Pub Rants

What A Difference A Cover Makes?

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STATUS: I used to think August was a slow time in publishing. Hum…we seem plenty busy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE by UB40

Those of you who read my monthly newsletters know that I belong to a book club. (One good reason to be reading outside of my client manuscripts!) I also always get asked the question of whether I have time to read for fun. As of late, not much but that just motivates me more to read what my Book Club has chosen for our next title.

So this evening I was popping online to read a little bit more about the book that we have chosen—which is SWEEPING UP GLASS by Carolyn Wall.

When I first did the search on Amazon, up popped an image that was unfamiliar to me. I had read the Publishers Weekly starred review for this book (which is how it was brought to my attention), but I hadn’t ever seen this cover.

Thank goodness as I don’t think I would have even brought up this title to my Book Club if I had seen this first.

This cover may speak to you but I have to say that it was a real turn off for me. If I had seen this first, I might have passed on recommending this book as a possible read—even with the starred review.

However, I hadn’t seen this cover until I was goofing around online this evening. Here is the cover that I saw for this title.

It’s a redesign done for the trade paperback edition.

So of course I have to ask you folks what you think. Read the description of the novel first and tell me what cover would have made you pick up the book. And I realize that this is all subjective based on individual preference etc. but I find it fascinating all the same.

77 Responses

  1. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    I like the one with the picturesque background. The hand print makes me think it’s a mystery or something like that. I almost never read mysteries.

    On the other hand, none of Janet Evanovich’s Stephenie Plum novels have appealing covers. I still bought them.

  2. Catherine Misener said:

    The second cover seems more in line with the sweeping feel of the book (based on the description). The first cover – well, I figure I’m going to read about some sick crimes in an urban setting. The first cover does not speak to me, and I write urban fantasy/noir. Too visceral, perhaps.

    The more I think about it, if I did buy the first book simply because of the cover (do people actually do that???), I would be upset to find it was a different sort of story. With that said, I would most likely not pick up the first book/cover…I would at least read the blurb for the second one.

  3. Beth said:

    The second– the first looks gory. To be honest, based on the description of the story, I probably wouldn’t read it. But the second cover would get me to read the flap copy.

    (If you’re interested, there’s a discussion about book covers going on at

  4. Dominique said:

    I don’t know if gory is the word I’d choose to describe the first cover, adn it didn’t necessarily say sick crimes to me either. I certainly found it evocative and probably would have picked it up in a store.

    However, I must say that I found the second cover a better representation of the book, based on the descriptions I could find of it. It seems more pastoral.

    The black and white cover didn’t say Race Issues to me, nor Family Issues. The pastoral one doesn’t really either, I guess, but it does leave the options more open, I believe. Actually, to me, the black and white cover said Drugs more than anything. The black and white cover is a good cover — for selling a different book.

  5. Anthony said:

    The first cover reminds me of a horror novel cover, like Stephen King book.

    Reading the blurb, the latter cover seems more in line.

  6. Shauna said:

    The first made me think it would be very dark and creepy. More of a psychological thriller. I would not have been curious enough to pick it up.

    The second cover is much more in line with the books descriptions. And yet is maybe a little too sleepy looking. I like how they broke the picture up- giving it a bit of disjointed/barbed wire look. I think what makes it work is the combination of the 2nd cover with the title. The title lets you know its not a quiet story about farm life. But the cover gives the impression that it will have a real-to-life feel with lots of descriptions.

    I’m amazed at how different they are.

  7. DebraLSchubert said:

    Even though I write mysteries, I much prefer the second cover. It seems to fit the description, plus it appears intriguing and the text looks modern. On the cover with the hand, the text looks old-school and I’d guess it would be a gory mystery/thriller. IMHO. (Love the title, btw.)

  8. HWPetty said:

    The hand appeals to me. But I’d pick it up to read it and put it back down as soon as I read “Depression-era South.”

    That’s just not my thing.

    But with the second cover, I’d have never picked it up at all, so maybe that’s what they’re going for… to hit a crowd that wouldn’t normally be into that kind of novel?


