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This is a sort of follow up to my previous question. It is generally understood that covers matter a great deal in terms of getting people to click on a fiction eBook and check out its blurb and contents, and covers are the main marketing tool of an eBook.

But I have noticed that there is a great deal of ambiguity or confusion over what exactly people mean when they say ‘a good cover’ vs ‘a bad cover’. Is it ‘good’ in terms of relevancy to the target audience? Or is it ‘good’ in terms of professional quality? Of course, ideally, it needs to be both. But which one is ultimately more important?

Let me explain what I mean:

When browsing eBooks, people ignore a lot of professional quality book covers because they do not convey themes that are relevant to their tastes or interests. But at the same time, we are often told that people will only click on pro-designed covers and not homemade/amateur designs.

But what if someone comes across a book cover that is clearly homemade but it uses an interesting image and title that is relevant to the person’s tastes and interests?

Am I to believe that the person will move on and not check the book out simply because the cover looks homemade? This is the impression I keep getting from a lot of authors and cover designers who bang on and on about how no one will click on a book cover if it isn’t clearly pro-made. Is that really so? Even if the homemade cover image (and title) speaks directly to the person’s tastes and interests? Really??

[Note: the word ‘homemade’ is not a reference to location. It is a reference to level of skill at cover design.]

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    It's both. It only costs $150-300 for a professional cover from someone who 1) knows what they're doing and 2) will take direction from you so the cover is relevant. No excuse not to spend the money. – Cyn May 1 at 15:07
  • @cyn is right. They don't need to be really expensive to look professional. Have a look at Fiverr and 99Designs. There are also lots of companies selling professional pre-made covers at very low costs. If you want to save money, this is much better than trying to design it yourself. Unless you're fabulous with graphic design and could emulate a similar cover in your genre professionally. – GGx May 2 at 10:29
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    The best pre-made site I've come across is thebookcoverdesigner.com. It unites authors with a variety of designers and cover costs range from $12 - $500 so you can spend as much or as little as you like. You get what you pay for but some of the $20-25 covers are pretty good! – GGx May 2 at 10:44
  • When searching for a book, the ones that draw my eye are covers that aren't too busy. This is slightly tangential advice, but regardless of what's on your cover, keeping it simple is much more eye catching than a busy cover with half the book portrayed on it. The professionalism affects this, and professional covers are generally less busy than the amateur ones. – Anoplexian May 2 at 16:18
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It depends.

Using Amazon's book store as an example:

If your book is in an Amazon category that has very few books and the reader finds a poorly-done homemade cover that speaks to what they are interested in, they may click on it simply because there aren't many others to choose from.

However, if your book is in a well-populated category, competing with hundreds or even thousands of books in that category, your cover will be up against others that also speak to the readers interests but have far better covers. Covers so fantastic they're just crying out to be clicked on.

And the cover doesn't only act as click-bait and convey genre, it's also a sign of quality. When I see a poor homemade cover, I assume that if the author hasn't invested any money in their cover, they probably haven't invested any money in developmental, copy editing or proofreading either. And the cover is the first warning sign that this may be a poor book.

This is a very difficult question to give a definitive answer to. If authors knew definitively what makes a reader click buy versus clicking away, book marketing would be a doddle. But I do know many authors who have ditched their homemade covers for professional designs and watched sales increase.

In a well-populated category, these aspects probably carry equal weight. As you rightly state, you need both.

If you tied my hands behind my back and forced me to answer, I'd say I'm more likely to click on a stunning cover that doesn't quite convey genre but is in my category of choice than one that looks terrible but fits the brief... unless there are no other choices out there.

BUT every reader is different and will likely give a different answer to your question. I'm a fan of great covers. I haven't read any Stephen King in years but End of Watch is now on my wish list. Why? Because I clicked on an ad with that stunning animated cover. I don't even know what the book's about! That doesn't make logical sense, I know... but I still clicked!

End of Watch

But, coming back to the original point, I'd say it depends on how well populated the category is.

