Friday, July 12, 2013

Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover... Even Though Everyone Else Is

by Mindy McGinnis

As a librarian I see the magic of a good book cover firsthand, everyday. I admit that I'm not immune to the siren song of something pretty myself. When the new boxes of books come in you can bet that the ones my ink-stained fingers go for first are the titles with great covers. I'm a librarian, a life-long reader, and an author.

I should know better.

But I can't help it. I'm like a bird flying straight into a window. When it comes to new authors who haven't already proven their mettle to me, the good-looking books get the to the top of the TBR pile every time. I see my patrons doing the same whenever I set up the shiny new things in the designated Shiny New Things Area. A few of the more self-controlled ones try to do intelligent browsing, but most do a dive like a barn swallow spotting an errant mosquito and snatch up whatever looks best.

Authors know this, and we fret. We fret because for the most part our cover is out of our hands. Some of us are fortunate enough to have some control over our cover process, and even more of us are blessed with truly talented art departments that channel our book into a picture. I can't say enough how pleased I am with the cover of NOT A DROP TO DRINK.

But isn't what's between the dust jacket the most important thing? Shouldn't the pages be the motivating factor on what people pick up to, you know - read? Sure, yes, they definitely should. Also I know a lot of ugly guys with great personalities who would love a date sometime in the future.

So what can we do as authors to ensure that our baby looks good?

  • Talk to your agent before the contract is signed. Some houses will negotiate author input on cover design.
  • If you are asked for your ideas before production begins, keep it simple. Don't have specific demands or an exact sketch of what you want. For example, when I was asked my thoughts on what DRINK should look like I said it felt like a "blue" book, and that I didn't want to see my MC's face. Those simple guidelines were put to work, along with someone else's creativity to deliver an awesome cover.
  • Be flexible. Sure, you wanted a black cover and got an orange one. But - why? Maybe black is over and orange pops on the shelf right now. There are reasons for every small thing that goes into your cover.
  • Trust your art department... and thank them! It's our job to write the book, it's their job to make it pretty, not vice-versa. When DRINK's cover was revealed I received a slew of compliments, which I think is pretty funny. Why are people complimenting me? I didn't make it. Mention your designer's name when your cover is praised. They'll remember it. (Ahem, I love you, Erin Fitzsimmons).

And in the end if you hate your cover, don't tell a single soul. Imagine for one second that your book truly is a baby, and someone stops you in the marketplace and says, "Is it a boy or a girl?" And you say, "I don't know, I can't get past how it looks." Um... you just lost at parenting.

Same is true with the publishing industry. You love your book. You love your cover. Smile and make a new one.
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.


  1. It's so true -- a good cover is like a magnet. One of the more mysterious elements of this mysterious business!

  2. Wise words, Mindy. Thanks for your librarian perspective.

  3. So true, Mindy. Great advice to authors about trying to be involved in the cover process. I am always drawn to a striking cover -- and I also love your!

  4. I just wish you'd spelled the word 'Its' correctly in your title.

  5. Oh the damages of blogging at 2 AM....

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