  9. VR Barkowski said:

    I prefer the first cover, but the second seems better suited to the book. I doubt I would read it under any circumstances, but the first cover would at least get me to pick it up.

  10. Mystery Robin said:

    Wow – that sounds like just the kind of book I love and I never would have picked it up with the first cover – nor would I have clicked on it at Amazon. And if I had, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to buy it, because that first cover indicates a darker book to me than I typically enjoy.

    If it were by Dean Koontz, I probably would pick it up, just because I like Koontz and know what I’m in for when I read one of his books – but I don’t branch out among horror.

    Catherine – I’ve absolutely bought books based on cover alone, even in hardback, and never been disappointed. If there’s a lamp post in the cover, it’s pretty much an autobuy for me. 😉

  11. Laura said:

    To be completely honest, it would depend on my mood. If I was in a dark sort of angry rage-y, moody vicious mood, I’d probably reach for the first one. If I was in a more thoughtful, lazy, introspective, peaceful mood, I grab the second one. Of course, no matter which one I grabbed off the shelf, I’d read the description and a paragraph in the middle to see how I liked it, but as it stands, neither of those covers would appeal to me on a consistent basis.

  12. jessicabrady said:

    The second cover actually fits the story, but it does have the downside of looking very… average, as far as book covers go. It wouldn’t catch my eye.

    The first does get points for being somewhat unusual, but it doesn’t really speak to me. Despite my somewhat morbid sense of humor. Maybe because I’d associate it with some gritty suspense novel, and I don’t read many of those.

    Book covers have never really grabbed my attention – they all look the same to me. It’s only the title and the blurb on the back that catches my interest. If the title is interesting, I’ll happily pick up a plain hardcover from 1880 faster than I will a visually stunning modern paperback.

    I’m probably in a slim minority, though.

  13. Natalie Murphy said:

    Sorry I deleted my comment! I went off on a tangent there and most of it didn’t make sense! So to clarify what I was trying to say…

    I like the first one more, but that’s because I tend to like more imagery in a book cover. However, the second one is quite lovely. If I wanted more of a “deep” life altering read, I’d probably pick up the first cover. But if I wanted more of a fun – but still beautiful novel, I’d pick up the second.

    Regardless, I’d look at the back cover blurb before I bought it.

  14. Sara Creasy said:

    The first cover looks like something from a True Crime “novel,” and they give me the creeps – but it is striking. The second cover doesn’t quite convey what sounds like a gritty subject matter, but it’s more appealing to me. I much prefer the fonts, too. The copy on the first cover looks a bit amateurish.

  15. Ieva said:

    I LOVED the first cover. However, from the Amazon description it seems that the second is closer.
    The first cover said “Dark, edgy, passionate and clever, most likely literary, dealing with deeply rooted trauma”, the second, “a somewhat off-beat something with a woman protag, smart enough to bother reading but simple enough to read while hungover, dealing mainly with outside trouble instead of inside stuff”.

  16. Fay said:

    The second cover looks a lot more old-fashioned and girly to me.

    I’d be more likely to pick up the first, expecting something rather dark and hard-hitting, but I don’t think that cover fits the description of the novel at all.

  17. anniejones said:

    Second Cover. Definitely. However, I wouldn’t pick up the second cover. It looks like just another lady’s lovely book (which I like, there are just so many of them out there right now).

  18. PV Lundqvist said:

    The descriptions up on Amazon speak of a relationship book: those seem to often have a person on the cover.

    The first cover is more emblematic of an idea book, or dystopia/horror novel.

    It’s not so much that one appeals to me more, the latter just seems more appropriate. I wonder how the sales went between to the versions?

  19. Jen P said:

    The first looks like a better than average self-published cover to me.

    The second looks significantly more professional, polished women’s fiction.

    I would read this kind of story – and I would pick it up based on the second cover.

    However, I’m not sure that either captures the story based on the amazon description. I would expect more of a mature Secret Life of Bees, without any mystery element.

