Friday, December 16, 2011

Can you choose a book by its cover?

I've been reading with the same book club for more than 11 years. That means we sometimes have to spice things up to keep the zing in our relationship.

While we don't handcuff each other before breaking out the feather dusters and spiked dog collars, we do like to try new things from time to time.

Last month, we conducted an experiment: Everyone had to go to a bookstore and choose a book based solely on the cover. We could read the title, but none of the back-cover copy or reviews. We weren't allowed to choose books we'd heard of before.

It was the ultimate "choose a book by its cover" experience.

Each of us had to read our chosen book, and return to the group the following month. We laid the books out on the kitchen counter, and took turns guessing who they belonged to.

It sparked some fascinating discussion – who did we think picked that book? Why did she pick it? How drunk was she when she went shopping?

Once we had it all figured out, we went around the room and talked about our books. We each revealed what made us choose our book, and what we expected it to be like.

Not surprisingly, a lot of us were...well, surprised.

Some discovered the books were nothing like they expected. Others found they guessed pretty accurately. Some hated their books. Some loved them so much they threatened to hold their breath until everyone in the room read their chosen selection.

The subject is something that's been weighing on my mind a lot lately. On Wednesday, I showed you the cover for my March romantic comedy, Believe it or Not. At the risk of sounding like captain obvious, it's pretty different from the cover for Making Waves.


My publisher has a very strategic reason for doing it, and since I don't happen to be an expert in book cover psychology, I defer to their wisdom. Any decision they make with the goal of selling more books is a good one in my mind.

To what degree do you judge a book by its cover? Have you ever conducted an experiment like the one my book club tried? Any thoughts on the psychology of book covers in general? Please share!

And yeah, feel free to guess which book in that pile above was the one I brought. My book club figured it out instantly.

17 comments :

Taymalin said...

Pure Sex seems to have Tawna written all over it.

I have been known to judge books by their covers. I know, terribly shallow of me. But, in general I'll get over the cover if the blurb catches my interest.

The only thing that will really turn me off a book is the same thing that will instantly turn me off of a man--a bad smell. Old books with a musty smell...well, if I really want to read them I'll hunt down a newer version, or an electronic version.

I know some people like that smell, but it makes me feel squicky.

jennie said...

Haha! Yeah, I'm gonna guess that you didn't pick out "Affinity." I'm SO looking forward to reading up "Believe it or Not" and the friends I lent "Making Waves" to (lent...forced...tied to a chair in my basement, whatever) have LOVED it! So you're becoming quite popular in my little Eastern Canadian town (and if you hear of a serial kidnapper who makes their victims read hilarious romantic comedies while draped in purple feather boas, just ignore it. Everything's fine).

Penrefe said...

I buy ANY book that has Christian McGrath's illustrations on the cover, regardless of the books contents. I don't even read the backs in most cases. I see his work, I clicky click. Some of the books are great, like the Dresden Files and Justine Musk's Bloodangel, others I've been severely disappointed by.

Book covers are of course designed to make people stop and look and possibly buy them. Particularly now, with eBooks and the Internet, it's so much easier to impulse buy.

And your book has to be the Pure Sex one. Call it a hunch =D

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm guessing Cooking Dirty, but from my completely ignorant point of view, the Believe it or Not cover is similar to the Making Waves cover, especially the title font and color. Plus, beach scene, bared, tangled limbs ... this one does have faces though, even if hers is cut off. To me it looks a little more serious, a little less light hearted.

Anyway, that's my highly subjective, and completely uninformed point of view.

Sarah W said...

I'm guessing Cooking Dirty, since is has that nudge-nudge humor that Pure Sex lacks.

I use covers for across-the-room series-spotting (Ooo! That must be a new X from Y!) and for genre confirmation (Bare midriff over a low-slung, studded belt? Yep, it's urban fantasy).

But I tend to study covers after I check out the title and the blurb. Or I think I do . . .

Patty Blount said...

Pure Sex is yours. ?

