Do judge a book by its cover

They say, don’t judge a book by its cover, but everybody does. It’s usually the first thing you see and has a massive impact on influencing a person’s decision to pick up a book,  let alone buy it.

A year on from its publication, I thought it a good time to reflect on our first book’s cover: What reasons led us to choosing this cover, how this impacted sales, and lessons learned.

In order to get some objective comments, all be it unscientific and loosely qualitative,  I elicited feedback from our wonderful Twitter followers, made up of parents, teachers, writers and publishing professionals.

The book had gone through a few initial sizes and designs before we settled on the final format shown above. The cover was designed last. I’d love to say it was thought out in great detail, but it wasn’t. That’s not to say it didn’t go through many iterations and layouts, before arriving at the finished cover, but we didn’t have an overall strategy, apart from wanting to ensure it looked “professional”. We didn’t want the fact it was “self-published” to set it apart from picture book’s published by established publishing houses. And let’s face it, the design and cover of many self-published books is dreadful.

The fonts had been chosen  to give a “seaside” or “pirate” feel, and we wanted the “Jack & Boo’s” to suggest a brand, a continuation of sequels that we had planned. It does use 3 different fonts, which I know is a graphic design sin, however I felt they didn’t compete and all had their jobs to do, as a title, body text and brand font. I’d done some research on cover design in the book trade, knowing that it was de-rigour to keep unknown author names smaller, and to allow more space for the title and images. I guess, looking at it now, the Jack and Boo illustration was us trying to establish a brand for Beachy Books. It was the image we’d chosen in the logo for Beachy Books. My main reason for choosing this illustration for the cover was, I thought it summed up the essence of the book: two children treasure hunting on a beach. I admit the image is simple and almost anonymous, with detailed faces kept to a minimum. Some feedback has suggested they don’t even know what the two characters are doing though. In hindsight, we should have chosen a more interesting image, showing Jack & Boo’s faces.

I used simple graphic elements to break up the areas, making the title stand-out and suggesting a graphic representation of sand and blue sky. I’d tried using some of the photographic images inside, but for some reason we rejected them, in favour of keeping it very simple and graphic. In hindsight, I think we should have shown the photographic/illustrative mix on the cover because it’s a key original feature that makes our book look look different. Also I wish I’d chosen more exciting poses and chosen ones showing faces. I’m a bit of a fan of keeping it simple and graphic, hence the cover we ended up with.

Anyway, a year on, how has our cover effected sales of our book? Hmmm, this is tricky to quantify as not everybody that bought the book had to make a judgement through just the cover. We got many of our sales on-line, where customers could look inside the book on our website before buying. At book signings we got to chat to families and children, which helped sell copies. But of the copies in bookshops, such as Waterstone’s, we’ve not had as good sales as we hoped. Of course there are other contributing factors that influence people, such as the high cover price compared to competitive books ( something we are addressing on future books) and, in some outlets, the book hasn’t been positioned in a prime eye-line position, cover facing out.

I asked some Twitter followers what they thought of the cover to get some objectivity. Most liked it, although were not blown away. A surprising amount said it was “retro” or “70s” and reminded them of books from their childhood. This was never our intention. Ours is a picture book that just happens to have a boy and girl coloured using primary colours, that’s where the similarity ends. In any case, it shows people are also heavily influenced by the books they read as children, which the publishing industry has tapped into heavily over the past few years by releasing a succession retro children’s style books into the market.

In any case the cover did seem to resonate with adults, who ultimately have to decide to buy a book for a child, so I’m not sure that reason put people off. I have looked at it so many times I’m unsure of my judgement any more, but seeing the whole one piece cover, the more interesting illustrations, pirate and mermaid, are the ones used on the back cover, and perhaps would have worked better on the front cover.

Another big factor influencing book buyers is advertising, be it direct or more subliminal. Most book buyers have already made a decision about the book title (or type) of book they want, before entering the shop, as they’ve been exposed to adverts, reviews and word of mouth recommendations, or because they have already bought a book from a favourite author they’ll be more inclined to buy a sequel. Obviously 3 for 2 book deals and cheap best sellers in the window and front of shop help persuade a person to buy an unexpected book, along with the books they had already intended buying.

So, that said, what have we learned?

  • Do more research into similar children’s picture book covers. What are the latest trends in cover design?
  • Design to attract the target audience. In our case, initially parents, but must also capture a child’s imagination.
  • Canvass some feedback from potential customers and professionals, before going to press.
  • Get the technical typography, colours and graphic design bang on.
  • Don’t print the price on the back – if you want to change the price, it’ll mean a new cover, costing more than a simple price change.
  • Make the cover image or photography exciting. Easier said than done. Entice the reader to pick up the book, look at the book and take a peek inside.
  • Taking all the above into account, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Learn from your mistakes, be proud of what you have achieved so far, then move on…

While sorting some things out I found the “original” copy of our book, then named The Bucket of Treasures, printed via Lulu as a test, back in November 2008. The format is 9 by 7 inches landscape and, looking back, I do like the original image used and the shadows, which also feature in the interior pages. It feels more intriguing, makes me want to see where Jack is walking too. I like the offset design, the way the title leads you into the image. Perhaps if we ever get famous, this early original could be worth something…or maybe not!?

4 Replies to “Do judge a book by its cover”

  1. Have you ever thought about putting more videos for your blog articles to keep the visitors more interested? I mean I just went through the entire page of yours and it had been quite great but because I am much more of a visual learner, I found that way to be way more helpful. well, let me know what you think.

    1. Hi. Thanks for your comment. sorry for long time in replying. Yes, good idea. We will try put up some videos in the future!

    1. Hi Peter. Thanks for your question. At present Jack & Boo’s Bucket of Treasures is only available as a paper book. We have just created a free Christmas eBook in PDF format, and will be planning electronic versions of all future books, including a Bucket of Treasures eBook. For updates and news the best place is to follow us on twitter: or join our Facebook page called Beachy Books. We will look into the possibility of producing a Braille version also, as we have had another requests for this format. Thanks. Philip Bell.

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