For this article, I am going to lean heavily on an interview the awesome Jane Friedman did with Andrew Rhomberg, the founder of Jellybooks, a company that tracks consumer behaviour for big publishers. You can read the original interview here.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again: readers do judge a book by its cover. Rhomberg (who has the data to prove it) states that “covers influence readers greatly in their choices and readers are not even aware of it”.
But it is not only about having a cover that stands out visually – getting someone to simply notice your book is only the beginning. Holding someone’s attention long enough to spark their interest is the most important function of your cover. As Rhomberg explains: “The cover should raise expectations, but not create misleading expectations. There is a fine balance.”
In other words, you need to make sure that your cover is intriguing enough to spark interest, while remaining true to your story. At the same time, though, it needs to feel familiar enough to would-be readers that they recognize its genre and identify it as something they want to read. This is not an easy task (which is why we recommend that you hire an expert to help you).
How your cover influences readers after they have bought your book
Interestingly, Jellybooks also found that there is a correlation between how quickly a reader finishes a book and the quality of the cover. “Good covers pull people back and give people a reason to finish the book faster, which helps in sustaining a viral cycle with a fast turn-around time,” Rhomberg explains. He goes on to point out that the probability of someone recommending a book to their friends is also “heavily influenced” by how good the cover is. This is because “[p]eople in general, and readers in particular, are very much aware that they are being judged by the recipient based on what they recommend”.
So, is your cover going to make your reader look good when they recommend it to their friends?