Why Books Need Artwork

Last week, my serial novel ‘Twicebound‘ got an upgrade.  I bit the bullet and hired an artist to create some chapter-header art for it.  (if you read ‘Twicebound’ you know all about it already)  It looks awesome and has gotten compliments from quite a few readers already.

But this post isn’t about ‘Twicebound’.  It’s about artwork. Specifically, the difference good artwork can make on your story.  The ‘Twicebound’ header art is just one example of how big a difference it can be.

A lot of authors (myself included) dislike the mandatory nature of book artwork.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I love beautiful covers and illustrations (most authors do).  The problem we have is that people are more likely to pick up poorly written books with high-quality art than books that are well written but have low-quality art (or none).

Your book has been edited by three well-known professionals?  It’s been formatted with painstaking precision?  Every reviewer you’ve sent an ARC has raved about it?  That’s great.   But if you put a stock art cover on it, no reader is ever going to pick it up, not when vast hordes of books with gorgeous cover art are competing with your book.  The fact that your book is far better written than those other books isn’t going to help you.

Why is this?  Good question.  I don’t have a good answer for you.  It could be because our snap-decision buying habits give precedence to a gripping picture instead of well-formulated blurbs.  It could be that we subconsciously think that a writer who put the effort into getting a beautiful illustrations for his book is more likely to have put the effort into writing a good book.  It could be a lot of things.  Frankly, though, it doesn’t matter WHY.  What matters is that it IS.

We’re writers; the covers and illustrations are part of our books, whether we like it or not.  So, put as much effort into making your book look good as you put into making it sound good.

Here are two examples, of my own experience.



These are screen-shots of an installment of ‘Twicebound’ from a few weeks ago.  The first is the actual episode post, while the second is the Twitter announcement of it.  The third is how Tweet view results.  (the engagement rate is 1.5%)

Sure, the readers really enjoy the serial, if the comments are anything to go by. There’s no denying, though, that the wall of text just isn’t… interesting.  At first glance, anyway, which is important for getting new readers.  And the Tweet… well, the Tweet is just boring.  No ‘grab’ to it, at all.  The statistics bear that out.

Example03#Example02#Example07#These pictures are the same thing, just with the newest installment of the novel.  The one with the new chapter-header artwork.  If that isn’t a massive improvement… I don’t know what is.  It’s eye-catching, intriguing, and just looks good.  And the numbers agree with me.  The engagement rate over four days (at the last check) is around 4% and the total impressions almost doubled.  Now, that doesn’t sound majorly impressive, except for one thing: the percentage for the first day was over 10% engagement at around 90 impressions.  THAT is an improvement.

Of course, numbers might not mean a lot to some people.  I just happen to be a numbers kind of guy.  If you want an example with visual punch, here’s one.

P76 coverThis is the original cover for my short story “Pyramid 76”.  I finished the story and had to have a cover to publish it with, so I whipped this one up on Paint.  It’s a standard self-published, no-effort placeholder.  My beta-reader hated it.  With a vengeance.  With good reason.  Would YOU want to read it?  Especially with THIS…

P76cover… as the competition?  After several months of letting Pyramid 76 languish with the garbage cover I’d rushed through, I finally got around to collecting the props necessary to create a new cover.  I took photos, selected the best one, then edited four different end results in GIMP.  Then, I let readers select their favorite and replaced the old cover with the new one.

The improvement here requires very large numbers and a mathematics degree to calculate it properly, if you ask me.  The original cover is a object lesson in what not to do with your cover.  The new one is cool, meaningful, and draws attention to the story in the best way possible.

As I’ve said before, the cover is part of your book; make it perfect.

What do you think?  Did I forget something?  Have you had a similar experience with your book? Have you ever turned down a book because of a bad cover?

18 thoughts on “Why Books Need Artwork

  1. Great article and points you bring up here! I admit I am more drawn to books with appealing covers, lovely artwork, instead of poor quality ones. 🙁 I guess I feel like the book inside must be higher quality, more professionally done, if it looks better; though that is not always the case.
    I better go and focus on improving my artwork now. 🙂

    • Thank you. 🙂

      I am, as well, and I’m not ashamed to say so! 😀 After all, an author who really loves his book will go the extra mile to make the outside look as wonderful as the inside. 😉

      Question; given a choice, who would you have illustrate a cover for your book?