I find judging books by their covers to be inescapable. I almost did not read Hunger Games because it's cover was dull. I bought Angelology because it had a gorgeous cover and did not like the story. I also loved the original Twilight covers... found them very enticing.

My editor recently asked me for some cover ideas for SEND (EEP!) and I can't wait to see what they come up with! There are lots of sales stats that go into cover design and already, I know I'm in good hands.

Karla Nellenbach said...

I do this a lot...usually when I'm plundering the bargain bin. I'll just grab whatever cover/title looks wicked good. This is how I discovered Jilliane Hoffman's RETRIBUTION and Chelsea Cain's HEARTSICK. great reads there. and of course, GO ASK ALICE...that was kind of a traumatic read, but in a good way.

Jess Huckins said...

This is an awesome experiment! If I had a book club, I'd absolutely want to try it.

I'd guess your book was PURE SEX.

Laura Maylene said...

I find it interesting how your second cover screams "romance novel" with the shirtless guy, while MAKING WAVES had more of a playful, feisty, contemporary feel. I'd love to know why the publisher decided to go the other route this time around...I don't know anything about marketing for the romance/romcom genre, but I would have guessed that the MAKING WAVES type of cover would be more in line with how things are trending.

But again, I know nothing. As always.

Julie Glover said...

This is a great idea. I think I'll suggest it to the book club I've been in for several years (I can't remember when I joined!). My guess for you is Cooking Dirty, which is one of the covers that appealed to me too.

I did find it interesting the covers varied so much - from illustration to photograph to people to a building. It's so subjective.

So I guess you can't go with a cover based on what you think will appeal to everyone. It just has to represent you and your story. Hopefully, your covers do that. I did feel that the Making Waves cover was teasing in its appearance, and your words teased the reader all the way through.

Mark Simpson said...

I've got fifty bucks on "Cooking Dirty".

My knee-jerk rationale is simple: Tawna cooks...and she's dirty.

Steph Schmidt said...

Ditto what was said earlier in the comments, cooking dirty has that double entrendre feel you write so well.

I use to pick my books exclusively by cover until I got old enough to start reading the back for a description. That might explain why so many books from my early years are plastered with ponies.

Wendy Sparrow said...

I totally want to try this with my book club... and we could have a prize for whoever gets the most accurate guesses. Must think about this... hmmm.

I buy books based on covers a lot actually. I would have bought Making Waves for its cover even without knowing you... knowing you made for some awesome justification for buying a book when my TBR pile is so high. Yay! Justification! Making Waves yelled fun and contemporary romance. That's how I use covers... to target the genre and feel of books that I'll read the back blurbs on.

I agree with the others: Cooking Dirty is all you.

Awesome post, Tawna!

BarbN said...

I also vote for Cooking Dirty, although it's a close call with Pure Sex. Notice no one has voted for any of the others. ;-)

I think you have to tell us which ones were the "hold my breath until you read it" ones. please? I'm always looking for new stuff to read, and I haven't seen any of these.

Matthew MacNish said...

Tawna, seriously? You can't post this kind of teaser without coming back to satisfy our lust ... for book - covers.

wendy said...

Hi-
Fun idea. I'm just getting to know you (sounds creepy) or I should say know you through your blog. But I'll agree that your humor seems up there with the sexy/pervy bits. So I'll go with Dirty Cooking.

And another honest opinion... I haven't been much of a romance reader but I bought 'Making Waves' because it sounded fun and the cover was cute. I didn't even realize it was categorized under romance until after I started reading it. I'm no expert but I think this cover did expand your market.
Yes the publishers are the professionals ... and maybe you have to trust their expertise. But what's your feeling about the new cover?

Tawna Fenske said...

LOL, I didn't realize you guys would be waiting for me to come back and reveal which book was mine!

The book I brought was PURE SEX, though for the record, if I'd spotted COOKING DIRTY on the shelf, I'm sure I would have grabbed it!

Have a great weekend, guys!
Tawna