Judging a book by its cover is a no-no, we’re always told. Well, okay, I was always told. My English teacher during my freshman year in high school, Ms. Sheedy, drilled it into my head that you cannot judge a book by the cover. I can still hear her voice, nagging at me like an open cold sore, her shrill, dulcet tone cutting through the night like an air raid siren. God rest that woman’s soul, to this day I still have to read the first few pages (including the promotional blurb inside the flap) to see if I might be interested.
But then comes the counter to that argument: can a bad book cover kill a good book?
Many authors will philosophically denounce me on this one, calling me everything from heretic to pagan (sweet, denouncement by my peers… this day has long been coming) to an illiterate hack. Of the three names, I can proudly call myself the third option. It’s a gift, really. But back to the topic at hand…
A bad book cover can indeed kill a book’s sales. Oh, the quality of the book has little if nothing to do with the cover. I’ve seen Stephen King novels that I stare at for hours on end, trying to discern why the cover is as plain as it is. These bland covers do nothing to hurt King’s sales (actually, lately it seems that his writing is doing the job for him… but that’s my opinion, and maybe 3 people read this so meh), but on an unknown author struggling to attain some sort of steady sales, a horrid cover can kill a sale.
On the flip side of this, a stupidly awesome cover can cover a very bad book. Very rarely do you hear the argument of “That book killed the sale of my cover art!”. I’m not saying that a Kurt Miller art cover (or David Mattingly. Personally, I am a fan of Miller’s work) is going to make that book you’re holding any better. In fact, I can promise that, no matter how sweet that Roman Centurion’s head is when placed above four tanks, the book is only as good as you think it is. Tastes vary. But for an author, it’s about the sales. And if you pick up a book based on the artistically amazing book cover, you have gone from obscure to “Man that book looks cool”.
It’s all about the bottom line, which to most authors who write for a living is “making a living”.