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I've come across podcasts and internet articles about self-publishing in which they basically say that books with fantastic covers and interesting blurbs tend to sell lots of copies even if the actual writing is substandard.

And there is also this article I recently stumbled upon that blatantly outlines in the quoted text that some people buy books based on the cover alone (and perhaps a quick cursory glance at the blurb):

The general evaluation process goes something like this:

Click on book because of cool, relevant cover.

Scroll down and read the tagline/first few words of the blurb.

Leave, click buy, or read a few reviews.

OR

Leave, click buy, or read the sample.

OR

Leave or click buy.

In other words, a strong cover and blurb can sell your book.

My question is: Is it really true that many ebook buyers are silly enough to purchase a book simply because of its cover (and blurb) without first sampling the actual writing inside the book? I find this hard to believe.But yet this is the impression or outright assertion that is often made when I hear people talk about the enormous importance of great covers for selling books.

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    "some people buy books based on the cover alone (and perhaps a quick cursory glance at the blurb)" - here! Ok, in reality, the cover is what makes me read the blurb, and the blurb (not just by a cursory glance, but indeed the full blurb) is what determines my decision to buy. I admit I didn't even get the idea to look into a book before buying, but mostly for fear of stumbling over spoilers by reading somewhere in the middle. – O. R. Mapper Apr 30 at 0:10
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    A bad cover will turn me off faster than you can say 'boo.' Bad writing, on the other hand, makes me want to leave a one-star review. Make it good start to end. – DPT Apr 30 at 0:30
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    I added the book tag since it is relevant here. It also makes this question eligible for this weeks tag challenge. You can add your entry to the meta post here. – linksassin Apr 30 at 1:00
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I'm not sure it's the ebook buyers who are the silly ones here.

Of course people judge a book by its cover, as they should. To navigate the thousands or millions of books on a real or virtual shelf, a reader needs a guide. A good cover will convey genre and hint at the story inside. It sets an expectation for the reader that this story will fall inside the category of books they generally enjoy reading.

Once that's done, the blurb will then confirm those expectations by letting the reader know a little more about the story while making a promise of what they have to look forward to if they buy.

Some readers look inside, read the first paragraph or even the first few pages, but some like to buy and be surprised.

However, at this point, the author has gained the reader's trust. Expectations have been set and promises have been made. It is up to the author to prove that the money spent was worthwhile.

The silly ones are authors who believe that a great cover and blurb are enough to mask a turd and make them money. Sure, they've made one sale (unless the customer is so angry, they return it), but they've also made sure that the reader will never pick up another book they've written or tell a single soul about it (unless it's to say 'Don't buy that book!').

Very few writers make money from one book. The silly ones are the authors who think a strategy of fooling readers by failing to meet the expectations set by a great cover and blurb is enough to build a career.

  • By 'good' covers, I meant 'professionally designed high quality covers'. – user394536 Apr 30 at 20:49
  • @user394536 Yes, those two things generally go hand in hand. Covers that aren't designed by a pro who understands everything a cover needs will generally be a bad cover. I'm a little lost as to your point, however; was there something in my answer that didn't make sense? – GGx May 1 at 9:30
  • I'll clarify the issue in a later question. I'm not sure that a cover is necessarily 'bad' or unattractive just because it isn't pro-designed. – user394536 May 1 at 10:08
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    @user394536 I agree. As I say, they 'generally' go hand in hand. There are non-pros who can design their own covers very effectively. And 'bad' can mean many things. A beautiful cover can be 'bad' if it misrepresents genre, for example. And sometimes beautiful covers don't translate to sales because the buyer is glancing for covers that look familiar/similar to other books they've enjoyed... – GGx May 1 at 10:17
  • So, what you or I may consider a dull cover can be very effective if it resembles bestsellers. I hate covers where characters stare out of rain-soaked windows, but I know books that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies with these covers. – GGx May 1 at 10:17
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Yes and no.

I don't think many people purchase a book because of the cover. The cover will not give you direct sales (maybe a couple...).

But imagine that you are looking for a book. Either knowing you want to buy something now or just browsing and seeing if something catches your eye. You're wandering through a bookstore where there are a couple thousand books to choose from. You might narrow it down by choosing fiction vs nonfiction or by picking a genre. Or not.

Depending on how much time you have, you'll pick up maybe 30-50 different books to give them a closer look (reading the title and author and looking carefully at the cover).

For a few of those, you'll read the blurbs on the back cover and inside jacket sides. You might even page through the book a bit. That is when you'll decide yes, no, maybe.

Then you'll buy one (or two or zero) from the ones you picked up. Books you pick up only have a few percent chance that you'll buy them. But books you don't pick up have a zero percent chance.

What gets you to pick up a book? Two things:

  1. The spine (if the book is shelved)
  2. The cover (if the book is displayed)

What gets you to evaluate a book (read blurbs, etc)? Probably the cover and the title are the biggest things (unless your name is familiar).

If you're looking at books online, then the title and cover are right up front. Both of those things are going to be what gets you to look further at the blurbs, author name, and reviews (or at least the number of stars). Here the cover is also vital for getting you to "pick the book up."

Once a reader has your book in her/his hands (or open on her/his screen), you have a chance at a sale. And that's what the cover will do.

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Is it really true that many ebook buyers are silly enough to purchase a book simply because of its cover (and blurb) without first sampling the actual writing inside the book?

I wouldn't use the word "silly" here, personally, because people have to wade through a ton of available material. There is a hierarchy of what people will find interesting when looking for a book. Cover and title are the first things they see. A crappy cover or title will mean that the book is just skimmed over. Covers, by their style, can also indicate a category of book (science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery), so it isn't just about a pretty picture, there should be something informational there. If the title and cover are intriguing enough, people will read the blurb. The reviews may come next or possibly a quick look inside, but if the blurb is good enough and the book is cheap enough that book may get sucked into the ebook collection. Goodness knows I have a bunch of things on my Kindle I don't really remember buying.

The second phase is, does that book actually get started? And does it get finished? As @GGx mentioned, it isn't just about that first book. If I spend that small chunk of change to buy the book and then I actually read it, what are the odds I'll pick up the next one? In a world where you can grab an ebook for less than a cup of coffee, it's not a big deal for a reader to pick up a book (talking here about lower cost items, like from Bookbub or finding something under $3 while browsing). But if the book is crap, it won't get finished, or it will get bad reviews, or just anything else from that author will be off the radar. On the other hand, I've picked up books based on the cover and the blurb, loved them, and then gleefully spent more money on the rest of the series.

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