    And that starred review was…well, I’m not sure it adds value except that it is a *starred* review.

  20. Keith Robinson said:

    I deliberately did NOT read the book’s description, just so I could literally judge by the cover alone.

    If I were in Barnes & Noble and I saw these two side by side, first it would take me a moment to realize they were the same book. I would admire the second cover for its nice, appealing, friendly design… but would probably not be interested enough to pick it up and read the back.

    The first cover would make me go “ooh!” and pick it up. It’s all personal taste though, and to me the first cover looks very dark and creepy, which would probably appeal to me more than the “lifestyle, romance” style portrayed by the second cover.

    They’re both great designs though.

  21. Janna Qualman said:

    Wow, that’s an indredible difference!

    I’d not give the first one a second look; appears too dark. But the second looks right along the lines of covers I most enjoy.

  22. MeganRebekah said:

    In a bookstore I would definitely pick up the first book cover over the second. I abhor those generic half-people covers with a landscape. It seems almost dull.

    That said, I don’t think the first cover fits the book very well either, so even though it would make me pick up the book I would probably put it back as well.

    Covers are such a subjective thing!

  23. Anonymous said:

    The first cover is dark and evocative and definitely catches my eye. The second cover is pretty generic in my opinion but it’s clearly the “safer choice.”

  24. Cheryl said:

    I had the same reaction several months ago when I found there were two very different covers. When the first cover was shown having won this year’s Oklahoma Book Award for fiction, I thought it was going to be a gruesome thriller. When the description didn’t seem to match the cover, I went to Amazon to read for reviews and saw the second cover.

    I would be interested to know if the graphic artist for each cover actually read the book and whether or not they based their design on their interpretation of the book or someone else’s.

  25. Debbie said:

    I like the first cover much better. It fits the description if you look at all the little bits and pieces within the hand. However, the overall feel seems a bit darker than the description.

    The second one looks like a generic woman finding herself novel. I’d never pick it up if it wasn’t recommended to me.

  26. Ellen said:

    I’m not attracted to creepy stories, so the first cover would have turned me off, too. I would have gone right by it, assuming it was one of those werewolf/vampires books everyone on the planet (except me) is in love with. (Or so it seems.)

    The ppbk cover looks like it tells an emotional human story. My cuppa, for sure.

  27. Anonymous said:

    I’d choose the first cover, hands down. (Ha ha ha ha.) Looks like the story would be dark, creepy and suspenseful–which is what I love to read. The second book looks like a story about a woman finding herself on a farm somewhere and meeting some hot farmer or cowboy. Not my cup of tea.

  28. Avalon Myst said:

    I prefer the second. I know that I am very visual and the first one with the stark black and white is an immediate turn off to me. The second one pulls me in with full color and that I can’t see the face of the person. It makes me want to find out what the book is about as opposed to the first one that is like chalk-on-a-black-board boring to me and I won’t even give a second look to.

  29. Ink said:

    Purely on cover appeal (my subjective taste), I would pick the first. I thought it was very striking, very eye-catching. The second looks more like a Romance, which is not my favourite piece of the pie, and it also looks like dozens of other covers I’ve seen on books. And yet, reading the description, they both seem a little odd. The first one matches the title, to my way of thinking, but doesn’t seem to mesh with the country setting that seems so important for the story. The second one has the setting, but it looks too soft. Again, it looks to me a bit like a Romance cover, or a YA cover for a “girl growing up in the country” sort of story, which doesn’t seem to match with the old mystery and seeming racial conflicts of the story as described. The first cover seems a little too dark and urban, while the second seems to lack any of the bite that the story blurb promises.

    Just my two bits of shiny copper.

  30. Mariana said:

    I like the unusual, so betweent these two options I’d stick with the first. And I really don’t like these cover designs with pictures; I prefer drawings or different mixes sort of like in the first cover.

    Nonetheless my option above, the first cover didn’t seem the better fit for the book description… Can I chose a non-existent third option? (lol)

  31. Dara said:

    Second one.

