Covers and guesswork

This week I received the draft of my new book’s cover (see below).
the_soldiers_wife_COVER copy

Pretty good, huh?

So I put it up on Facebook. Oodles of comments, all along the lines of ‘Gorgeous!’.

I presume people who hated it (none, surely?) avoided commenting.

But this has got me thinking about covers generally.

This book is my 30th, which means that (including all the overseas sales and reprints) I’ve had more than 50 covers.

And my conclusion, after all that, is that no one really knows what cover will work.

I love this cover, but will it sell books? Who knows? I hope, the publishers, but every publisher can tell you stories about covers everyone loved in-house, on books they believed in, which sank without trace.

It’s like movies. No one puts $20M+ into a film because they think it’s going to tank. And yet.

Some publishers estimate that only 20% of their titles actually makes a decent profit. One in five.

One in five.

Can you imagine if only one in five meals at a restaurant were popular?

Or one in five car models from a manufacturer?

Or one in five couches in Ikea’s catalogue?

The problem with creative output is that judging it is subjective. Ikea has guidelines: two seaters are this long, three-seaters so much longer. Height is set. Framework has to meet standards so that the whole thing doesn’t collapse during a more-riotous-than-usual party. Fabrics have to be durable enough that they withstand hard wear. As for colour etc. – they get around that by giving you a choice of fabric. So maybe 70% of the design is measurable. Only 30% is risk, based on subjective judgements by the designers of what people are going to like.

In writing, it’s much harder to reduce the risk. The formula of ‘more of the same, but different’ will only get you so far. We have genres, and genres have rules, but they’re pretty loose and getting looser. The only one set in concrete is that a proper romance novel has to end with the two main characters getting together.

And murder mysteries should have murders. Pretty much.

Outside of that – it’s all guesswork. Which is why I’m glad I’m a writer and not a publisher. I may spend an inordinate amount of time writing something no one will publish, but that’s my choice. I like writing. Better yet, I like having written. And I know at least a few of my friends will enjoy the book, even if no one else sees it (shhh, don’t mention self-publishing, we’re talking about the big companies here).

So I love my new cover, but in the end the book will sell well only if it touches the hearts of the people who read it. Who will tell their friends, and so on… beautiful cover or not.