Book covers – a picture is worth one thousand words… or not?

frog mating - why book covers matter

Looks are always important, not only for books!

I’ve already written a post about book covers. In it I offer a detailed overview of the features effective book covers should possess. Instead, in this post, more than on the how you can come up with a great cover, I try to put the importance of a cover into a larger perspective. To point out why it is a good idea. But one that should not keep you up at night..


They say a picture is worth one thousand words. I get it. Of course I get it. But, there’s always a but.

In fact, if a picture were really equivalent to a thousand words, then the fact that writing systems all over the world have evolved from graphic depictions to more and more abstract signs would be inexplicable.

And in fact, the truth is that it’s words that are incredibly powerful. For example, irrespective of whether or not such a nano story was really penned by Hemingway himself, it’s difficult to imagine a more succinct way to convey ideas and emotions.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Of course, flash fiction by its very nature leaves a lot to interpretation. Even so, it’s extremely interesting to notice how much just six words, and a willing and competent reader, can do.

Just for fun, I tried to come up with a couple of such nano stories of mine.

1) Mother cries. I hit her. Again.

2) The dog died. I ate it.

I think I’m going to title the first one Clumsy, and the second, Glutton.

Or maybe not. Maybe it would be better Electra and… Dogpire (I know perfectly well this mash-up between vampire and dog is terrible… that’s why it’s so nice to be writing this on a screen, where no rotten eggs can hit me!)

I could go on a whole week elaborating on such absurdities. In fact, when I was an adolescent I had a friend I almost daily engaged with to come up with the longest and most absurd stories.

woman on a beach

Covers catch readers’ attention, you know what I mean, right?

When we got started, our other friends would shake their heads in disbelief and leave. To play soccer. Or even to go back home and do their homework. Whatever just to get away from our nonsense.

But I’m digressing.

Instead, think about the way just switching titles can give the stories completely different meanings. And, if all this happens for stories only six words long, imagine the creative potential of a full-length novel, where you get to choose, on average, something like 80.000 words.

The mere idea is mind-boggling.

Maybe, just maybe, the old saying that goes like, never judge a book by its cover, perfectly nails it.

Cover basics

However, it’s sadly true that when it comes to winning new potential readers the content still has to be discovered.

As a result, it’s your cover, together with the title, that perspective readers see first.

Now, articles and books about how to come up with great covers abound. However, the single most important feature a cover must possess is a professional look. It needs to avoid standing out for its amateurish style, or, more bluntly, the pedestrian manner it has been composed.

In fact, a cover has to convey the idea you’re on top of your game. That you know what you’re doing.

Either because you yourself can create a professional cover, or you know you’re not up to the task and consequently hire someone who can produce one for you.

In other words, a cover must convey the message that you’re willing to go to any length to provide your readers with a quality product.

Of course, a professional look is only the first step. But it’s a huge step. If you get this right, then making sure your cover is also genre-specific, organic, and effective also when viewed as a thumbnail should pose no particular problems.

naked woman posing - a picture is worth one thousand words

Short-term thinking Vs long-term thinking

Covers can help you sell books. But a stellar cover followed by a story that is peppered with typos, grammar mistakes, plot holes, and cardboard characters is also the fastest way to convert those sales into irate one-star reviews.

So, again, never forget there’s an enormous difference between a mound of drivel and a golden nugget. I know, I’m stating the obvious. But often it’s exactly the obvious that ends up being overlooked.

Sure, drivel is everywhere and is way easier to write–you just sort of metaphorically fart on and on with your mind, and then transcribe it all on paper.

But easier doesn’t necessarily equate to better–just like more difficult doesn’t necessarily entail anything of a higher quality. You have to look, to really look , at what you have written, on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, you could be tempted to market your drivel as a stream of consciousness, but there’s a reason because such literary device is used quite parsimoniously in fiction. Go and read Ulysses by James Joyce and then you’ll know why.

Boring, confusing, boring, confusing, boring… these are just a few of the adjectives I’ve heard people use to describe the book over the years. And personally I too think it’s boring. I know, I might have entered the land of literary heresy here. But that’s how I feel about it.

Drivel is also ephemeral at best. Instead, you should aim to come up with solid golden nuggets–those stories whose authors took the time to sift word for word and refine till they found what they were looking for, or realized there was nothing so great to be found and started afresh on a new project (it hurts but it happens.)

A matter of duty

Great stories can change a person’s life. They are those stories that take up residency into the readers’ head and forever change the way they look at life.

That’s the magic of literature. And for that you can be granted immortality. So, irrespective of genre, I believe that as an author it’s your duty to go and find them. But remember, all this has nothing to do with perfectionism. Instead, it’s all about meaningfulness.


Pictures: dasselC_ScottPexels

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