PictureBrian Smith, senior photo 2016

Yes, we’ve all heard the advice to never judge a book by its cover. But, really, don’t we all do just that? Of course. Therefore, there’s a lot of thought that goes into cover design on books.

With the hundreds of thousands of books available at our fingertips, cover design has shifted into some standard tropes according to genre. For instance, a half-naked couple in a sexy clinch or the bare, muscular torso of a man usually indicates a steamy romance. I get a lot of amusement from these covers, because of the poses models affect.

There’s the hunk with his hands clasped on his head. Got a headache, buddy? Hey, I’ve read that author and her heroines give me headaches, too.

There’s the hunk looking down his pants with an expression that goes one of two ways: 1) What the hell is that? 2) There’s something weird going on down there.

And there’s the handsome dude with the smirk and sexy glint in his eye who’s quite obviously laughing at all of us women drooling over his picture. Yeah, you know you’re pretty, don’t you?

Other covers make me scratch my head. When Nora Roberts’ Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy came out with Dark Witch, people enthused over the cover. My reaction: Why is there a horse running loose in the front yard? Did someone forget to shut the gate?

Then, of course, there’s the guilty pleasure of ogling a man who’s young enough to be my son. That always makes me feel just a little creepy. That, of course, is followed by the thought that one of my own sons might make a good cover model. But then I’d have to endure the idea that women like me were ogling my little boy and… nope… can’t do it.

That’s not to say that any or all of the aforementioned cover types were poorly designed; they just didn’t elicit the desired reaction from this particular viewer that the cover designers obviously wanted. Hey, I can’t help it that I’ve got a warped perspective.

Some cover designs–especially for romance novels–get very racy, but they’re all designed to capture attention. We all know sex sells: the sexier the cover, the better the book should sell, right? Who knows?

I have learned that an intriguing cover design has no bearing upon the quality of the content behind the cover. I’ve read–and failed to finish–many books that had delicious cover art and stories so poorly written my family could hear my molars grinding from the next room. Too many authors put more effort and resources into their books’ covers than they do the content they publish. I’m convinced that’s a mistake.

Granted, I probably go the opposite route in dedicating too little of my resources to cover design. However, when dealing with (very) limited resources, I prefer to dedicate them to the content, because readers will remember the content long after they forget the book’s cover art. I do make an effort to create–or have designed for me–cover art that can be viewed by impressionable children and stiff-necked prudes without offense. Since most of my work comes with a mature content warning, I’ll let the story sizzle, not the cover.

I could be going about this all wrong, of course. However, my best selling book happens to have a closeup picture of a rose, with the title and author. That’s it. No beefcake. No cheesecake. No bodice ripping. 

So, maybe I’m not so wrong after all. (Hey, I just love justifying my decisions.)

And speaking of covers and content, stay tuned. I will shortly have a gift for all my subscribers and readers: a new story. Free. It’s a gift, so that means it’s free. Stay tuned. I hope y’all will like it.