The Birth of a Book Cover

Jim Hart, Internet Marketing Manager for Bethany House recently gave some of us bloggers the opportunity to peer into the process of how a book cover is chosen, the science behind the art. Bethany House conducted a survey for Ann Tatlock’s new novel, Every Secret Thing, and, yes, they really do use the results of those surveys when choosing a cover. They posted three covers for you to choose from and comment on (the covers are on the left with the final cover on the bottom).

Here’s some of Jim’s comments:

With total responses, the Cabin cover polled the best (followed by Umbrella, then Woman), but it wasn’t necessarily a clear winner (only by a couple of percentage points), so we did a number of breakdowns by sex, age, preferred genre. It maintained the lead except in a couple of interesting categories – particularly that it lost ground among readers who said their favorite genre was Contemporary (the Umbrella cover did well here). This gave us some pause, as we definitely wanted to appeal to the fans of the contemporary fiction genre that the book is in, while not discounting that the Cabin cover still won with all respondents.

We then decided to look at negative elements in the comments – what items about the particular covers did people react strongly to? The key negatives we saw recurring were (we looked at both the comments in the survey as well as what people said on various blogs that posted a survey link):

Cabin – Too “scary” or dark; the Title treatment (people didn’t like typeface or placement); the figure (hard to tell whether it was male or female)
Umbrella – didn’t fit the genre/feel of the description; looked too much like other covers in marketplace; generally uninteresting

Woman – didn’t fit the genre/feel of the description; uninteresting; and the woman herself turned off a lot of respondents

We had a lot of response to the survey, so here’s just a few comments to give a sense of where we were drawing our conclusions from:

“I like both romance and mystery and this [cabin] cover promises both, plus I like the ‘old’ look of it”

“Although [umbrella] is a close competitor, [cabin] wins out because of the presence of the architecture. It fills up the front of the cover much more than the girl with an umbrella – which makes me think the main character may be a child”

“I don’t much care for the font used on [cabin], but the pic is good. [umbrella] yells chick-lit at me, and I wouldn’t pick it up. I think I’m getting an M. Night Shyamalan feel from [woman].”

“I want a closer look at who or what’s behind or through that door! However, I hate the font choice and arrangement of title words. They just don’t seem to fit the feel of the rest of the cover.” [about the Cabin cover]

“Regarding [umbrella]—not interesting—though I do like the notebook paper background (relating it to school). [Woman] looks like non-fiction, and at first glance it is hard to tell if the person is a man or a woman.”

“[umbrella] and [woman] keeps the reader removed. We are passively looking at someone. [Cabin] gives us the choice to buy the book and walk through that door. We know we’re walking into ‘something’, but what….”
“[umbrella and woman] seem more expected and like so many other covers on bookstore shelves.”
“[Cabin and woman] look like men are featured on the cover”
“[Cabin] looks like a Stephen King imitation” / “looks too creepy” / “makes me think Haunted House” / “makes me think of a horror movie”

“[Cabin] is too “dark”, [umbrella] is too “light”, but [woman] is mysterious”

“[Cabin] doesn’t tell me anything. [Umbrella] is catchy and literary-looking but doesn’t convey anything about the plot.”
“[umbrella] just doesn’t stand out. Seems ordinary.” / “looks boring” / “boring, so many like them” / “not interesting” / “too boring”

Since the Cabin cover won the numbers game, Umbrella got a lot of criticism for being too indistinguished, and Woman failed to really resonate with people, we went with Cabin, but decided to tweak it a bit (change the type treatment, make the figure more obviously a woman). I should also point out that Ann liked the Cabin cover… Version 2 is what made it into the catalog and remained the cover until shortly before it went to press, when we tweaked it again to make the figure even more clearly a woman and lighten the color slightly.

And there you have it; a little look at our survey process and determining the final cover.

Now, you can win a free copy of Ann’s latest, Every Secret Thing, by signing up for my newsletter at

About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on September 20, 2007, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Birth of a Book Cover.

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