Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Writer in Residence -#bookcovers – Persuasion by Paul Andruss

Welcome to the monthly post by Paul Andruss. This time he looks at book covers and their influence on the buying public.. Some interesting experiments that show that time spent on this element of your book is as important as the words inside.

(Andruss) Jane Austen: literary giant or saucy little minx? 

You decide *

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

What if they were wrong?

What if a picture was worth 60,000 words?

60,000 words is almost the length of an average novel.

What if you could instantly download 60,000 words of high impact, emotion-filled advertising straight into the brains of potential readers in the blink of an eye?

Would you hesitate?

Would you heck as like!

Human beings, and other primates, are unique among mammals in that we see in colour. Our eyes have two kinds of light receptors called cones and rods.

Mammals in the Age of Dinosaurs kept safe by being nocturnal. Rods work best in low light, which is fine for nocturnal animals, but they do not process colour. To compensate mammals relied on an acute sense of smell.

Most mammals, like horses, have eyes on either side of the head: to keep a lookout for predators. Up in the trees, monkeys needed to judge the distance from branch to branch, therefore the eyes moved to the front of the face. It made the face flatter, reducing the nose.

The sense of smell suffered. (Think of how much more sensitive a dog’s nose is than ours).

To compensate, we developed cones to see in colour, like birds and reptiles. Although we could no longer smell ripe fruit from a distance, we could certainly see it as ripe fruit changes colour.

Twenty-five million years of evolution left man dependent on vision. We respond to, and process, visual data best. 20% of the brain is devoted to vision. Eyes, as outgrowths of the brain, are the only part of the brain with direct access to the outside world. The visual cortex interacts with at least half the brain including areas for hearing, memory, emotion and automatic responses, which is how we instinctively dodge something even before we see it.

90% of the information we take in is visual.

93% of all our communication is visual: not words!

Reading and writing is only a few thousand years old. Therefore it is no surprise we process images 60,000 times faster than the written word.

Now you know all this, isn’t it time you took control of your book covers and your brand images, icons and posters to effectively communicate the essence of your book in a single high impact visual experience?

I cannot be the only kid who spent his pocket money on records because I loved the LP cover. I did not care what the music sounded like. I bought books for much the same reason.

Today, book covers might not make me buy, but they certainly make me take the book off the shelf. No mean feat in a modern bookstore.

In the 1950s, Victor Weybright of the New American Library set up a quality paperback imprint that sold millions of copies at 50 cents apiece. He originally published mystery stories. One day while reading a novel by William Faulkner, a literary heavy weight and Nobel Prize laureate, he thought…

‘…considering all of Faulkner’s sex and violence, if this book was marketed like a detective novel by Mickey Spillane or Dashsiell Hammett, I could shift copies. Of course the fine writing didn’t help… but in the end presentation is all. A sexy cover can do wonders.

‘I phoned up Faulkner’s publishers and asked for the paperback rights to half a dozen of his novels. The publisher was dumbfounded; we’ve never sold more than 2 or 3 thousand copies of all his works put together and you want to put him on the mass market!

‘I put a sexy cover on ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ and a distinguished one on ‘Sanctuary’. I was astounded when the virtually unreadable Absalom sold in the thousands; while the much better Sanctuary bombed. As an experiment I swapped the covers and watched the sales figures for the two novels flip.

‘It was at this point I realised the contents of a paperback book means nothing. It’s the cover that sells it!’

As writers we pore over our words, reading, editing and honing every aspect of plot, character and motivation; sweating over every clause. But when our perfect novel is finished, how much thought do we really give to the cover? And not only the cover but the entire visual presentation?

In relation to how long it took to write the damn thing, I would say very little. Yet in the end, that eye-catching image might be the difference between buying the Scottish castle next door to J. K. Rowling or having your pride and joy relegated to the bargain bin of the local book store.

An author’s lack of concern about visuals might be a hangover from traditional publishing where the author had little say on the visual marketing strategy. As we never tire of saying, those days are long gone. As ‘indie authors’ we already embrace not only editing and publishing but also promotion and publicity: and isn’t that just visual marketing?

You might protest you are not a graphic artist.