    Not sure how the first one really fits the story description. Basing first impressions off the handprint cover I would have thought it was a courtroom drama, not anywhere near what the description is. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up to see that the description is different.

    The second cover would make me pick it up and read the blurb.

  32. CKHB said:

    The second cover seems like a better fit to the description of the novel… and neither that cover nor that description appeals to me. The woman’s profile evokes nothing in particular, and I find the list of plot tragedies exhausting.

    I would definitely pick up the first cover, and would walk right by the second.

  33. Joseph L. Selby said:

    I would have picked up the first cover. I think it’s awesome. But then I’d flip it over and read the back and wonder how that cover has anything to do with the story it’s proposing. The second cover seems appropriate for that story. It is a nice cover and if I were looking for that type of story, I would pick it up.

  34. Anonymous said:

    The first looks like horror or suspense, the second looks like a romance. Whichever matches the audience better should be used.

    I think magazines occasionally use multiple covers why shouldn’t books.

  35. Kristin Laughtin said:

    Wow. It’s amazing what a difference the cover makes, but honestly, based on the Amazon description, I’m not sure either one is perfect. The second is a little closer, and does have that sweeping feeling several commenters mentioned, but I wouldn’t expect the plot with the wolves with it, just the human drama. (It looks like a book club book.) The first one is very true-crime or thriller-esque, which maybe fits the plot with the wolves (although not really, since it’s a handprint) but not the human factor. I’m probably being too literal in my analysis, but I think if I picked up the book because of either cover, the story within wouldn’t be what I was expecting.

  36. Anita said:

    First cover is a total turn-off. I was researching LEE CHILD for a column I’m writing, and his site shows his US covers right next to his UK covers…I almost always liked the UK better.

  37. Holly Bodger said:

    This reminds me of the story about why Taylor Swift released two versions of her song “Love Story”: make it sound like country, you get the country music fans; make it sound like pop, you get the pop music fans.

    In the case of this book, the first one definitely looks more like a thriller and the second like women’s lit. I don’t think one is better than the other (assuming the book has a little bit of both) but I’d be pretty careful where I placed each one in a store!

  38. Liesl Shurtliff said:

    At first glance the first cover grabs me, but seems like a misrepresentation of the authors work from what I gathered of the description. It looks like some kind of CSI thriller. The second cover fits. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but everybody does!

  39. Karla Doyle said:

    The first cover is more dramatic – an attention grabber, but the second seems a better match for the story.
    In a bookstore I might have picked up the first cover because of its visual appeal, but probably would have walked right past the second – it’s very ordinary.

  40. careann said:

    The first cover is definitely eye-catching, the second pretty generic, but based on the blurb and reviews I don’t think either represents the total story very well. I suspect the radical change of pace makes it difficult to create an accurate visual image. I wonder if the graphic cover was an attempt to capture the mood of the final 75 pages while the landscaped one better depicts the earlier part of the story. In any case, if I picked it up at all, the blurb would make me put it down again.

    Carol Garvin

  41. RCWriterGirl said:

    The first cover looks appropriate for a horror or sci-fi book that has a disturbing tale to tell.

    The second cover looks more fitting for the tale describe in the publisher’s weekly review, which cites the wonderful narrative voice. While it sounds like there may be some frightening moments in the conclusion, overall, the book seems more slow paced builing to a big conclusion, and this second cover seems more fitting.

    I’d expect the first cover on the X-files or a missing/kidnapped/tortured child book.

  42. Anna Claire said:

    The first cover looks like a self-published or small-press mystery from the 1970s. That font! I love mysteries, but I wouldn’t have looked twice at it unless it was in a used bookshop surrounded by similar-looking covers.

    The cover of the second would definitely make me pick it up and read flap copy (though to be honest, the Publishers Weekly description on Amazon would make me put it back.) It kind of reminds me of a poster for a Lifetime movie, though.

  43. Cassandra said:

    I agree with Anna Claire. The first thing I thought of when I saw the first cover was ‘Is this someone’s self-published NaNoWriMo book?’

