Consider these two sayings:
'Never judge a book by its cover'
'You only get one chance to make a first impression'
Both make sense, in isolation, but when put next to each other, there seems to be a slight conflict. If your book cover fails to impress, it may get overlooked, and regardless of how good the content is, may not get read by as many people as it deserves.
In an earlier post I discussed the marketing concept AIDA - Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. A book cover needs to help you achieve the first two elements. If the cover doesn't grab a potential readers attention, and create interest, it has essentially failed to do its job. The front cover of a book has three key components - a title, an illustration, and the author's name. Now unless your name is JK Rowling, Dan Brown, etc., it probably won't have a huge amount of impact on the buying decision. That leaves the title and the illustration to do the lion's share of the work. Putting the illustration to one side for the moment, let's consider the title. Assume you have just written a book and titled it 'Wanted!'. This could suggest a number of themes and genres. It could be erotica where one woman is wanted by many men. Alternatively a romantic theme, about a woman who only ever wanted to be loved. What about a thriller, where a dangerous fugitive is wanted by the authorities? To help the potential reader better understand the title, a well crafted illustration is required. So if you are on the look out for an entertaining thriller, and the book 'Wanted!' is about an armed and dangerous criminal being hunted by the police, an illustration depicting this theme will be needed to grab your attention. Below are two possible book covers for the same story. Which one is likely to grab your attention?
The book buying process goes something along the following lines. See a cover and title you like (Attention), pick it up (Interest), and read the blurb on the back cover. You like what you read (Desire). You then look at the price, and when you realise the benefit of reading it outweighs the cost, take it to the check-out (Action). What you don't know, until you've read it, is whether or not you think it's a good story. But that is now too late, you've already judged the book by its cover. . . and as authors, that is very important, because your thriller of the year could have been easily overlooked if the cover just didn't deliver.