You don’t need to be.

This is not about making your cover and brand image.

This is about choosing it.

You may already outsource your editing, proof-reading and publishing. With each, the final responsibility sits with you, the author. Why should your visual marketing strategy be any different?

Who knows your work better than you?

Who is better placed to say whether an image captures the mood you wish to convey?
Remember the mood you choose to convey may, or may not, be directly, or obliquely, related to, or not at all related to, the subject matter of your book.

A cover image and visual marketing may encourage readers to buy your book but it cannot make your book a good read. Your text stands or falls on its own merits, independent of cover or visual marketing strategy. This is why movie trailers are often better than the actual movies.

Here are psychological principles of visual marketing:

Use a gripping image to get an idea over. If we are told a piece of information, a few days later, we only remember about 10% of what was said. But if it is accompanied by an eye-catching picture the amount of information we retain goes up to 65%.

An image will capture interest in an instant. Given the average person’s attention span is 8 seconds, you have plenty of time to drive a message home.

Use colour. It is more arresting.

We are hard wired to respond to faces. A new born baby recognises its mother. It recognises her smile and even determines her emotional state. As adults we constantly read faces for emotional cues.

Where you can, have the characters’ faces in your marketing tell a story. It will leave people subconsciously curious as to the nature of that story. In the promotional poster for Finn Mac Cool below, you can see Erin’s resentment, seated Finn’s defiant innocence and the muscleman Dermot’s resignation. What impression does it make?

In visual marketing, take care to distinguish promotional materials from the book cover. They are not the same. An e-book cover icon is small. A large picture reduced down is too cluttered and indistinct to have impact. It is better to focus on one detail.


E-book Cover (Andruss)

Our brains love to be stimulated, but our attention span is 8 seconds. After this the brain switches off unless something new happens. Nerves fire at 1,000 electrical ‘pulses’ per second that’s a lot of energy. To understand the information, the visual cortex must communicate with parts of the brain dealing with memory, recognition and comprehension.

When nerve impulses reach a junction, called a synapse, they convert to chemicals to jump the gap. So the chemicals are not exhausted the synapse quickly stops working until something new comes along.

A way to keep the synapse firing is with new data. Animation does this because of the changing images. Animation is a great tool to beat the 8 second rule and create a lasting impression. Here is one that I prepared earlier for the draft cover of Tales from the Irish Garden coming soon by Sally.

I hope this gives you something to think about.


for the original shocking cover to Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

This was banned by the BBCMD
(British Bloggers Committee for Morals and Decency)
for bringing the literary writings of Jane Austen into disrepute

And as such is likely to offend… everyone.


©Paul Andruss 2018

About Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.

Finn Mac CoolThomas the Rhymer

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73 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Writer in Residence -#bookcovers – Persuasion by Paul Andruss

  1. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:

    It has long been recognised by the marketing industry that certain images and playing to our fantasies, will make a huge difference to the sales of a specific product. Puppies and toilet paper, sexy woman and Cadbury’s Flake, Good looking guy running over rooftops to leave a box of chocolates on your beside table! Paul explores this in relation to our book covers and how the use of an appealing face… and body might just get people to buy more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yesterday cycled on electric bike – you do have to keep pedalling, you switch on the electrics to climb gradients! – three miles to Chawton Hampshire, from our house in Alton, and had coffee and scones at Cassandra’s coffee shop. Cassandra being Jane’s sister. Glorious sunshine! Took a few pics cuz I know there are a lot of Jane fans here!

    Jo Clutton

    On Fri, 22 Jun 2018, 00:12 Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life, wrote:

    > Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life. posted: “Welcome to the > monthly post by Paul Andruss. This time he looks at book covers and their > influence on the buying public.. Some interesting experiments that show > that time spent on this element of your book is as important as the words > inside. (Andrus” >

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Sally & Paul
    What a great post. Imagery in our digital world is essential if we are to be noticed. For authors it is a must have.
    I don’t like to toot my own horn on someone ‘s else’s site, please excuse me. I too put out a post about book covers and book titles. I invite you to drop by and give me your opinion. I’m seeking advice.
    Thank you and Hugs. 😎

