June 3

Cover Stories

How important are book covers? Especially now, in the age of e-books, do they really matter? When shopping online, they appear as nothing more than a thumbnail. And on my old Kindle, they appear as black and white images.

Not that I spend a ton of money on e-books. I’m still old school when it comes to books. I want to feel paper and weight in my heads, to smell the wood pulp and ink. And yes, I like a good book cover. I don’t buy books based solely on a cover image. But a good image can allude to the content of the book, maybe tease an important scene or give identity to some of the characters. Let’s just say it can be a mitigating factor for purchase.

Much like vinyl album covers. Back in the 1960s, 70s, and into the 80s, album cover art was amazing. Photographs, paintings, airbrushed graphics, it was all over the place, but they were works of art, all of them, in their own way. Full confession time: I still buy vinyl. I have cases of albums, and even picked up frames so I can hang some of my favorites on the wall.

Sadly, with the advent of cassette tapes and CDs, then later digital media, album covers seemed to lose their significance. They shrunk so much it was difficult to appreciate them. A part of me feels that this is one of the reasons why tapes and CDs sort of lost steam. In fact, a recent RIAA report shows CD sales are declining three times as fast as vinyl sales are growing. To me, it’s all about the art…and the music.

Going back to my original thought – I like browsing bookstores and looking at book covers. It’s all part of the experience, don’t you think? You know, casually wandering through the shelves, seeing a title that sounds intriguing, pulling the book from its slot and looking at the cover. You raise your eyebrows and think, “Huh, that’s cool”, then flip it over the read the blurb on the back cover. We all do it, with slight variances, and we all turn back to the cover one more time before slipping it back into its slot…or slipping it into our shopping basket.

Covers, at least on physical books, are still important. Covers can tell stories on their own. You can look at the cover of a fantasy novel and see a couple of elves, maybe a dwarf, facing off in front of a dark and evil-looking castle. Right there you know what types of magical races are in the book, that it’s probably a good vs. evil story, and that either one of the magical races is evil, or they’ve been tricked to turn on one another.

Sure, that’s an assumption, but I’ve rarely picked up a book whose cover didn’t give some clues to the content. In fact, I took that into account when I designed the cover for my first short story collection. I knew what I wanted, but I also knew that I didn’t want to spend money paying someone to try and capture that image for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that a graphic artist could do it and do it well, but I sort of wanted to do it myself. Selfish reasons. You understand.

So I scoured the image sites with creative commons licenses. I spent days, weeks even, looking for just the right starter image. I found few that we close, but not quite right. Finally, there it was. A dark figure in a hoodie, a nighttime setting, a flash of orange streetlights. Perfect. I gave it a few tweaks, added a swirl of light, added my lettering, viola’! And yes, I gave the photographer credit in the book.

And for what it’s worth, I’ve received some nice comments on the cover.

With e-books, however, are covers worth the trouble? With a physical book, even when you aren’t reading it you can see it laying on your nightstand or coffee table, the cover right there to appreciate. With an e-book, you see the thumbnail on the webpage, and you may see it in your e-book library. But even when you select it (at least, on my Kindle it does this), the e-book opens to the first page of the story, not the cover. So after purchase you probably won’t see it again.

That seems like a waste to me. Some independent author spent time and money on finding the right cover for their e-book, and it’s never really seen or appreciated. I’ll offer another confession: When I shop for e-books, I really don’t look at the covers, I may read the synopses and a few reviews, but that’s all. Recently, I’ve bought e-books based solely on recommendations or a impulse buy. Sometimes it’s fun to go into a book with absolutely no ideas of what it’s about.

I wonder if anyone has done a study of book covers to determine what formats are best, or if readers even care. I bet the results would be eye-opening and may change the way we publish books.


Copyright 2021 Richard Bist. All rights reserved.

Posted 2020-06-03 by RB in category "Books", "Publishing


  1. By Lila Lockheart on

    I’ve ready cover art matters, though they didn’t cite studies or anything. Their belief was that amateur cover art represented somebody who didn’t care much about their work. Like a holistic view of it, maybe.


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