You tell us: should the cover art match?

| | 34 comments

This week I want to hear from you all about the cover art. I’ve seen a lot of reader comments about cover art, and I think we can agree that cover art is important. Sure, we’re told not to “judge a book by its cover”, but we all know we do it. It’s why how you dress for a job interview is important. It’s why it’s key that your restaurant not look filthy and unwashed. No one will ever get past your front door to how the food tastes. And likewise, if the cover art doesn’t draw you in, many readers may never make it past that first glance to discover the excellent story within.

So we know cover art is important to selling the book, but is it only important that it be good cover art, or is it key that it also match the book? If it’s a sweet story, is it okay for it still to have a hot, sweaty, shirtless guy on the cover, or a couple in a passionate embrace? Or what if the heroine in the story has red hair, but the cover art shows her as a brunette?

You tell us, how closely do cover art and what’s behind the cover need to match?

34 thoughts on “You tell us: should the cover art match?”

  1. Suzanne Rossi says:

    If your heroine has red hair, then that’s how she should be shown. If she’s a cop, put her in a uniform, not a bikini. I understand that the cover helps sell the book, but keep it as close to the material as possible.

  2. Sabrina says:

    Yes – I want the cover art to match the book. It sets the tone for what readers expect from the story. If the cover doesn’t match, then it can leave readers unhappy even if the writing is great becuase it wasn’t the type of story they thought they were getting.

  3. Sabrina says:

    Yes – I want the cover art to match the book. It sets the tone for what readers expect from the story. If the cover doesn’t match, then it can leave readers unhappy even if the writing is great becuase it wasn’t the type of story they thought they were getting.

  4. Jody W. says:

    Tried to leave a one word comment… Match! … but I got edited for brevity :)

  5. Jess Faraday says:

    Cover art is very important. If it doesn’t match the story in tone, it will give the wrong impression about the story, which will disappoint readers. If it reduces characters to stereotypes or whitewashes them, it will really tick off some readers, and probably the writer as well. If the cover is cheesy, people will think that the story is cheesy, and may not purchase it. A cover that doesn’t match the story is careless at best, and at worst, a bait-and-switch which can backfire and hurt sales.

  6. A hot guy with a bare torso doesn’t tell me if I’m going to be reading mystery, paranormal or suspense. Matching is good.

  7. Kim B says:

    Yes! Cover art is very important. Once I am into a series, it wouldn’t keep me from continuing. But I often look at the cover art to pick a series. I’ve also found myself scratching my head at some of the cover art and wondered how much effort was put into choosing it. One of my favorite books involve people in their early to mid twenties. The guy on the cover looked like a forty year old body builder who wanted to look like Fabio (not Carina Press). It did not fit the story at all!! I have recommended it to serveral friends and had to ensure them that the cover was not a reflection of the story.

    I find that I am most drawn to covers where you can’t see faces clearly. A hat placed just right, looking down, etc. I like to come up with the way I think the characters look as I read.

  8. Caleigh says:

    I definitely prefer the cover art to match the book. Maybe the *scene* represented on the cover doesn’t need to happen exactly in the book, but if there are characters featured on the cover, they should definitely match the descriptions provided by the author. I use the cover image of the characters to help visualize the story, so if the cover characters are wrong … that’s a big disconnect! I think Sabrina is also right that the cover sets up expectations for the reader and can lead to disappointment.

  9. Donna Cooper says:

    Bait and switch is not an honest way to do business. Besides, I think it is illegible in most places to bait the customer with a certain item, and then switch it on them so that they get something different from what they thought that they were buying.

  10. I am deeply disappointed if the cover leads me to think the story is something other than what the cover intimated.

    I was a graphic artist and an art director for many years. You betcha we made sure our ads fit the product in tone and what it delivered.–otherwise you get accused of false advertising.

  11. J. L. Hilton says:

    It seems sloppy and unprofessional to me, when the cover doesn’t match. As a reader, I think a lot less of publishers when I read a book and the cover is all wrong. I wonder, “Did they even bother to READ the book? The hero has black hair, not red. The aliens have 4 arms not 2. Why are there monkeys? There aren’t any monkeys in the book.” etc. Personally, I tend to like abstract covers where the art is evocative of a feeling or mood, rather than an exact depiction of characters/scene. But even then, the cover should match. If it looks like a steampunk gadget, then it better be a steampunk book. If it looks like a page from a wizard’s grimoire, then it better be a fantasy book.

  12. Clothdragon says:

    Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series. When I read, the main character has one tattoo. One. A coyote paw print under her belly button. The singularity of it, proves it special. Then, on the book covers, she’s all tattooed up. Probably only done to give the covers a focal point and make it more interesting, but it bugs me every time I see it. Also bugging me, that naked guy standing behind a fully clothed, seated woman apparently rubbing his penis into her shoulder-blades. And headless men-chests whether or not they’re holding swords.

