Reader's Voice The Importance of Covers

Have Your Say! What Do You, The Reader Think?
An interesting topic to be discussed or pondered over 

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Author Anna Belfrage has brought together four book-bloggers for a discussion about covers. 
Are covers important? Yes or no? 

Anna: I'd say they are - but let us not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, I'd like my guests to introduce themselves. Jo, why don’t you go first?

One of Jo's top three covers
Jo: Hello everyone, I’m Jo, a prolific reader and also an active book blogger at Jaffareadstoo – a blog I share with my ginger tom, Jaffa. I live in Lancashire in North West England, and I am happily retired after a thirty year nursing career. To fill the void after I finished work I started blogging and chatting about books to anyone who would listen. I’ve also reviewed books for magazines and online websites. My passion is historical fiction and whilst I prefer medieval history, I do also love a good time slip novel that keeps one foot firmly in the present whilst visiting the past.

The one book that has made the most impression was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It’s the only book EVER that, as I finished the last sentence in the book, I turned immediately to the beginning and read all 863 pages again.

David: Hi, I’m David from David’s Book Blurg . I live up north near Newcastle in the UK with my wife and twin girls. I’m a lover of history but favourite period so far would have to be 1066. I particularly enjoyed 1066: What Fates Impose by Glynn Holloway.

Jenny: I’m Jennifer Quinlan, but everybody calls me Jenny Q! I am a native of Virginia—a ninth-generation Virginian, actually. My family has lived in the same county since the 1680s! I studied History and English at Virginia Tech, and I am the owner of Historical Editorial. I provide copyediting and developmental editing services, and I design book covers. I also have a book review blog, my first love, Let Them Read Books.

I will read a novel from any historical period if the subject catches my fancy, though I am partial to British, French, and American history. I can’t possibly name a favourite read, but some of the timeless books on my historical fiction shelf of honour are Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy and The Sunne in Splendour, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, and Forever Amber. (AB: Ah, yes: Forever Amber - one of my first Hist Fic loves) 

One of Lisl's favourite books & covers!
Lisl: I’m Lisl and come from the Great Land, known to most people Outside as Alaska. (“Outside” simply means any place not Alaska.) I keep a blog called Before the Second Sleep, in which I write book reviews and other tidbits that strike my fancy. I love to read time travel, historical fiction—mostly in Arthurian (in particular Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy), 1066, Wars of the Roses and early American history—and a few other genres.

AB: Wow, what a lovely and varied group of people you are! And, dear readers, I recommend you pop over to the various sites - these are four very different reviewers with a common passion for good books!

Now, before we get started, what can I offer you to drink? Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate with whipped cream?

Jo: Hot Chocolate with whipped cream wins every time!
David: Earl Grey for me  (A man of good taste)
Jenny: Coffee please, and lots of it! Two creams, one sugar.
Lisl: Anna Belfrage, are you offering me chocolate? ;-) (AB: What can I say, Lisl? I live in hope…) I would love a cup of tea, thank you!

AB: Right, with the practicalities sorted let me start by asking you how important you think the cover is. Will it sell the book to you? Or is it more a case of some covers putting you off even looking inside?

One of David's favourites
Jo: A well-designed cover suggests that time and care has gone into the story. The cover sells the book to me and I have bought books just on the basis of the cover, equally I have been turned off by poorly designed covers, or covers which bear no resemblance to the story. I have given up on a book if I have found the cover unappealing.

David: When buying a book the cover is the most important thing to me. I need a cover that catches my eye otherwise I might not even look at the back of the book to see what the story is about. I wish I could take the time to browse more but there’s so much choice out there that an author needs to stand out and the cover is the first thing you see.

A cover that caught Jenny's eye!
Jenny: It’s both for me. I am drawn to gorgeous book covers like a kid in a candy store, so it’s more likely that a cover is going to draw me to the book rather than put me off. I tend to just skip right by books with unattractive covers. I would like to say that the importance of your cover is second only to the quality of your content, but there are many books with subpar content and outstanding covers that are selling a lot of books, so if your goal is to be a bestseller, then your cover is probably the most important part of your package.

Lisl: Oh, in some instances a cover can indeed be the pull to the whole story. It has happened not a few times that I see a cover image or design from afar and from that alone must check to see what’s inside.

AB: Consensus seems to be covers DO matter. Do you have any favourite covers? 

Lisl: I love old editions’ book covers, both size and pictures. Some are quite alluring and bring me in, while others are dated, though often still captivating! Two in particular that stand out for me are from Stewart’s above mentioned Merlin Trilogy: The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.
When I first saw them as a child, the covers possessed a sort of mystical feel set within an ancient time, one I felt I was being beckoned to join.

