Book Covers: The Good, The Bad, and the Just Plain Weird ~ Sunday Spotlight by Brandilyn and Friends


Book Covers:

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

This is a phrase we are taught from a young age. What does it mean? Well, it means that just because one person thinks something is ugly doesn’t mean others will feel the same. It also means what is beautiful to one person isn’t necessarily beautiful to all.

One debate I see raging in the publishing community is about covers. Which covers are good, which ones are bad, and which are just plain weird. Let’s face it. We will never agree. Yes, there are likely some marketing gurus that will tell you what is right and what is wrong, but let’s face it, even they get it wrong a LOT. Not to mention what is “right” changes rapidly.

In the days of eBooks, some people may argue that the necessity of a good book cover has waned. I would, however, argue that it is more important that ever. With the proliferation of self-published and small press titles, the competition is at an all-time high. You have to make your book standout. When I look for a book, there are four things that will make me pass or purchase

  1. Author – I have auto-buy authors and authors friends I trust have recommended. Those authors can likely get away with a lesser cover. However, if the author is not in that category, #2 becomes the most important.
  2. Cover – Let’s face it, if I don’t like the cover, I am not likely to click and find out more. With the ease of use of “one-click” on Amazon, a good cover can translate directly into impulse buying.
  3. Blurb – The blurb has to pique my interest. If I am not interested, I will not buy.
  4. Price – Let’s face it $9 is steep for an eBook. YES, the author put in a lot of hard work. YES, they deserve to be compensated accordingly, but it is hard to pull the trigger on something you can’t physically hold. Put it on sale, I am more likely to buy. It is a mental thing.

This article is just a look at some of the covers in the m/m genre. This is mainly just one person, my, opinion, but I asked a few friends for their thoughts, as well. It isn’t meant to be the end-all be-all instruction on making a book cover that will sell your book.

So what do I, as a simple reader, look for in a cover?

  • I like simple covers
  • I like covers that draw me in
  • I like my covers to tell me something about the book
  • I like drawn covers
  • I like photoshopped covers
  • I like covers with people when the people work with the story.
  • I like covers with no people what-so-ever

What will turn me off a cover?

  • No focal point
  • Odd positioning that is not physically possible
  • OBVIOUS Photoshopping
  • Photoshopping errors
  • Overused models
  • Ugly models
  • Models that don’t lend themselves well to the main characters
  • Covers that don’t tell me anything about the story

So I asked a few friends in the genre, on both sides of the page, a couple of cover related questions.  I promised them no names would be harmed in the making of this post.  Here is what they had to say:

The Good:

Recently on our Five Thing Friday post we talked about our 5 favorite covers.  The Prism team talked about their favorite covers here are some there choices:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also asked a group of m/m authors and readers for their opinions.  When I asked my respondents about their favorite covers, I there were some pretty common traits that marked covers as favorites.  Just like on our Five Thing Friday there were covers that repeatedly were mentioned and ones that were very personal to the respondent.   This is not scientific or anything, just from an handful of readers.  As you continue through the post, you will also notice there are covers on all the lists.  Some covers that one person loathes and another loves.

I like a cover that catches my eye. I like eyes, colours, I love uniforms, suits. Also planes, I’m a sucker for planes on covers, especially historicals, I’ll buy those books without even looking at the blurb. 

I like a cover to convey the type of book I’m going to be reading, i.e historical dress on historicals, chains on bdsm, horses on cowboys etc, guns on military/cops/detectives, suits on office books. 

Sexy or sensual, attention getting and related to the content (i.e. cowboy, shifter, etc.). And it doesn’t have to be sexy/sensual men. There are some great covers that are sensual and related to the content with no people on them at all. 

Preferably it will be something other than a guy or two guys and if it is any mixture of guys then it should be something more than just a head shot or a torso shot. I know an m/m book has a couple of guys in it, what is the story about? The cover should convey that.