    But I think I might have gone off-topic…. Match.

  13. Always match! At first glance, I like to know if the story is paranormal, steamy or sweet. Your “sweet” covers are some of my very favorites, even though I read a bit of everything.

    And yes, please match hair color/length when possible. It drives me nuts to have a wavy-haired blonde on the cover when the story is about a springy curled red-head! :)

  14. Minx Malone says:

    Usually it doesn’t bother me if the hair color on one of the characters is wrong or something like that. I’m only bothered if the cover promises something the story doesn’t deliver.

    If there’s a picture of a half-naked cowboy on the cover and it’s a non-western sweet inspirational – that’s when I have a problem.

    I just want the cover to match the story in tone, not necessarily in every detail because I know how hard it is to find good stock art!

  15. Sarah says:

    Like everyone else, I want it to match. It should give me an idea of what the story will be like. If it doesn’t match, or says nothing, I might not pick it up.

  16. Grace Hood says:

    Yes, I want the cover to match the story. Certainly the tone should match – dark and spooky for a dark paranormal, bright and cartoony for a romantic comedy. I’m afraid I do get a little peeved if the hero has short dark hair but the dude on the cover doesn’t.

  17. Renee says:

    My biggest pet peeve is mismatched cover art. (Okay, maybe my “biggest petpeeve of the hour.”) Too often, even with the big NY publishers, do I have to ask, as one commenter above mentioned, “How hard is it for the cover artist to read the book first?” Or at least ask the author what the H/h look like! Not all heroines are models with dancer-like bodies. So often am I scratching my head wondering which character is on the cover.

    No, I won’t stop reading a series if I’ve been cheated out of thoughtful coverart. (Thoughtful, not meaning that the artist didn’t spend time on it, but rather didn’t consider the ambience/physical descriptions/setting of the story.) It does dull the experience for me when I can’t connect the smokin’ hot alpha male in the story with the laid-back beach bum on the cover.

    /rant

  18. I’m definitely pulled in by a striking cover and I expect everything in the book to match my expectations. A pet peeve is having a gorgeous, slim heroine on the cover when she’s not in the book. Funnily enough, I’m not too concerned about hair colouring and actual features, it’s the mood and general appearance that I want right

  19. Erastes says:

    Agree with most everyone here.

    At the GLBT UK Meetup last weekend, Total ebound gave a presentation and they said (and I’ve had this echoed from other epub publishers) that people WANT the sexier covers whereas most of the authors actually don’t.

    I remember the first cover I had for Frost Fair and it was two half naked men standing in a frozen river. There was no indication that the story was a historical. This is very important to me, because I want people to want a historical and I don’t want them thinking it’s going to be a sexy sex scene on every page, because my books don’t do that.

    I absolutely think that the book should reflect the heat level. Particularly with ebooks.

    When it comes to print books it becomes even more vital. Some readers tell me that if a cover is too saucy they will put a fake dust cover on it (eg a harry potter) if they want to read it in public and this entirely defeats the object. The cover is a walking advert for itself–and if you are advertising JKR,what is the point?

    I have made tee-shirts of all my covers and intend to wear nothing else. (well nothing on top. you know what I mean. LOL)

  20. Ilona says:

    YES!

    No question about it the cover art should match or it spoils the book. It really irritates me when the cover art has nothing in common with the story inside.

  21. Moth says:

    Cover art really should match the book. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when the hero or heroine have the wrong color hair on a cover. Or that one Carla Kelly book where the hero had lost his hand before the book even started and he still had it on the cover. Things like that won’t make me throw aside a good book, but they sure don’t make me happy.

  22. Taria Reed says:

    As a cover artist I think it’s important to give an accurate representation of the material inside the book. As a reader it really bugs me when the hero and heroine look one way and the cover shows them as opposites. I read one book where the hero was african american and the heroine wasn’t. I was totally annoyed when the cover portrayed him as a caucasian. the story was good but the cover totally turned me off.

  23. Karen C says:

    Like everyone else, I believe the characters on the cover should reflect the characters in the story and the tone should match as well.

  24. Scraps says:

    Match, match, match! Not only the general content of the book but the general appearance of the characters. Especially their ethnicity! Covers are what draw me in and I’m generally very disappointed if the book doesn’t live up to the cover or vice versa.

  25. Lisa J says:

    It has to match. I read a book I thought was about a wolf shifter because of the cover, but it was really about a vampire. That’s just wrong.

  26. Danielle West says:

    I do not think it should be a requirement for the cover art to match the descriptions of the H and h.. maybe the background should have something to do with the story or maybe some really cool art that draws attention to the name of the book. That being said, in books where the H or h is not *really* described physically to the reader, it is important to either have acurate models on the front or no models at all. I cannot tell you how many times I have read a book all the way through and still not have known what the main characters looked like and having to just go with what the cover models look like.

