Covers Really Do Sell Books, Or So A Teenager Told Me

So I was at a baby shower this weekend—my third this summer not including a Christening. (It’s what I do. Some people go down the shore on weekends, I go to showers and help with gift openings.) But at the shower I met a very cool girl who was getting ready to enter high school and who had read my Amor and Summer Secrets series. We got to talking and for one brief and shining moment I was let behind the curtain of what compels a teen reader to pick up a book.

First, let me say I have to be the only adult she’s ever met who knows more about the YA books she’s read than she does. We had a lengthy conversation about whether Twilight—the books, the movies, and the actors—are overexposed. (We voted yes on all counts, though we had each reread the books several times and love them.) Then she told me she loved the Gallagher Girl books by Ally Carter, and I of course told her that my WIP is also about spies and that I’m so excited about it.

And then we inevitably landed on the standard book conversation, “Have you read this? Have you read that?” And I noticed a trend. For each book one of us mentioned, the other had either read it or could describe the cover.

For example, she asked if I had read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. I hadn’t but I knew it was about a werewolf romance and I knew it had branches on the cover. You know what she said, “I know! I love the cover! It’s what made me pick it up.” Then she told me she loved my cover, because she thought the “holes” were cool (thanks!). She asked if I had read Shug by Jenny Han, which I haven’t but I knew it had a red Popsicle on the cover. Then she told me she saw a really cool cover with an image of chocolate candies, and I told her the book was Artichoke’s Hearts by Suzanne Supplee (whom I’ve met and is really sweet).

Then, that’s when she said it.

“You know, I really do buy books based on their covers. If it’s a cool cover, I’ll pick it up. But if I don’t like the cover, I won’t even read the back.”

I knew it! There it is in a nutshell, folks.

Think of all the months (or years) authors spend slaving on the words inside those covers, and at the end of the day whether or not a teen picks up our beloved works of love often depend more on that random girl in the art department than us. Not that art directors aren’t wonderful, but they could never love your book as much as you do. Yet they have more influence over its success than you ever will.

How many times have authors been disappointed with their covers and then tried to convince themselves that it didn’t really matter much. I know I’ve heard those horror stories. Just look at Justine Larbalestier’s cover controversy.

So the next time you see a teen at a book store thumbing through a few different novels, take a look at the covers on those books because chances are they’re what’s driving the purchase. You might even want to take notes. Because often what’s catching their attention might not be the same thing that’s catching ours.

POP CULTURE RANT: The Daytime EmmysYay, Julie Berman (Lulu) won! And so did the General Hospital writers! I had almost forgotten about Lulu’s stint at Shadybrook until I saw her nomination clip. She so deserved it. And I must admit that it was kind of sad to watch the tribute to Guiding Light. I grew up watching that show with my grandmom (my dad’s mom). It’s one of the strongest memories I have of her. (Watching soap operas is how my grandmom learned to speak English. You can imagine how that affected her vocabulary.) I remember when Rick Hearst (Ric) from General Hospital played Allen Michael on Guiding Light. And when Hayden Panettiere (Heros) played Phillip Spalding’s daughter. And when Melina Kanakaredes from CSI NY played Eleni. And when Vincent Irizarry, David Hayward from AMC, played Lou Jack. Man, Guiding Light is up there with Sesame Street in my childhood memories. And you wonder why I still watch soaps.

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