriller about a conspiracy that goes back to Abraham Lincoln. The novel was published in 2008, which happened to be the Lincoln Bicentennial. It opens with Lincoln's Copper Union address on February 27, 1860, prior to his nomination for president. On the same day, he had a photograph taken by Mathew Brady. (Lincoln claimed the Copper Union address and Brady photograph made him president.) A book cover that used this photograph would tie into both the novel's introduction and the Bicentennial. My designer came up with a unique close-up cropping that really showed Lincoln’s intelligence and determination. I thought it couldn’t miss.

Big miss. Sales were lackluster and customer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads were mediocre to scathing. Sales were hurt by an avalanche of nonfiction books released to take advantage of the bicentennial, and early buyers of The Shut Mouth Society assumed it was another book about Lincoln. A few even bought it because they assumed it was nonfiction. Although the story did include extensive Lincoln history, the novel was a modern-day chase thriller in which the protagonists desperately try to unravel a one hundred and fifty year old conspiracy.

I could have given up on the book, but The Shut Mouth Society was a finalist for Best Novel in the Glyph Awards, and it had received excellent reviews in the general press. We decided to try another cover design. You can see both of them side by side below. 

Abraham Lincoln
American Flag

The new cover worked miracles. Sales increased dramatically and customer reviews were effusive. At the time of this writing, the book has 161 Amazon reviews for 4.3 stars, and 491 ratings on Goodreads for 3.7 stars. I’m pleased with the Goodreads numbers because the newer rankings had to overcome dismal early returns. 

Nothing changed but the book cover.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because we’re in the final throe of designing a book cover for The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale. We had many concept mock-ups, but I rejected many of them because despite being nice graphically, they didn’t fit the story. I learned my lesson. Covers build reader expectations. This is why genre covers look alike. They’re designed to appeal to an audience that will appreciate the book. So don't believe the cliché that people should never judge a book by its cover. People do. 

Insist on a well-designed cover that fits your storyline.

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