    The second looks much more professional and designed around a theme. Even if that theme isn’t something I normally read, at least it looks modern and well thought out/well-made.

  44. Jess Haines said:

    I’d pick up a book with the first cover to find out more/read the back. It’s more geared to grab attention.

    That said, it doesn’t fit what I read about this book on Amazon. The second cover appears more fitting (though it still strikes me as a little “off” based on the description of the book).

    Overall, it doesn’t look like something I’d be interested in reading, personally, but that may be because I’m more a fan of horror, scifi, fantasy, etc.

  45. Anonymous said:

    No question the second cover is the better one for this book.

    I’m not opposed to the first one for another book, say a fem-jeop, even if it is a bit raw and ragged.

  46. Tari Moore said:

    Neither of the covers appealed to me at all. I would have walked right past them.

    I might pick it up based on the Booklist review though because my family legacy has a mean, crazy, Kentucky granny who lived up the holler a coupla miles from the white Baptist Church.

  47. Eric Riback said:

    The purpose of the cover is to get the target audience to pick it up in a bookstore. I think the target audience is women, and I think the second cover is a better choice.

    The cover doesn’t have to explain the book, it just needs to be evocative, and appealing or at least distracting enough to get noticed among the thousands of other titles around it.

    The first cover risks being a turnoff and implies to me a darker conclusion than the review would indicate.

    Once the book is picked up it’s up to the blurbs and copy to make the sale.

  48. Ruth said:

    I would NEVER pick up the book with the first cover. It just looks like another thriller/mystery/blood’n’guts type book, which isn’t really my thing. The second cover is a lot more generic, but also much more attractive.

  49. ~Jamie said:

    What’s so interesting about this topic is that it’s something that matters so much to a writer’s success, yet it’s also something a writer has practically no control over.

  50. D. Michael Olive said:

    I’m the edgy thiller sort, so the first is my fav. the second one doesn’t give me any sense of what the book is about. It seems out of sorts with the title…and boring.

  51. Maggie Stiefvater said:

    I have to say that the first one doesn’t seem to match the mood at all — and the second looks more like something someone who reads romances would pick up — which is what the description would seem to suggest, too. I’d expect grit and angst from the first one.

    I’ve already seen firsthand the difference a cover can make with the cover change for Lament.

  52. grace said:

    as covers go, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the first cover. I would walk across a store to pick that up and see what it was.

    reading the blurb, well, it doesn’t sound like my kind of book. if that blurb were attached to Cover #2, I would skip it totally. if it were attached to Cover #1 I might read it, depending on how many other books I was thinking of buying at the time.

  53. Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said:

    First cover.

    I think that the first cover would show a lot better on Amazon, too. The second cover looks like the cover of a cheap Romance novel. Or something “Sweet Potato, Fried Green Tomato, Travelling Pants” sort of cover.

    First cover, all the way.

  54. Keeks said:

    I think the second cover better suits the book. As much as we shouldn’t jusge books by their covers, the second is more appealing.

  55. Liisa said:

    The first looks like a horror cover, while the second one is about personal growth. By taste I would rather go for the second, the latter seems overused theme lately – black background with simple white/red item in centre. Not that the second isn’t common either. Still, the first suits better for mystery.

  56. stormywriting said:

    The first one caught my eye – if I was looking for horror/thriller/paranormal. For something set in a rural, depression-era time… no. Just no. Two thumbs up for the second.

  57. Lesley Livingston said:

    The second one seems, out of the two, to suit the subject-matter better. But it’s bland.

    The first cover has an amateurish font, which is a turn-off for me, and is definitely noirish at first glance. But when I looked closer at the graphic of the first cover – it’s a bit hard to tell from the posted jpeg – I noticed that there is a woman’s face, the silhouette of a hunter, trees, and a wolf incorporated into the design of the palm-print and I found myself intrigued.

    And cover art definitely influences my book-buying decisions (rightly or wrongly).

