Why Book Covers are So Important — by Tori L. Ridgewood

I had this discussion just the other day with a group of students, mainly reluctant readers in their mid-teens. Whether someone is an avid devourer of books (like myself) or someone who claims to have never read a book outside of a classroom, the cover can sometimes make all the difference between that decision to open it to the first page, and leaving it on the shelf.

Most of us have heard the old phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet that opening image has to convey enough truth about the story within to capture the interest of the target audience, honestly but with a hook. And many genres are considered to have a certain formula to follow with regard to the mise-en-scene of the image: the words “romance novel” conjure up visions of bared-breasted, well-muscled men clasping scantily-clad damsels before romantic settings such as fireplaces, sunset seas, castles, or silken sheets on a four-poster bed; dark shadows and streetlights, fedoras and sidewalks, guns and blood are the stuff of mysteries and crime novels; fangs and fur immediately call to mind the paranormal. These visual cues are absolutely significant in the marketing of the novel as a product. We read them as thoroughly as we do the blurbs on the back, looking for the symbols that will identify the elements most attractive to our interests.

Cover choices, therefore, make it easier for a reader to find something for a quick weekend getaway, a thorough literary experience, or a respectable gift. Just walk through your local bookstore, and notice where your eyes are lingering, and where they skim — more often than not, it’s on the pictures before the text, unless it’s a book that has no picture at all on the cover, such as the original jacket on The Road by Cormac McCarthy. And that would be a conscious choice by the writer and publisher, deliberately revealing that the book is about a stark, essential landscape rather than a contrived fantasy.

So how do you go about choosing a just-right cover?

For traditionally published writers, most companies have on staff a talented cover artist, like Caroline Andrus at Melange Books. The job of the cover artist is to look over the information the writer provides about the book — the tone, the genre, recommended colour schemes, key facts about the main characters, setting, and plot, and the detailed summary — and come up with a likely combination of images that will effectively represent the story. It’s not an easy task, particularly if an image desired by both the writer and the artist isn’t available for some reason. Working successfully with a cover artist means having excellent communication skills, being able to negotiate, and having an open mind. 

Independent writers have the freedom to develop their covers as they choose. They can hire artists — both graphic and using the traditional mediums in conjunction with photography and scanning technology. Indies and cover artists can both access numerous websites with stock photo images and models available for purchase. There are also pre-made cover images available, with fill-in-the-blank title, author, and blurb text spaces. The tricky part is finding the right combination of colour, mood, model, and setting to match the book, as well as understanding the use of space for aesthetics so the cover looks professionally balanced rather than crowded, inadequate, or badly photoshopped. When these three problems occur, the book screams “Beware — possible bad writing!” to even a conscientious reader who doesn’t want to judge by the cover alone.

There is very little worse in the experience of reading than picking up a book with the expectation of being given a unique story, and discovering that the cover had little or no connection to the elements of the story. It’s like buying a box of chocolates and finding cheap potato chips inside. No-one wants to feel like the book was a mistake to read, a waste of time, or that someone trickery was involved in the purchase. As writers, we’re putting ourselves out there with our words in a very vulnerable way — suggesting that the book is anything other than what it is is not only a disservice to the reader, it doesn’t do justice to the story that we’ve committed to telling. There is a difference between being artistic, poetic, and avant-garde, and false advertising.

So when it comes to developing the cover for your next release, whether it’s with the help of a trained cover artist or on your own, don’t rush the process. Be true to your story, aware of the expectations of the genre as a means of communicating with a wide range of consumers. Your cover will be your product image. Choose close friends with whom to share the initial renderings, and ask their opinions. Be prepared for a bit of an emotional ride. And in the end, enjoy the moment. The cover is the final piece of the puzzle coming together in your creative project. Once you find the right one, it’s immensely satisfying to see that representation in place. Order a poster-sized print and have it framed. Put the cover image on mugs, keyrings, and pens. It’s the first thing the reader will see, the picture they’ll gaze at in wonder and reflection after the last page, and what they’ll be sharing with their friends. Make it something you’ll be proud to share, too.

Thanks so much for having me on My Book Addiction and More!


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  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Melange Books (June 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1612356397
  • ISBN-13: 978-1612356396


June 13, 2013

Rayvin Woods, photographer and natural witch. She just wanted to start her life over again after a series of misadventures. She didn’t count on rekindling a lost love when she came home to Talbot…or battling a malevolent vampire and his coven for her life.

Grant Michaels, police officer. He thought Rayvin was a murderer. He will do whatever it takes to protect the community he loves from danger…but will he learn to trust his heart, and the word of a witch, before it’s too late?

Malcolm de Sade, cunning vampire, imprisoned underground for a year by Charlotte Fanning and Pike Mahonen (“Mist and Midnight”, Midnight Thirsts). His accidental release unleashes his hunger and ambition on a small, sleepy town…

The Talbot Trilogy
1. Wind and Shadow
2. Blood and Fire (available January 2013)

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Now on Kindle!

Also available in print:

Wind and Shadow book trailer:


About the author….

After her first heartbreak, Tori found solace in two things: reading romance novels and listening to an after-dark radio program called Lovers and Other Strangers. Throughout the summer and fall of 1990, the new kid in town found reading fiction and writing her own short stories gave her a much needed creative outlet. Determined to become a published author, Tori amassed stacks of notebooks and boxes of filed-away stories, most only half-finished before another idea would overtake her and demand to be written down. Then, while on parental leave with her second baby, one story formed and refused to be packed away. Between teaching full-time, parenting, and life in general, it would take almost seven years before the first novel in her first trilogy would be completed. In the process, Tori finally found her stride as a writer.

At present, on her off-time, Tori not only enjoys reading, but also listening to an eclectic mix of music as she walks the family dog (Skittles), attempts to turn her thumb green, or makes needlework gifts for her friends and family members. She loves to travel, collect and make miniature furniture, and a good cup of tea during a thunderstorm or a blizzard. Under it all, she is always intrigued by history, the supernatural, vampire and shapeshifter mythology, romance, and other dangers.



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