  27. I believe the cover should match the tone of the story and resemble the h/h within reason. Stock art limits an artist’s options, but matching hair and eye color can be done. (Although exact length, style, etc, often can’t.)

    I also think covers should reflect the heat level of the book. I write sweet to mainstream heat, and I want people who buy my books to expect that.

  28. Gloria Galasso says:

    Match! It makes me a little crazy to pick up a book only to discover that the artist has obviously never read so much as the back cover blurb. For example, I hate the art on Robert Jordan’s covers. Usually it has absolutely nothing to do with the book and is over-blown as well.

  29. Nonny says:

    I think that they should match as closely as possible. I think first and foremost, the cover should be attractive and eye-grabbing and give a taste of what the story is like. I strongly prefer details to match but I’m not going to quibble if the brown-eyed hero has green eyes on the cover. I am, however, going to raise a fuss in cases like Justine Larbalestier’s YA novel, where a white girl was put on the cover of a book with a black protagonist. Not okay.

    In less charged situations, the cover can mislead a reader. I’ve a couple anecdotes. One is from a few years ago; I passed up reading a book because it had one of those cartoon-y covers and I thought it was romantic comedy (which I dislike). It turned out the book was actually erotic paranormal. I saw a number of complaints about this book from readers, because the cover did NOT match the book or its tone AT ALL. People who wanted a light funny romantic comedy did not get it, and the people who would have been interested in what it actually was didn’t pick it up.

    Someone above mentioned the man-titty covers. I live next door to my parents at this point, and my Mom frequently picks up/brings back my library books along with hers (and checks out what I’m reading because our tastes are 95% the same). She commented on a book series I picked up, that looked really good when she read the back and skimmed the first chapter — the thing? It’s got a man-titty cover and while it’s just the sort of thing that she would LOVE, being a fantasy-romance, she never gave it a second look because she dislikes the general sort of book that gets man-titty covers. (I mean, we’re talking, very dull, no head, just the torso, stock art shot. If I hadn’t seen the author on a panel at Norwescon, I never would have known the books were fantasy. No clue!)

    So, basically, yes, it’s important that the cover give an idea of subgenre and tone. I know everyone says, don’t judge a book by its cover, but really, we do…

  30. I think cover art should definitely reflect the tone of the book. If it’s a sweet romance, I don’t want a cover that makes it seem like it’s hotter than what it is.

    As far as physical attributes. Those are important, but are not a deal breaker for me as long as the cover is attractive, and that the most important things that the cover tries to convey is true to the story.

  31. Peter Knutsen says:

    The kinds of stories I’m interested in tend to take place in worlds that differ rather a lot from the one we live in. It seems logical to me that the cover art for such stories ought to signal clearly to the reader that he ain’t in Kansas no more, and the best way to do that is to create cover art that is informed by knowledge of the world in which the story takes place (i.e. have someone who has actually read and understood the novel tell the cover artist what to draw or paint).

    It isn’t always possible to express such differences visually, but then again, sometimes it is.

    Put several men on the cover, all with a clear beards-are-not-optional pre-medival style, and give some of them weird and distinctly non-Roman-Catholic tonsures. Then it’s obvious to the (attentive) reader that the novel is NOT going to give him a guided tour of Poughkeepsie.

    Even something subtler, like the way the characters are positioned relative to each other, how they look at each other, facial expressions, can express subtle nuances of superiority, for instance sexual or racial dynamics that are different from how they used to have it in Kansas, back before that thing with everyone supposed to be equal got started.

  32. Kiki says:

    I rely on cover art to pique my interest in a novel almost as much as I rely on a title, particularly when I’m looking for something of a specific genre. I don’t really mind if hair colour/length or eye colour match, as long as the vibe is right. Honestly, I tend to prefer covers that are more stylized and ambiguous than ones that feature photos of faces or painted figures in the good ol’ clinch. At the end of the day, though, I always read the blurb to decide whether or not to invest in a novel. The cover can be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but if the blurb sucks then I figure the book sucks too.

  33. I definitely think the cover should match the book in details, but more importantly get the tone of the book. A book with sexy vampires will not have the same cover as a cozy murder mystery. It’s about reader expectations too. A short cut to what’s inside. So it can be frustrating when the cover and the story don’t match.

    Being a visual person, the cover is part of the reason I look at a book from an author I don’t know. A bad cover means I am more unlikely to pick it up. Luckily it’s not the only reason as I would not have read some great authors this way.

  34. Sandra says:

    Yes, the cover MUST match! It is very disappointing to have someone on the cover with the wrong color hair or maybe the character has a scar on the left cheek, and the cover shows the left cheek, but there is no scar. You could have just showed the right cheek.

    Every time I see a cover that doesn’t match, I feel like I didn’t get what I paid for. Why wouldn’t you pay attention to details like that?

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