When you are in a bookstore or library and you pick up a book, what’s the first thing you notice? The cover. It gives you a visual idea of what the book is about, it tells you in a quick, little paragraph what happens in the story and who wrote it. The cover is the origin of your first impulse to read the book.
Today, the cover is becoming slightly less important, with the rise of e-books. Or that’s what we think. Publishers and authors alike seem to be saying to themselves “Hey, it’s an e-book! We can relax a little on the covers. Who needs a back-cover, when the reader can see the blurb on the website? We really don’t need a super-nice cover, since the reader is only going to see it on the website and on the first page of the e-book. After that, he won’t see it again.”
Wrong. Just as with everything else in a book, the cover should be done well, regardless of the number of times the reader sees it. That spelling mistake on page 34? Eh, leave it. The reader only sees it once, then he turns the page. The obvious grammar error in Chapter 12? No problem, the reader isn’t likely to turn the page back to read it again. Besides, we’re hungry and it’s time for lunch.
Excuse me? No. The reader sees those mistakes. Unhappily for writers, the reader is far more likely to notice and remember an error than he is to remember a clever bit of wordplay. Your spelling is bad? The reader will notice. Your plot is pathetic? The reader will notice. The characters are shallow? The reader will notice. Why shouldn’t this attention to detail extend to the cover? Got a cheap, flashy cover you made with the on-board paint program? The reader will notice.
With printed books, the cover is massively important because the reader sees it every time he picked the book up and every time he set it down. With e-books, he sees it rarely, if at all. But those times he does see it…will still be indelibly stamped into his mind. Go look at a book in a store. Just once. Wait a few weeks (no, don’t write the name down). Then go back. See if you locate the book by name or by what you remember of the cover. Odds are, you’ll find it by the cover design.
Even if you intend to use e-books, make sure the cover is the best it can be. It’s still part of your book, why not make it perfect?