Who should a book’s cover speak to?

Share via

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

On his blog, Seth Godin argues that the job of a book cover is not to attract everyone’s attention, just the right people’s attention in the right way.

Is the purpose of the cover to sell books, to accurately describe what’s in the book, or to tee up the reader so the book has maximum impact?

The third.

It’s the third because if the book has maximum impact, then word of mouth is created, and word of mouth is what sells your product, not the cover.


His argument makes sense. The people who should be attracted to a book are the people who would like that particular book, who will be thrilled when they get to its contents. Disappointed customers won’t help an author’s reputation, while happy readers will build it.

Then again, in a competitive marketplace, isn’t it nice to capture any attention you can? I am a big fan of the cover of Julie Oringer’s short story collection ‘How to Breathe Underwater’ -- to me it implies freedom and secrecy and emergence. But a male literary friend -- who liked it a lot -- really only saw hot, almost-naked chicks. I imagine both reactions would please the book jacket’s designer, and author.

Should a cover sell books to any old passer-by? Or should it speak to a specific audience, setting them up for maximum impact?

-- Carolyn Kellogg