A Book Cover Should Match the Content

Bring In the Right Audience

Authors invest so many months in writing abook that often the cover can seem like an afterthought. However, the cover is absolutely critical. If the cover fails, nobody will ever read those words.

So you might think that an ideal cover would get as many millions of people as humanly possible to click. But that is also not true. If you bring in the WRONG audience you can get even worse results by having slews of angry 1-star reviews which then drive away your actual target audience. This can be the death knell for a book.

So the key is to have the cover perfectly represent what it's about so that it both draws in the target audience and gently holds away people who will hate it enough to deluge it with one-star rants. You don't want your sweetly romantic teen-first-love book looking like an erotic thriller and having hundreds of disappointed readers driving the story into negative-rating obscurity.

Lolita - A Book Cover Should Match the Content If this sounds like a tricky balance, take heart. Even big publishers have gotten this wrong for years. And they should know better.

Take this cover of Lolita. The story is about a tragically abused twelve year old girl who is victimized by her stepfather. Yet somehow covers make her out to be a slutty tramp who deliberately lures this poor innocent guy to making a wrong decision. As CNN discusses, this is a double failure - both of the cover wildly mis-representing the story and of the way our society looks at young girls.

CNN - The difficulty of illustrating 'Lolita'

But Lolita is known for its sexual content, you might say. People who are reading it are undoubtedly, in part, reading it because of that material.

Even if we were to take on that argument, then how about this?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A classic Willy Wonka tale where a young boy wins a golden ticket and he and his grandfather explore the magical world of candy and chocolate. Seems fairly straightforward, right?

Charlie - A Book Cover Should Match the Content So how in the world did Penguin Books end up with this cover for the classic tale? The sexualized doll-girl doesn't even represent the two girls who are part of the storyline. Penguin says that instead she represents "children at the center of the story." So they went with a sexy girl to represent the pre-teen children (mostly boys) who have various vices such as gluttony and greed? Just which of the children is this supposed to represent?

Feedback on this cover was, as you might imagine, less than stellar.

Penguin Defends its Charlie Cover

What's the moral here? While an outlandish cover might catch the eye, it might deluge you with unhappy reviews and drive away your target audience. There are undoubtedly SCORES of readers who would love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who would NEVER pick up the book if it had that cover on it.

Make sure you keep that in mind. Your cover needs to appeal powerfully to its specific target audience. Make sure you focus on them, and not necessarily on an image that, while eye-catching, is wholly inappropriate for your book's content.

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