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Haha, Paul, I love your warning at the end. I might read Jane Austen if it had the cover you suggest. I can’t stand most of her silly female characters although I do know that is how women were expected to be at this point in history. I have come around to your way of thing about the value of a cover and I put a lot of effort into the cover for While the Bombs Fell.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Absolutely fabulous post on the importance of a good book cover. Nothing worse than book cover that misleads the content as well. The cover should give a good sense of content and the genre. Your covers are gorgeous Paul, and I love what you did with Sal’s cover in animation. How can I do that? 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Fascinating post, Paul. Love how you did Sally’s covers. I’m afraid I’m totally useless at that kind of technology. I do not have the patience to do it. The reason my blogs posts are often so late is because the thought of manipulating images makes my heart sink. I’d willingly pay someone to do that kind of thing for me but I don’t have any money because I don’t sell enough books because I don’t have those alluring images.
    Loved the jane Austen cover – and the warning!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think that your covers are great Mary… and I like the idea of having one gif with all of mine circulating through to send to people rather than just flat covers… eye catching and effective… I will be using Paul’s more and more as the Tales of the Irish Garden get closer… I am working on the final cover at the moment and will be taking Paul’s advice to heart…. xxx♥

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Mary. I am tempted to say it is just another skill (Says the man who cannot knock a nail in a piece of wood without ending up in hospital)- But the truth is… it is all about priorities and how your mind works.
      As Sally says your covers are good and I find there is an honesty about them.
      Messing with photoshop fun and doing odd stuff both graphically and in writing appeals to my quirky (clinically insane) sense of humour. But at the end of the day no image makes a silk purse, if the contents of the book are a sow’s ear.
      So you do what you do best and keep the real magic for inside the cover. Pxx

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Brilliqnt, as always, Paul and I endorse all of the above in spades…I can not add anything …Awesome post 🙂 xxx Looking forward to your post using Photoshop I just hope its for dummies like me …lol xxx

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Wonderful science, Paul, and so interesting how different species’ eyes have specialized. I find it fascinating how vision correlates to learning and memory. I used visual cues a lot when working with little kids, and it’s no wonder that babies can learn hand signals before learning words. Great tips on what makes covers work. I know that I’m a sucker for a great cover. Fun post, excellent covers, and thanks to Sally for hosting!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine Weekly Round Up – Music, Food, Travel, Legends, Books, Special Guests and Stories | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  10. Thanks, Paul. I agree in principle, but the practical side of things is not so easy. I have no talent for visuals, and I don’t seem to always be in sync with other people’s opinions about covers. I’ve joined several workshops given by cover designers where they critique covers, and although some of the comments were common-sensical, I noticed that often their advice would contradict that of other designers and much seemed to boil down to personal taste.
    By the way, my two cents on the comment above by Victor Weybright, Absalom, Absalom is a very difficult novel, but excellent, at least in my opinion (and yes, I did a course on the novels of Faulkner).

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right Olga, everything is a matter of taste. All most can do is steer the course of hoping to please most of the people most of the time, while hoping one day to please all the people once.
      Often we think we can do anything but everything requires talent. And while you cannot teach talent you can polish innate abilities and give people confidence in their own judgement.
      I stand by my thought that we are in the best position to see the strongest elements of our work, so even if we do not execute a cover we should try to keep control over our product. Sometimes this is simply a matter of confidence.
      I have a friend,a fine arts graduate. She maintains she can copy but not create originals. I argue copying various elements produces originality, but she will not listen because she lacks confidence in her own own substantial talent and judgement..
      I never read Absolom, Absolom but I think what you said probably echoes Weybridge’s comment. I read it that he saw Absolom as virtually unreadable for the mass market, rather than badly written. I think he was quite a fan of Faulkner, seeing his work both as literary and commercial.
      Great comment. Thanks. I love these discussions. Pxx

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: The Art of Persuasion | Odds n Sods: A cabinet of curiosities

  12. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – The art of Persuasion #Photoshop #Bookcovers by Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  13. Great article! You’re right.. Images are so important nowadays, a bit like online dating and the whole swipe culture, which I’ve just written a book about.


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