- by Susan Lyons
It’s release day for Body Heat from Kensington Brava (written under my pen name Susan Fox). I happen to love this cover and think it suits the book perfectly.
Hero Jesse Blue is assigned to do community service at a seniors residential facility. Heroine Maura Mahoney, not wanting to trust him with her precious seniors, puts him to work in the garden – right outside her office window. So I look at this cover as the view from her window. (Sigh…)
In general, I’m not all that big on the semi-naked guy covers, but this one works for me. He does have a lovely body, not one that looks as if he’s on steroids. He’s decently clad and he doesn’t have a hand drifting suggestively below his belt as if he just can’t wait to touch himself. LOL. The skin tones are lovely and the cover is bright and appealing.
The “candy” colors of the lettering add a fun touch, in keeping with the tone of the book. So in this case, I think you can judge the book by its cover.
But that’s not always the case. Last week, I was the guest at a book club. They had just read one of my books (not Body Heat). We had a lively discussion about the book, writing, the publishing process, print versus e-books, and so on and so on. One of the hot-button topics was covers.
Several of them commented that they didn’t like my book’s cover, for two main reasons. First, it wasn’t something they felt comfortable reading on the bus/train to work, or at coffee break at work. Second, they didn’t think it related to the story. The couple on the cover didn’t fit their mental pictures of the heroine and hero, and the scene on the cover never occurred in the story.
They asked how much input authors had on covers, and how covers were chosen. I said that, in most cases, authors have minimal input – unless of course they self-publish their work, in which case they have total control. The reason that authors aren’t given much of a say, I told them, is that publishing houses hire people who are experts in design and marketing, whereas most authors don’t have expertise in those areas. (Mind you, authors are expected to promote their books, and most of us don’t have much expertise in that area…)
The club members referred to a number of books they’d read where, in their not-so-humble opinions, those experts at the publishing houses didn’t hit the mark. They said that, for them, the cover has a huge impact. They can be induced to buy a book because of the cover – and then find the cover has no relation to the story and they feel deceived. Or they resist buying a book because they hate the cover or the cover gives them a message that indicates the book isn’t something they’d enjoy, then someone eventually persuades them to read the book and they discover that they love it.
As a voracious consumer of fiction, I have to agree. I’ve had both of those experiences myself. As for the covers of my own books – well, sometimes I hit it lucky with a cover I adore; other times I get a cover I’m pretty happy with; and other times I just have to grin and bear it because the cover is nothing I’d ever, ever have chosen.
But I have to remind myself, I’m not the expert. If I self-published, then I’d get to test out my own theories about what covers are most effective, but so far I haven’t gone that route.
The intelligent, opinionated book club members had a proposition that, to me, makes a huge amount of sense. Let’s not rely solely on the expertise of the art department, marketing, or the author. Let’s ask the people who really count: consumers. Put together focus groups of readers, and ask them. This book club, by the way, happily volunteered to do it. They’ll do it for wine – and isn’t that a generous offer?
It’s such a simple concept, isn’t it? Ask the target market what works best for them.
I imagine some publishers do have focus groups, at least for some books (I’m guessing it’s the ones they invest the highest advances on). If they don’t ask for consumer input, they probably have a good reason. That aspect of the business is out of my hands, as long as I contract with traditional publishers. But if I ever self-publish, you bet I’m going to buy a couple of bottles of wine and hit up that book club for their opinions!
What are your thoughts on book covers? What works best for you on a cover? What’s the best cover you’ve ever seen? The worst? Have you ever been in a focus group to provide input on a cover?
(And if you want to learn more about Body Heat, check my website at http://www.susanlyons.ca for an excerpt and behind-the-scenes notes. Publishers Weekly said, “Opposites attract in this sizzling contemporary… In asking whether her two sympathetic leads can overcome their personal issues, Fox will have readers fervently hoping for a happily-ever-after.”)