Book Covers and Marketing

As an aspiring writer I have to confess, I can have a half-baked idea stewing in my brain and already have the cover for the story in my mind. This doesn’t always happen, but it does happen. Something I never really considered until reading various blog posts on the subject (unfortunately I didn’t take note of which ones they were so I don’t have links), was how important the book’s cover is for marketing your target audience. I have certainly taken notice of covers I like and covers I don’t, but a lot of the covers I like are girly, and I never considered the obvious: that a guy is most likely not going to want to pick a book that looks like these:

girlycoversAnd even though these

neutralcoversare also dystopias told from a female POV, the covers are a lot more gender neutral. And while I have to admit the first three book covers catch my eye in the bookstore more than the latter three, what matters is the story inside. And if it’s a good story that guys and girls alike would enjoy, I think marketing it as such is important.

I have to admit though, I can’t imagine a better cover for Cinder. And honestly, guys probably don’t want to read Matched or The Selection anyway. And that’s OK, not every book has to be for everyone. But it made me think of think back to one of my girly cover ideas for one of my dystopia stories, and how sometimes I tend to dominate plots with romance (which I have seen bloggers complain about), and what kind of stories I truly want to tell. And I want to tell stories that can resonate with anyone; I don’t want to market to only one sex. But I know that all my stories have quite a lot of reworking and rewriting ahead of them before they see the light of day anyway, so story can be worked on. And a cover is certainly far, far away. Still, it’s important to consider the audience I would want to market to, and it’s fun to think about covers.

I don’t really LOVE the covers for The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Testing. They’re fine, but as I said before, they don’t make me want to reach for the book off the shelf when I have no knowledge of the story. I tend to prefer people, a la these covers:

dystopiacovers2But as I was considering what actually makes a cover gender neutral I wondered, What kind of books do guys actually gravitate towards?

So I asked my husband if he was browsing in a bookstore for fun, not looking for anything in particular, what kind of cover would catch his eye?

startrekbookHe said something with a cool spaceship on it. I assume this qualifies. So while he might not be repelled against some of these gender-neutral book covers, they probably wouldn’t draw him in. Several of them don’t draw me in either. So I wondered… can pretty dresses and spaceships be combined for maximum draw to a book cover?


This was the best real-life example I could find; sci-fi look plus romance but not too swoony for  the guys. But let’s face it, no one cover is going to speak to us all. And not all books can put spaceships on their covers. But I do think it’s important to consider the target audience when creating a cover. What can you say about the story with the cover, that you might not even have to read the story to at least somewhat understand? Or at the very least, what emotion can your cover evoke just by its picture and coloring? I think the psychology behind creating a cover for a story can be fascinating!

What do you think? What covers do you gravitate towards? What covers do you feel are properly marketed towards their target audience? 

16 Responses to Book Covers and Marketing

  1. Such a complicated topic, and a great post! I find covers to be really fascinating, just because as much as we’re told “Never judge a book by it’s cover” a lot of us do.

    The “gender neutral” covers really don’t do anything for me, and if it weren’t for the recommendations I’m not sure I’d ever pick them up. In a way, I find the “gender neutral” covers to just be boy covers. Not sure why.

    I tend to go for covers that portray a certain mood. They’re usually black covers with either a single item or person on the front (and I guess you can sort of call them Twilight-esque). As someone who likes to read dark and emotional stories, I think such covers call out to me because I assume they’re more likely to be the type of books I’d like. But of course, that’s not always the case.

    • I think mood covers can be good too, something that isn’t just a symbol but carries a tone with it. When I received my copy of The Testing, I thought the actual cover fell really flat compared even to the picture above that already does not do much for me. I don’t know how to explain it, but you know a good mood cover when you see one!

  2. I don’t like the first row covers. They are much to girly to me. But I guess their marketing believe that it fits the story. But since I’ve read Matched, I think it doesn’t quite have so much romance…so I think they could have done a better cover than a girl in a dress in a bubble. The only reasons I’m picking up these books is because of what I’ve heard of them. If I was only basing on covers…I would not have picked them up.

    The second row is a lot better for me. Having read the first two books in this row I think their cover matches their tone. And these covers are more gender neutral…but that only works because the stories themselves to me seem gender neutral…so I can see them to appeal to male YAs. So yes for Divergent and the Hunger Games I think they have properly been marketed towards their target audience.

    I agree…no one cover is going to speak us…the best is have a cover that reflects the story it’s going to tell.

    I’m actually attracted to the 100 cover…until I look closer and it features embracing and kissy couples…nooo.

    • It sounds like you don’t care much for romance… or at least you don’t want to see it on the cover. I like the girly covers usually, but I can agree I’m not generally a fan of kissy covers. However, I don’t mind the romance hints on The 100 since there are other things going on; it shows it’s there but part of a larger story. I had actually not read the synopsis for it before I posted this, but it’s on Goodreads here: Sounds interesting to me!

      • I’m not much of a romance reader. But I guess I can see how kissy/embracing couple covers would be a great cover for romance books. I just tend to not like the use of photographic images…I’d like something with more design….especially with books that have got other stuff going on other than just the romance aspects, they could really do so much more with the cover. I’ve not read Rainbow Rowell’s books…but I like their whimsy illustrated covers.

