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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Cover story

The old saying tells us to never judge a book by its cover, but how important is the cover in influencing whether someone picks up a book or not? Do readers search out similar covers to books they’ve enjoyed or do they make a bee line for striking, unique covers that are completely different from the volumes around them?

The cover is the first experience a reader has of a book. Imagine someone browsing the YA shelves of Exclusive Books where thousands of novels vie for his/her attention. Unless the potential buyer turns every single book around to read the blurb, the cover is the only thing they have to go on.

This morning I posed the seemingly innocent question on Twitter of what readers (or more specifically YA readers) want to see on a book cover.

It sparked a bit of a debate.

According to one Tweeter, Zane Marc Gentis, the usual elements you expect to see are photos and illustrations, which all have their place, but that ideally, covers should give some insight into the style and content of the book and set the right mood for the reader.

Author Cat Hellisen believes covers should stand out from the crowd and like Zane, agrees that the cover should evoke the mood of the content.

Book blogger Lauren Smith avoids covers that follow trends such as the stereotypical YA girl in dress, fantasy warrior with sword etc which happens more than you think.

Young adult fiction is largely trend driven, so its not unusual to see similar covers gracing the shelves. The reasoning seems to be that if a cover works for one, it will probably work for another. Its also identifies which books are similar in theme.

Case in point: The girl holding an umbrella

Another example: the girl in pretty dress

And what about: Girl with her back to reader

And last but not least: Girl underwater

A cover does many things. First and foremost its purpose is to grab the reader’s attention and make them pick up the book and read the back. For any author with the exception of Stephen King, its vital for your book to stand out among the rest.

The cover should tell the reader several things: such as genre, tone and emotion, and it must also get to the heart of the book, whether its a lurking malevolence, suspense or lightness, and hook the reader even before they turn it over to discover what the book is actually about.

Most importantly the cover should be a true reflection of the story.

Whether a reader enjoys the book or not has absolutely nothing to do with the image on the front, but if they hadn’t picked it up to begin with, they would never have had the opportunity to find it.

It’s definitely something to think about.

Here’s’s 50 coolest book covers, which includes Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City.


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