One of David's favourite covers
David: Oh yes, Nursing Fox by Jim Ditchfield and Legionary by Gordon Doherty! Both very different but pleasing and eye catching.

Jenny: I couldn’t name a favourite cover, but here are four historical novels that had not been on my radar that I recently bought or checked out from the library for no other reason than that I found the cover irresistible.

Jo: My favourite cover is Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. I bought the book purely for the cover and had no clue what the book was about and hadn’t heard of the, then, debut author. I just knew that I had to have a hardback copy of it to keep.

AB: What must a cover have for it to grab your attention?

Jenny: I’m very drawn to women (and men) in period clothing. A gorgeous dress with a dreamy background gets me every time. I’m also drawn to evocative setting images combined with an attention-grabbing title/font combination.

Jo's favourite cover
Jo: Good graphics, nothing too fuzzy. Easy to read font that stands out.A design that ‘grabs’ my attention. I like simple designs using negative space rather than filling the whole of the cover with too much information. For me less is more. I want to feel an emotional connection to the story and to pick up on the mood of the book from the picture on the cover.

Lisl: The design should inspire some sort of sensation, even if it is simple admiration for the colours, bends, direction, etc. Ideally it would give me some sort of hint re: the where and what for, but apart from that it should at least have some element that reaches out to make a connection, thereby implanting some curiosity.

David: For me the cover has to set the tone of the book. With Legionary by Gordon Doherty you can tell straightaway the period and that you’ll see a lot of battles being fought. Nursing Fox however has a much more contemplative cover, again setting the period but also has a human touch to it which fit perfectly with the tale. It’s clear we might see some war but you know mainly it’s going to be through the eyes of the nurse.

AB: What will immediately put you off a cover?

Yet another cover Jenny found intriguing
David: I hate to say it but cover with pictures of real people on them. I’m all for portraits depicting individuals I’m just not a big fan of photos of real people being used. I like an artist’s touch rather than the Photoshop look.

Jo: A title in a font that is difficult to read. Garish Colours. If the cover is too vague and confusing so that I can’t decipher what the book is about. If the cover looks ‘cheap’ or poorly presented.

Jenny: Too many elements crammed in. Text that’s hard to read. Black-and-white or sepia photos with a simple title slapped on them.

A Lisl favourite! 
Lisl: Generally speaking, solid colours and no drawing or design. There is a very popular series whose bindings are a variety of different solids. If I ever saw them in the shops before I heard of them, I never noticed and likely wouldn’t have investigated what they are about. It was only word of mouth that brought me to them. It isn’t that I loathe this sort of cover, just that there’s a nothingness to them that produces usually the very same in terms of response … nothing.

AB: Now, one perennial cover is the “headless woman in a period gown” cover. What are your thoughts about it? 

A cover that grabbed Jenny's attention
Jenny: Works for me! So often when a woman’s face is on the cover, it doesn’t match my vision of the character in my head. Her manner of dress and her body language is much more alluring for me.

Lisl: They are a bit weird, but do create a bit of curiosity. One “headless woman” cover I thought managed to convey something of her subject is Anne Easter Smith’s Queen by Right, which depicts Cecily Neville with gloved left hand holding a goshawk and in the other, a basket of white roses, which bestowed upon Cecily greater individuality, strength in particular.

Jo: I’ve grown to accept this as it seems that a lot of historical fiction features the “headless woman” or a woman in period costume gazing wistfully into the distance. It’s immediately recognisable as a historical ‘brand’ and as such, survives and to be honest, I’ve become accustomed to it now.

David: I like it I’m honest. It sets the tone and lets the reader know the type of book it will be before reading, a female lead, some romance, delicate period drama perhaps. I like to know what I’m getting and this type of cover wouldn’t put me off.

Another of these perennial favourites is the “bare-chested, wild-haired man in a kilt” covers. Thoughts? 

Another of David's favourites
David: Not for me really… I’m not a fan of bare chested men 😊  I’m aware that books appeal to different readers so these covers do have their place but just not on my book shelf.

Jenny: I do love a man in a kilt, but I am not such a fan of the bare-chested cover. It really doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not reading the book for the man’s abs. But I’ll take a man in breeches, vest, and coat any day!

Jo: If the book is about a “bare-chested, wild-haired man in a kilt” …then yes, why not. I’m sure this type of cover sells this particular genre and if it’s what readers enjoy then that’s ok with me.

Lisl: I tend not to take them seriously, really.

AB: Which historical fiction covers do you think work particularly well? Why?
One of Jo's top three

Jo: All three covers are different and yet they all appeal to me both for their simplicity and attention to detail: The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick, The First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson, The Edge of Dark by Pamela Hartshorne.