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    So what you're saying is, people can and do judge a book by its cover? – Mason Wheeler May 1 at 19:36
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    @MasonWheeler I think judging whether to buy a book and judging a book are different. But it's no different to how we buy most things. We look at a photo of a lawnmower, read the sales copy, read the reviews, and then judge for ourselves whether it does a good job on the lawn. Some great books have terrible covers. Some terrible books have great covers. We make a judgement call in the short buying window. But a book won't be judged either way if you can't convince anyone to buy it. And you're more likely to do that with a great cover. – GGx May 1 at 20:24
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    @MasonWheeler Yes, I think most of us do. The power of word of mouth shouldn't be underestimated for sure. And then you really need a good product that gets people talking. But for authors without a big marketing force behind them, generating word of mouth sales is slow going. There are voracious readers out there who read everything recommended and then go browsing. It's them you're trying to hook as a new unknown. But the book has to live up to it or word of mouth via reviews will shut it down. – GGx May 1 at 20:35
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    Indeed, book-buyers like me do judge books by their covers. For instance, I am a science fiction/fantasy fan. If the cover shows soft porn, it's not for me. If the cover is a cheap photograph of the author's mate wearing a cloak, probably awful. If the title is in big pink letters, no way. This is my taste. There must be people out there who genuinely want to buy books showing some woman's bosom and bottom at the same time... – RedSonja May 2 at 10:50
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    @MasonWheeler - There would be no need for the proverb "don't judge a book by its cover," if it wasn't something people do frequently, both literally and metaphorically. So yes, of course people do judge books by their covers ...and they are often right to do so. – Chris Sunami May 2 at 14:24
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Am I to believe that the person will move on and not check it out simply because it was clearly homemade?

Yes, believe that. Of course, believe that on average, you will still get some percentage of people that will click on it, but most people won't.

The quality of the cover art influences the perception of quality of writing. Something that looks amateurish or childish will prevent people from reading because it implies the writing inside is amateurish and childish.

Buyers browsing for something to read have to sort through dozens or hundreds of books to pick something, and they have to use something as a proxy to judge whether to spend any time looking into it. So, in addition to restricting their search to certain genre, even avid readers will judge a book on its cover. They don't have the time to "check out" every book on the shelf, or even if they do that is not their idea of a hobby, they want to find something and start reading.

The cover should convey an image of what they will find inside; if it is romance they expect to see a couple on the cover, not a battle. If it is magic, something magical. If it is dinosaurs, show one. If it is futuristic space, something that conveys that. It is a good idea to put faces, eyes and hands on the cover; we humans have specialized brain wiring that recognizes these elements.

It is hard to explain what makes a good cover; but it is psychology: I strongly suggest looking through a lot of them, as if you are looking for a book to read, and the covers that make you pause to look at more closely: That is exactly the effect you want to create in readers; that moment of intrigue that makes you stop and look. It will usually mean a lot of detail, professionalism, sometimes it is a scene of tension or it is interesting characters. Whatever makes you stop and look, try and figure out why and what feeling the cover scene creates in you.

Then look for an artist (I use fiverr.com) whose work mimics that style. I'd design the cover yourself, in blocking (what/who goes where to convey the scene), but leave the drawing to the artist. Provide character descriptions. Get a simple outline pencil sketch first; very few details but enough for you to approve of the overall scene. Then move on to detailed sketches of the character bodies, faces, dress, etc. When you are satisfied with those, on to the final line drawing of everything, then on to coloring.

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There are two issues at play here, which I believe you are conflating. The first is the themes or "hook" which is conveyed by the imagery on the cover; the second is the professionalism of the cover. In my experience, I have found that both elements are necessary to earn a click.

A professional cover which conveys no information, such as a plain text one, will likely not get clicked on. However, a book with an interesting concept on the cover which has clearly been created with little skill will still not likely earn many clicks.

An unprofessional cover brings up many concerns about the book: How much effort might the writer have put into their actual writing, if they care so little about the cover? Is it possible that the writer is just young and unaware of conventions?

If someone happens to be skilled not just in writing, but in editing, photography, graphic design, etc, they may as well create their own cover-- assuming that they can produce something of professional quality. Why create a book that is not of high quality all the way from cover to cover?

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You are thinking about this question the wrong way.

What you are asking about is consumer psychology and how advertising works. So how does it work? People buy goods that satisfy a need for them, and advertising speaks to these needs.

So the first question that you need to ask yourself is:

Who is your target audience, and what are the needs of your target audience?

Unless you can answer that question, the question what your cover should look like cannot be answered.

If, like most amateur writers, you have no clue who your target audience might be because you have written your book to enjoy or express yourself, then you are a representative of your target audience and you should design your book cover to attract (people like) yourself. So just observe yourself: What kind of covers do you tend to click on? That's what you want for your book.

But if you want to publish professionally, you might begin – before you write your next book – to think about which market segment you want to address. Because that is how professional writing and publishing works, and that is how publishers and agents select books.

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