I wasn’t always a writer, but I was an avid reader from an early age. As such, I always paid attention to a book’s cover, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time analyzing what I liked about it, or didn’t like, or even what about the cover caught my eye. As a writer, I now give book covers—especially my book covers—a lot of thought. Because the truth is readers do judge a book by its cover.
As support for this assertion, I offer up a social media post I recently saw, where a reader found Tessa Bailey’s latest release, IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER, in a Christian bookstore. Now, I am a big Tessa Bailey fan eagerly awaiting my moment to dive into that book, but because I’m familiar with her work, I can promise you it’s a high-heat contemporary romance. So how in God’s name (ha!) did it come to be in a Christian bookstore? My guess is someone judged that book by its cover. It boasts a super-cute THE HATING GAME-style image consisting of an artist’s rendering of a bearded guy in jeans and work boots and a blond in a high-style red cocktail dress and heels, against a sea-blue backdrop with a little lighthouse in the distance and some white seagulls floating in the sky. Nothing about the cover says to expect, as Library Journal put it, “A steamy feel-good romance.” You just have to know. To be in the club. (Come on into the club. You won’t be sorry).
As a reader I guess I always assumed the author decided exactly how her cover should look, but as a writer working with a publisher, I quickly learned authors have input on the cover design but not total control. Even a self-published author’s ability to make her cover match her vision can be limited by what stock images are available.
I’ve released sixteen books, so far, and am lucky to have covers I adore. But I’ve realized my favorites tend to capture the mood of the story rather than a perfect representation of the main characters. It’s about a lot of subtle things like background color, text font, and the models of course—how they’re posed, what they’re wearing, (or not wearing!), and their expressions. With the cover of my new release, UNDERCOVER ENGAGEMENT, my publisher nailed it in my oh-so-biased opinion. The blue-green background color catches the eye and coveys an air of fun. Ditto the contrast of blue block letters and flirty white script in the title. And that’s perfect because the story is fun! My hero, Marc Swain, is a smooth-talking, wild-card of a deputy and my heroine, Eden Brixton, is a top-of-her class, by-the-book law enforcement professional. They’re oil and water. Their styles and personalities don’t mesh. They work each other’s last nerves, and it’s hilarious. They also can’t keep their hands off each other, which becomes apparent when they’re partnered for an undercover sting operation and required to pose as an engaged couple. The sparks flying between them burn hot enough to overheat an e-reader. Does the cover convey the sexy? I have to say yes. From the intimacy of the couple’s embrace, the almost-kiss, the way her hand touches his jaw, and his hand practically covers her entire waist, it’s sizzling. Also, he’s half-naked, which doesn’t hurt a thing. I’ve developed a little fixation on the vein traversing his biceps.
Do the models look as I envisioned the characters when I wrote the story? The woman portraying Eden is actually pretty close. Eden is multiethnic, and my publisher tried hard to find the right model to represent her look. Swain is taller that Eden, broader, and often not clean-shaven, but he has dark blond hair and blue eyes, so no, not a perfect match with the cover model. But the overall result tells a reader they’re in for a fun, sexy story, which is absolutely accurate!
Have you ever bought a book based solely on the cover?