David: Oo, apart from the two previously mentioned I think others which get it spot on would have to be Wolf’s Head by Steven A. McKay, The Bowes Inheritance by Pam Lecky and I’m by no means biased when I say In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage (AB: Thrilled! But I can't very well include a pic of my own cover) I think each of these set the scene for the story nicely and speak to me as a reader before picking the book up.

Jenny: For me, historical fiction covers absolutely need to impart the essence of a time gone by, and the good news is there are many ways to do this using a combination of character representation, settings or objects, or even a historical-looking font. 
(AB: As Jenny designs covers, she preferred not to name specific covers)
One of Lisl's favourite covers

Lisl: A mood of longing and loss is woven into the image on Annie Whitehead’s To Be A Queen, and even the title speaks of the distance—in time or space—between ourselves (or the characters) and what has been lost, or can never be. The first cover for Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf depicts a ghostly rider moving amongst swirling colours of time, the hues of which bend and blur events so it takes more than once glimpse to take it all in. Martha Kennedy’s novel Savior takes for its cover an illustration from an illuminated medieval manuscript that manages a lovely cooperation between storytelling and cover art.

AB: As a final question, is there any particular period you would want to see more books about? 

David: I’d like some more books set in the Wild West. It’s not a period I’m particularly familiar with but ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cowboys.

Jenny: No more Tudors please! I’d like to see more fiction set during the American and French Revolutions and the War of 1812, maybe some more Irish medieval.

Jo: 11th 12th or 13th Centuries.

Lisl: I’d love to read more about the Barbary wars. 

(AB: And for those who, like me, don't go "aha!" when hearing Barbary wars, here's a link )
I am rather encouraged by Jo's periods given my own writing preferences :) And I agree: no more Tudors! How about some Stuarts instead? Thank you so much for joining me here today - and I must say that the covers you've mentioned are very varied - which just goes to show that what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another. Duh!

 Anyway: what do all other readers out there think?  Which of the above covers caught your eye? 
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Leave your comments below
 and please do spread the word that readers are heartily welcomed
 here at Discovering Diamonds!

And don't forget our own Cover of the Month award judged by designer Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics.



  1. Thank you, Anna for inviting me to be part of this fascinating discussion about Book Covers. I have really enjoyed reading through everyone's answers.
    Happy reading everyone :)

  2. Thank you for participating, Jo!

  3. My first thought on covers were that some are dull - not necessarily in content or design, but in the 'finish' - others are much brighter and therefore more attractive to the browser. My second thought was that, for me, it should give me a reasonable idea of subject and time period of the story if possible as sometimes the title doesn't. My third thought was: they matter, but for some more than others. If his publishers brought out a version of 'The Latest Uhtred' on a plain cover with just the title on top and author's name at the bottom, then it would still sell in whatever quantities the series sells in. Possible the same with 'The Next Jack Reacher' So, the lesser known the author, the more they should strive for a memorable cover. Headless women are really becoming a bit hackneyed now, don't you think? And all I will say about half naked Highlanders is that, in the times they represent, I doubt they would have shaved their chests or grown designer stubble!
    Thank you, Anna and your guests for this discussion - thoroughly enjoyable and lovely to hear what 'professionals' think. My favourite cover? Tough question, as Michael Parkinson says, but I would have to go for the paperback version of Kristin Lavransdatter....

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. My copy of Kristin Lavransdotter (in Swedish) has a pretty impressive cover too :)

    2. Mikne has an oldish lady with very long blonde hair sitting in a very ornate chair - it conveys the woman very well, I think...

    3. Tee hee. Designer stubble indeed. :-D

  4. Thank you to Anna and her 'guests' for such an interesting - and personal choice-type' topic! For myself, with a visual impairment I am finding a clear easy to read font is essential, and not hidden too much by the background images. And this is where there is one huge failing with Kindle - you don't see the cover each time you open the book to read, or even on occasion don't see the cover at all beyond that initial thumb-nail when you click to buy the book.

  5. Really enjoyed this post. So many gorgeous covers featured too! I can't agree more that the cover is the eye candy that catches your attention and it doesn't matter if it's on a digital shelf or a bookshelf. It invites further investigation.

    1. I think eye candy is such a good way of putting it! Thanks for dropping by Cryssa

  6. Fun read. I'm always interested to hear what others think the value of a good cover is. It's too bad soooo many indy authors think they are saving money by creating their own cover. Like I always say... it either sells, or it repels.
    To my eye, Among the Fair Magnolias,The Cottingley Secret and the Phantom Tree are the most professionally designed covers here. But I have seen, (and judged) some of Anna's covers and they absolutely belong in the list of great looking covers. My absolute FAV is Under the Approaching Dark! Stunning!

    1. Thanks Tamian. For me personally, whether indie or traditional (but particulaly traditional!) I do get irritated when you see the same stock images used over and over.


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