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Cut Through the (Visual) Static September 7, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, fantasy, ideas, iPad, VIPub, web & computers, writing.

Walter Jon Williams asked on his FB page if it was even necessary for an e-book to have a cover. The idea behind this is that the actual cover shows up small (on iPhone or even iPad), the book ought to sell itself and it is a hassle for the author (VIPub) to find an artist, work with a personality more unstable than the writer (ok, I’m prone to hyperbole) and then put the book out for sale.

My take on this is the same as for a print book. Studies show 70% of print book sales are due to the cover. Most readers don’t have a clue who wrote the book. Fans, yes, most readers no. The cover catches their eye, they pick it up and start reading blurbs, back covers, reviews, maybe then the first page or two. But the cover is the trigger for picking it up. Obviously an e-book isn’t pickable upable, but I think the cover still draws the potential reader’s attention.

Consider a long list of Project Gutenberg books vs anything off Amazon for the Kindle. All the PG covers are simple text. Functional, cheap, gives title & author and nothing else. If you know what you’re looking for, this will do. If you’re grazing in the pastures of Amazon, that cover is going to capture your attention. (Getting to that cover in the first place is another problem with e-books but that’s a discussion for another time).

Besides, I like illustrations. With e-books you can toss them into the book with no extra work (other than getting the illos). They make for a distinctive product. They can help brand your books. (Lee Goldberg has done a great job with his mysteries). Most of all, they separate your work from the pack.

Complex covers aren’t going to make it electronically since the icon sized thumbnail is going to be a gray blur. This calls for a different layout style. Simpler. But it also calls for additional artistic/visual skills. How does the artist make the thumbnail jump out as well as the larger cover? Do that and the ebook will get noticed.

I prefer huge contrast between lettering and background. Leap off the page. Then the iconic picture has to be simple and yet illustrative.

So, what about the *need* for artwork covers on ebooks? Only if you want to stand out, only if you want to brand your books, only if you want to give the reader something a bit extra–and that will cut through the white noise of all the ebooks out there.



1. Scott Phillips - September 8, 2010

This is exactly why Keith Rainville expressly designed the cover for my book “Tales of Misery and Imagination” to be viewed at Amazon icon size. The cover also looks great at full paperback size, but that thing pops on a website page.

The idea of the book or the writing “selling itself” is nice in theory but it seems unlikely to happen unless you’re a big name.

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