      • Well, seeing as how I don’t have diddly squwat (old phrase there, lol) to hire, I’ll use my artsy skills to think up a design. I did it before with my poetry book (the ebook version) and it turned out great. But the novel will be more complicated. So I am putting a lot of thought and effort into it, and once I have ideas ready I will post them on my blog for people to critique and give feedback. However, if I wasn’t confident that I could do it myself, I would look for someone on deviantart whose style resembles what I’m looking for and has experience.

        • Yeah, common problem. 😉 What program did you use to create it?

          That’s good idea! I hadn’t thought of that. There’s a lot of really good beginning artists on there…

          • I used photoshop, a free version that came with the wacom tablet.
            There are professional artists on deviantart and who have a lot of experience working with authors. I would ask one of them. 🙂

          • You have a pen tablet? Awesome!!

            It does seem to be a good congregating site for high-quality artists. 🙂

          • It’s not a fancy one, but I really like it for touching up things. I’m so bad at drawing on it though, lol, so I draw by hand and scan images in. 🙂

          • Nice! They’re pretty cool, aren’t they? My parents got me one several years ago. I actually discovered it’s way more useful for vector graphics than raster graphics. 😉

          • Cool, which tablet do you have? What program do you use on it?
            Vector and raster…I’m not that tech savy. 🙂 What’s the difference between vector and raster?

          • A Genius GPen. Pretty nice tool. And I use it in GIMP editor or Inkscape, depending on what I’m doing.

            Raster is the basic Paint style. Works by editing each pixel. Vector uses lines; the computer remembers the lines as points on a grid, then draws the lines between the points every time it opens the picture. You should check out Inkscape. It’s a vector graphics program and seriously cool. 😉

          • I will check out Inkscape, thanks! 😀 The only one I have now is photoshop. Would photoshop be a vector or a raster graphics program?

          • I use it in conjunction with GIMP for all my book art. 😉 If I remember correctly, it’s primarily raster, though it may have some vector functionality.

          • Is GIMP free too?

          • It sure is. From what I’ve heard, it’s a match for Photoshop, too. (never used Photoshop, so I can’t confirm that)

          • Oo, I might really like that then!

          • Yeah, it’s really handy. Plus, being free makes it pretty cool, too. XD

  2. I think you have two arguments here running simultaneously – and slightly confounding each other. The first is the need for quality artwork. The second is the need for ANY artwork.

    Books need a cover, that’s something you can’t avoid ever since some genius a century or two ago realized they could help a book’s publicity. So yeah, the avoiding “stock” material is to your advantage there. You need to stand out from others who are going that route. But web/blog publishing – you don’t NEED a cover/art now. By getting some, you do stand out from others who are only using the wall of text route, but ANY graphic can help you do that.

    The statistics you have here compare “no graphic” to a “high quality crafted image” (it is a really good one, by the way). I feel like there’s a middle ground in there, where there is a graphic but it’s a basic coloured banner, or stock photo of a girl… and I wonder, would that improve things, but not to the same degree?

    So, I’m not disagreeing, but I think there might be more going on when we’re talking publishing a novel versus publishing a web serial. Or, y’know, not – sketches certainly don’t seem to have helped me any, maybe it’s because I’m no professional. ^_^

    • Good points there!

      About them being conflicting arguments, I think of this subject much the same way as having a car to get to work. You need a car, any car, doesn’t matter what car… but it’s implied that the car has to run. If it doesn’t, it causes you more trouble than no car at all. The same goes for the artwork, if that makes sense.

      For the book cover, I wish the results agreed with that (art is expensive!) but the blog posts in which I have artwork/pictures is always measurably better than the ones that are text-only. As you say, there should be a middle ground for art-quality and most likely is, but on a limited budget, high quality stuff actually saves me money. 😉 The better the quality is, the more places I can use it. The “Twicebound” image is usable for social media, webpage buttons, bookmarks, etc. It’s even good enough to use as the chapter headers in the print version of the story, since I plan to have it printed up when I finish the story! If I’d had mid-quality art made, I’d need to have multiple pieces done for different uses.

      Of course, if I were keeping my work on the website only, I’d be doing exactly what you’re saying. I’d like to see how the middle ground would affect website traffic, though. I hadn’t really considered that, since I’d already decided the high-quality stuff.

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