You’ve probably heard the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” meaning not to pass judgment on someone or something based strictly on outward appearance.
Yet the good ol’ USA was one of the first places on the planet to jump on the bandwagon of packaging. As we became a nation that produced huge amounts of goods in the latter 19th century, we first looked within our borders to find consumers from sea to shining sea. Then as machinery helped us become over-producers, we decided to conquer world markets and started shipping our goods all over the world. Even though we broke away from our Mother Country back in 1776, over a hundred years later our attitudes had shifted as we became more imperialistic. We picked up territories such as Puerto Rico, Samoa, and the Philippines–which would help us have instant markets to send our goods beyond places where we traded with others. As so often happens, it all boiled down to making a buck.
In the rush to sell, sell, sell to Americans and continue to export our products beyond our borders, the business community became very aware of marketing and advertising. Packaging became vital to high sales.
From the beginning of our existence, Americans were raised to have a large, hot breakfast before they went on their merry way to work, the fields, or school. But at the turn of the 20th century, convenience became king – and thus the rise in the popularity of cold cereals for breakfast. All you needed was a bowl and spoon, the cereal, and then you added a little milk and–VOILA–instant breakfast! Cereal manufacturing became big business in this country, and soon over 100 kinds of corn flakes alone saturated the market, giving birth to The Cereal Wars.
Now how do you distinguish your corn flakes from your competitors, enough so that loyal consumers would purchase yours repeatedly?
You have a great cover. Or package.
Kellogg’s became famous for putting pretty Midwestern girls on the front of their boxes and in color magazine ads. They had milky skin and sparkling eyes and advertisers tried to convince Americans if they only ate Kellogg’s corn flakes, they, too, would be this healthy-looking and happy, to boot.
Other products followed suit, so that Americans were inundated with products that advertising wizards convinced them they couldn’t live without. It became all about the package–or the cover–that consumers saw. People tried to “keep up with the Joneses” as everyone wanted to drive the latest car, have the newest device (such as a washing machine), or buy the latest best-selling book. Yes, the covers of books became an important marketing tool in sales.
Fast-forward to today. I believe that of all genres, romance is the one most judged by the covers of its books. Years ago when some covers got downright racy, it wasn’t uncommon for commuters on subways or buses to “hide” their romance covers behind fake covers or cloth covers. Hey, we all judge people by their “covers.” What purse they carry. If they wear make-up or they’ve bitten their nails to the quick. We make snap judgments when we see the car they get into or view how their children act (or act up!). It’s just something society has conditioned us to do, so it wasn’t surprising when romance readers hid what they were reading from the general public, who thought any romance was a “bodice-ripper.”
Nowadays, covers can be the key to enticing a reader to buy your book. The cover should appeal to a reader and give him or her a sense of what that book is about. Some of the story idea and what the characters are like should be conveyed by the cover.
I’ve been blessed to work with the amazing Ramona Lockwood, who is both creative and collaborative. She designed the cover of both my 2013 releases, Music For My Soul and Outlaw Muse. She’s also finished my January cover for A Game of Chance, and I get a huge thrill every time I see what she’s come up with, covers that will bring my stories to life. Ramona “gets” me and the stories I’m trying to tell. She creates tender yet sensual covers for my historical romances that make me proud. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for A Change of Plans!
That’s why as authors we want the best work possible represented on the covers of our books . . . because it’s the cover that makes that huge first impression upon potential readers. If it appeals to them, they’ll more than likely read the blurb or even read a sample as they decide if they want to purchase it or not.
So yes, I do believe that books–especially romance novels – are judged by their covers. Hopefully, your cover will convince a reader that they simply must by your book!