  58. Anonymous said:

    Interesting. I love the first cover and it wouldn’t have put me off buying the book. But the second cover fits the blurb better, athough it makes her situation feel much less dire and threatening than the blurb does. The beautiful open vista and the nice dress don’t fit.

  59. R.W.H, said:

    Having read the book, I feel that the second cover fits the narrative voice way better.

    I understand that books have to be eye-catchy and pick-up-able, but you don’t want to position the book wrong and have it be a disappointment for readers. That certainly won’t generate good customer reviews. I really think the first jacket positions the book wrong.

  60. Anonymous said:

    To be honest, not much would make me pick up the book after reading the description. It just doesn’t sound like my kind of read.

    The first cover looks like a self-pubbed book to me–or a small college’s literary magazine.

    The second is more appealing but doesn’t seem to match the title at all. Looks like a story about someone (a young girl?) who likes to run around outdoors. The contrast between that natural look at “Sweeping Up Glass” doesn’t make me want to pick it up.

  61. AnneB said:

    Cover # 2: the first one looks too urban. However, Cover #2 looks like the West, not Kentucky. The Appalachians are more rolling and green, and have meadows, not rolling prairie!

  62. ellewiegert said:

    I’m not sure I really would choose either cover. I’m drawn to the first one, and the second one looks too…much like a lot of book covers and doesn’t particularly talk to me in any way. The first one I think is more evocative, I like the images in the hand print, I actually don’t like the title/author name, it’s just sort of floating up there and has nothing grounding it to the images.

  63. Christine said:

    I would have picked up the first cover and not looked twice at the second cover, but I generally prefer mystery/thrillers to romance. That said, the second cover seems to fit the description of the book more.

  64. Anonymous said:

    Definitely prefer the pastoral, would have been furious if I was the author and I saw the hand print. It screams Blair Witch Project, literally, and does not at all fall in line with the PW review of the book that I read on Amazon.

  65. Anonymous said:

    In my experience as an avid reader the cover can be a hard thing to get past even if it’s not conscious or rational. I actually think I get more often turned off books because of the cover than the reverse.

  66. AJ Reese said:

    The first cover would turn me off. The stark all black cover of a handprint with (is that blood spatter?) on it with a title of ‘Sweeping up Glass’ makes me internally think of sweeping up broken glass with a bare hand. And the still face and (…is that a rifleman or a bird? rifleman, I think) puts the book further into the suspense/horror/mystery realm.

    The second book cover may not catch me either but it would come much closer. The sweeping mountain view and the vulnerable neck area exposed put me more in the frame of mind that it’s women’s fiction. The picture sets a yearning tone because the face isn’t visible. The lines breaking through the picture set some tension. The woman in the picture is wearing casual clothing, so it’s not high society but probably a working class story.

    I’ve now read the review synopsis on Amazon, and I’ve got to say that while this is probably a very good book, I don’t know if I’d read it. Right now, with all of the challenges in our family’s life, I find that I’m grabbing things with happy endings and a lot less tension. I’m avoiding being wound up while reading. I think in a few months that I’d hunt this up, but not right now. I’m going after comedy and tried-and-true straight-up romance. I recently read ‘The Friday Night Knitting Club’, and while I appreciate the writing and the character building, the ending of that book infuriated me. I felt like I’d wasted 3 hours of my life to be depressed by the book. I don’t like picking up books right now that give me that tense or unhappy feeling.

    I can’t be the only one. This economy is throwing a lot of people’s jobs in the wringer. And nothing sells a happy ending book like a rotten economy. ‘Sweeping up Glass’ does have a redemptive ending according to the reviews, but getting to the ending might really bother me.

  67. Madeleine said:

    Well, I read the synopsis, and I have to say, the first cover (the black one) doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the book. I haven’t read it, tough, so I may be wrong.

    If I were wandering through Borders, however, I would completely ignore the cover with the human on it, and probably pick up the cover with the hand. I have an odd prejudice against books with human beings on the covers. The cover for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about as human as I like.