Judging By Covers & The Power Of A Summary


As an author, I’m here to tell you, summaries are a bitch. Most writers dread them just as much as dental work or taxes. Why? Because after all the care we’ve put into our darlings that are our stories, we have to sum up the draw of the story. Not the plot, the draw. It’s said that an author should tease the reader with a summary that briefly explains what the main character has to achieve, what they’re up against, and what they stand to lose if that all-important goal is not met.

Not nearly as easy as it sounds.

But that summary will either hook a reader, or repel them. And if they put down that book, odds are against them picking it up again. Now, in this age of e-books, summaries are even more important. An author has three chances to land a reader.

  1. The cover (I’ll touch on that in a minute)
  2. The preview
  3. The summary

I cannot tell you the number of times I have started reading a summary, only to be met with a review, or a list of prizes the work has won. I read. I read like I breathe. I read A LOT. I read both in digital format and the words on a slice of dead tree. I see so many online summaries that trumpet how many reviews the work has. This practice seems to have become the trend among Indie authors. No plot condensed down, no reason why I should read it, just a blaring account of how many stars a novel has, or the prizes it’s won.

My fellow writers, I’m begging you STOP DOING THIS!

It will not land you a reader, it will not provide you with a die-hard fan that will buy every word you write, and as a reader, it tells me exactly nothing about your story. I want to be a fan of your work, but if your summary does nothing but tell me that your tale won a bestoftheweb award, how do I know if it’s worthy of my time? I have a TBR (to be read) list of over 350 digital works, and a physical stack of books threatening to overtake my bedroom, and I know many of my fellow readers are just as busy as I am. So please, do the work and give us a reason to want to read your story. Do the work and give us a summary that will make us dive right in and not cast your work aside. Thanks.

I read far outside the genres that I write in. I read free books, novellas, flash fiction and anthologies. I haunt my library enough to know their catalogue and search systems is a stinky mess and which librarian is best at their job. I happily spend my money on books whose authors I know, in both fiction and nonfiction. So I’ve seen a good many covers. I’ve seen covers that make me awe-struck. I have seen covers (I swear this is the truth) I stare at for long minutes in wonder. Those are the ones that ought to be framed. And heaven forgive me, I’ve seen a powerful amount of crap.

We’ve been told so often not to judge a book by its cover, but we pretty much have to. Most especially in this day and age of e-publishing.

A cover with a half naked couple grasping at each other is pretty likely either romance or erotica. We know that if a book’s cover shows a shot of a jungle and a leaping tiger, you’re probably not holding a science fiction tale. So yes, covers should meet certain expectations. But, they should also stand out. As writers, we’re advised to envision our book on a shelf at a bookstore, front covers out (as they like to do when they’re on sale or part of a themed display). Then we’re asked if our book would stand out, or be lost among the dozens of others in our genre or field of expertise. To that end, as a reader, I’d like to pass on some advice to Indie authors, and publishing houses as well.

  • Not every science fiction story needs to have a space ship on the cover! For the love of ink, please do something original with a space-themed cover! Not every science fiction story is going to be about a grizzled space ship captain who is Earth’s last hope, but many of those covers would have us think so. There are so many sub-genres within science fiction, that a little examination and imagination can go a long way to creating an attractive and engaging cover. Because let me tell you, after the twentieth science fiction book we’ve glimpsed in an online store, we won’t be able to remember which one had a great sounding blurb. They all blend together. The same idea is true for romance, thrillers, spy novels, paranormal, and don’t even get me started on YA. So be nice to readers and make your cover stand out from the hundreds of others in your genre.
  • If you write more than one novel, whether it is a standalone or part of a series, readers remember your work better if your covers bear some similarity. Even if that is as small as a consistent font choice for the title and the author name. Many of the biggest names do this and call it brand recognition, but as a reader, I’m here to tell you that we do  make an association between your work and the way the text looks. Most especially if you use the same font or your covers have a similar feel to them. Kristina Stanley does this, and her cover designer goes a step further to ensure that her covers stand out as a Stanley. Check any Stephen King novel that he’s released in the last ten years and chances are good, his name is always in the same font. Patricia Cornwell does this as well, as does Koontz, Piers Anthony, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, Melissa Good and Arthur C. Clarke. (Okay, Clarke is dead, but my point stands) Readers want to remember your work. So give them every reason to do so, whether that be through your writing style, the feel of your cover, or the font you choose for your title and name. It may not seem like a big thing, but I can tell you that I can spot a Piers Anthony book across a bookstore, and nine times out of ten, if I spot it, I’ll buy it. The same holds true for online book shopping.

So that’s a few thoughts on how to hook readers, or at the very least, keep them from putting down your book. We don’t want them to put down our books. We want to engage them from the moment they pick it up, or it pops up on their screen. We have to compete for readers time and attention, so don’t give them an excuse to put down our work. Give them every opportunity to get hooked on your words, your work and your vision.

5 thoughts on “Judging By Covers & The Power Of A Summary

  1. I am also an omniverous reader. Fiction/non fiction and across genres. And I don’t give a rat’s fundament how many awards a book has. And I don’t care if it has been made into a movie either.
    The summary? Yes. And if I can, I like to read a page or two to see if the style engages me.
    Covers? Not so much. I am more likely to be repelled than attracted by covers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good advice! I’m lucky that I have the tech know-how to be able to do my own covers when the time comes. I hate the idea of having to default to someone else to illustrate the ideas in my head. It’s hard enough to be satisfied with my own work let alone someone else’s interpretation.

    Liked by 1 person

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