        The 100 – sounds very interesting…apparently its been made into a TV show too on CW

      • I don’t read much contemporary romance, or stories where romance is the main focus, but I tend to like dystopias that feature romance, so long as it doesn’t turn out too contrived. I do tend to like photographs on books, but it can depend. I do agree Rainbow Rowell has some a couple of great covers!

  3. My Sis commented that YA’s always have a pretty girl with long hair, posing on the cover..and I was thinking they really do market more towards girls..and I am sure I sometimes totally fall for it LOL

    • That’s so true! I wonder if they market more towards girls because more girls are buying YA books, or if more girls end up buying more YA books because they are being marketed towards them. It seems most YA authors are women, so I suppose it’s easier for them to direction it towards girls.

  4. Hmm, I actually prefer gender neutral covers over people covers. Well, most of the time. 🙂 I’m not a fan of The Program or Taken, but I really like the cover of 5th Wave. But that might be because I liked the book, it made me biased.
    The Hungers Games and Divergent covers are fine, but I actually like the UK cover of Divergent a lot more which is a people cover, go figure 🙂 I think it’s because I like the colors of the UK cover more…so maybe for me the color of the cover is more important than what “type” of cover is used. Hmmm, it’s very possible.

    Also, I don’t really mind when “girly” books have girly covers. I might not love the cover, but at least it stayed true to the story. Because while it’s hard to imagine a boy picking up a book with a cover like The Selection or Matched I don’t think neutral covers is the answer. It may trick the boy, but you can’t trick him into enjoying it. “guys probably don’t want to read Matched or The Selection anyway. ” yep.

    • I had to look up the UK Divergent cover… and I kind of like it. I think it’s weird that it’s pink though.

      I don’t think it’s a problem for girly books to have girly covers at all, and I like a lot of them too. I guess what I was thinking but didn’t actually type out is that it seems there are so many books marketed directly towards girls because they are pretty much girl’s stories, and I’m wondering where the love for the guys is?!

  5. I think everyone has a different opinion on this, but in the end of the day, the publishing company will try to market for the biggest audience possible. While I do agree, the first three covers are bound to catch my eye more than the latter, it all comes down to who the book is marketed for. For example, the 5th wave cover would perfectly suit Delirium, but it will distract focus from the real target audience, and it doesn’t do justice to the book’s content. Delirium is heavily romance-oriented and so the cover chosen for it kind of makes sense.

    The 100 cover is brilliant. It is something that would catch my eye, and the eye of others probably not into sci-fi, while staying true to it’s genre. I think that’s the whole point in the end, staying true to the book’s genre. I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about how the cover and blurb don’t match the book’s content.

  6. Great post, Amy! I agree, this can be really complicated, and it’s impossible to market to everyone. I was talking about gender and book covers with my husband recently, too. At first he said that seeing a girl on the cover wouldn’t dissuade him from picking up the book. But then we eventually concluded that girls on the cover of sci-fi/fantasy books are probably more appealing to guys because those are usually pieces of original art… whereas with a lot of YA books, the ones with girls on the cover are more likely to be actual photographs. Anyway, I find the whole thing pretty interesting, too.

    • Right, and it would feel awkward for them to pick out a book with a photo of a girl; it would feel like picking up Seventeen magazine or something. That’s fine for the books that want to reach only girls, but it gets more complicated when you want to market to a wider group!

  7. I find a lot of the gender neutral covers to be pretty boring, so I would never gravitate toward those if I were going to pick up a book to look over based on its cover. They always look like so little effort was put into them, just some almost mass-marketed generic computer art they passed off to a multimedia intern to whip up in a day.

    I’m not by any means a girly girl so I’m not exactly looking for super feminine covers either. I like artistic covers, and something I can look at that will easily tell me a main characteristic of the book. Cinder’s cover is perfect in that regard. It’s not my favorite cover ever but I love it, because it tells me at a glance an overall feel for the story. It has the fairytale font, classic Cinderella-type shoe, and the workings of a cyborg hidden behind glamour flesh. Or it could be an x-ray view, who knows. The point is it doesn’t matter and that you know it’s there regardless. You’re in on Cinder’s secret before you even start getting to know her. Her shoe being red also makes me think a little of the Wizard of Oz which I find amusing (and completely acceptable) because of Queen Levana having about the same amount of likability as the Wicked Witch of the West.

    Some of my other favorite covers from books I have and haven’t read yet:

    The Queen’s Army, Ink, Arclight, Dissonance

    They all immediate present to you elements of the story contained inside the binding, *and* they look fantastic standing on their own. Those are ones I gravitate toward. It’s too bad Ink has gotten such terrible reviews, because that cover is killer.

    And you know, a lot of books I pick up, especially YA ones, I wonder if the artist in charge of the cover design even bothered to skim over the book. Sometimes I’m wondering what in the world they were thinking when they created it.

    • I totally agree with everything you said about Cinder’s cover! And yes, while I like the idea of gender neutral covers, the ones with just a symbol on them seem so blah! Like, “Who cares?” Same thing goes when the cover doesn’t match the book as you mentioned.

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