It should look professional, like the person had some idea of what they were doing

A cover that shows that the author has put thought into choosing a cover fits with the storyline.  There doesn’t necessarily have to be 2 men on the cover as long as the photograph/picture on the cover fits.  

the good light

Some of the titles mentioned as favorite covers are:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The not-so-good:

I am not claiming to know everything about art and vision.  These are just some covers my respondents said they didn’t like.  Again, they vary greatly, but one thing I found intriguing is that there are some repeats from the “Favorite” list.  I also found the repeated traits interesting.  Two phrases I saw repeatedly in the responses that I think are the most telling are “put me off reading the book” and “refused to buy the book.”  Therein lies the importance of a good cover.

I don’t like ‘cheap’ looking covers, covers that are drawn or covers where it is very obvious the same model was used.

I also do not like when the cover tries to convey too much and is too busy. If I can’t tell from a quick glance the name and the author, you have too much on the cover

I dislike most drawn covers because they are seldom done well. So often they look like someone with zero drawing talent or skill was allowed to create the cover for no apparent reason. This isn’t to say some drawn covers don’t work very well but the majority are horrible.

The apparent need to have a person, most often a partially naked male, on the cover. It would be nice to see cover artists move away from this and move onto covers that represent the books in other ways. The headless torso needs to be put to pasture for good.

Don’t just put two generic men looking in different directions one maybe faded out. It’s been done a million times before and they all fade in the mind to a big nothing, which means when I look at a new book that is this style again I have to have a good reason to bother reading the blurb.

Some of the characteristics that were repeatedly listed as a reason not to like a given cover are:

the bad light
Some of the books with less than favorite covers are

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And now the just plain odd:

Most covers fall somewhere in between Love and Loathe.  One category of covers I find intriguing are those we will call “odd” for the purposes of this discussion.  Covers that you don’t hate on site, but they make you look again to try to figure them out.  Covers that leave you scratching your head.  These covers are a fine line to walk, because they could ultimately turn a reader off, but they could also be just interesting enough to make the reader want to know more.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When Bad Covers Happen to Good Books:

Sadly sometimes a truly spectacular book can be hidden behind an atrocious cover.  It can happen to anyone.  Personally, I can not tell you how long I put off reading Crossing Borders by ZA Maxfield because of the skeevy cover.  I also can not tell you how much I adore that book.  It is currently out of publication, so I look forward to seeing it reissued with a new cover soon! Of course I posted this question to my respondents and here are a few of the answers I received. Don’t let the covers for these fabulous books deter you!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I would like to once again thank my Prism Focus Group for their contributions to this post.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

This post may contain affiliate links.
Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews.  The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.

10 thoughts on “Book Covers: The Good, The Bad, and the Just Plain Weird ~ Sunday Spotlight by Brandilyn and Friends

  1. I’m so glad you decided to do this. I find it fascinating how many covers are listed in multiple categories. I guess it just proves there’s never one answer to a question.

  2. I’m probably odd in this but I barely give covers a glance when I’m on Amazon. I’m scrolling down to the blurb before the page has even full loaded. It was very interesting to see what covers are generally considered good and less than good. Wonderful article and it was nice to see a few of the covers I did fall in love with in the ‘good’ section.

  3. I totally agree with you on Crossing Borders. It’s always the first book I think of when I think of bad covers. The 2 models on the cover don’t even come close to matching the description of the guys in the book. It took me forever to finally read it, and I adore it too. It’s good to hear it will be getting a new cover. 🙂

  4. This post shows exactly why it’s so hard to have a perfect cover for everyone. Some of the covers are in several of your categories above. Everyone has a different opinion of what and why they like a cover.

    • Yep, exactly. Some people loathe the same cover that other people adore. As long as the author is happy with the cover, I think that is the important part. You can’t please everyone.

  5. I enjoyed this post Brandilyn. While it’s obviously subjective it seems some covers are universally disliked (two of my favorite books BOaTK and Crossing Borders) while others really vary with people’s tastes. It’s always an interesting and fun conversation though.

Leave a Reply