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Monday, June 28, 2010

CBA Book Covers

We’ve been talking a lot on a writer’s loop about book covers. It got started because I was curious when some authors identified some books they wrote which had a strong male protagonist, or at least a major male character—I wanted to know if that translated to their book cover (keeping in mind the publisher calls the shots on covers), with a picture of a male or male/female on the cover, because, to my way of thinking, if it’s non-romance with a major male protag, chances are I’d want to read it—but if that male protag isn’t represented on the cover, I’d likely just end up passing that book by.

If you’ve followed my blog you know my preference is for action/adventure stories featuring a male protag. As female readers dominate the CBA market, and as the majority of book buying females prefer to read about female protagonists, my desired type of book is basically an under-served niche, not a major market. The publishers publish what the majority of people buy. That’s simply the way it is. The free market system at work.

Anyway, the discussion about book covers got me curious. So with my curiosity getting the better of me (and with a desire to avoid coming home to do dishes for a little while longer), I swung by my local Christian bookstore with spreadsheet in hand (yeah, I’m an Excel spreadsheet geek. What of it? *-)

Sadly, I only made it through authors with the letter “G” because my old achy bones gave out about that time. So you can’t necessarily say the numbers I’m giving are a representative sample. For one thing, in the A-G list of authors, there are a couple multi-published authors who write suspense and Amish titles, so perhaps this look at book covers is skewed. While I didn’t statistically track genre, the majority of the books in the A-G section truly did seem to be either suspense or Amish. There were a few chick lit, a few women’s fic, and several historical titles too.

Nevertheless, I found my little research trip quite beneficial in understanding the market at large as well as busting a few assumptions I had in my head.

In all I evaluated 210 book covers, tallying in the following categories:

Women Only on the cover
Male Only on the cover
Male/Female on the cover
No Person cover
Unidentified (this includes half-head images, people images in shadows—basically any image of a person on the cover, male or female, that does not feed you a direct clear picture of the character. It also includes covers that had only an eyeball on the cover, or a hand).

So here are the results in order from highest to lowest percentage:

Women Only 32%
Unidentified Persons 23%
No Persons 22%
Male/Female 19%
Men Only 4%

The non-surprise? That women-only covers topped the list (reference the book buying public mentioned above.)

HOWEVER, it did smash my assumption that the majority of book covers had women in dresses on the front. I was very surprised that women only covers only amounted to 32%, while still the majority. (BTW 54% of those, the women wore dresses. LOL! Don't try to understand the workings of my mind on this. It's just something I got tired of seeing, just like I got tired of having to listen to Finding Nemo playing at the office 10 gazillion times).

Likewise, I was surprised by how prevalent both the Unidentified Person and the No Person covers were.

There were a mere 8 titles with Men Only covers, but hey, I’m glad they’re making an appearance and that’s more than I’ve seen in years past.

What does it add up to? You have to draw your own conclusions. But to me it says the CBA market continues to broaden and encompass many different readers. And for those of us who fall into the minority among the book-buying public, that can only be good news.

Among the 210 book covers I viewed, I found myself most often drawn to the No Person covers—unless it looked too creepy. That’s subjective and not statistically worthwhile, but that was my take.

I had fun on my little research road trip. 8-) But I guess I better go do the dishes now...


Kathleen L. Maher said...

this is fascinating, Brenda. Thanks for looking into this. I'm with you--I like a male protag, but I'm even more extreme. I like the action scenes, but I LOVE to know what's gong on inside his head--what makes him tick. So I'm always having to edit out the pages of internal thought in my work. drat! :D

B.K. Jackson said...

test comment to blog, please ignore

Patti Shene said...

Your study is most interesting, Brenda. If I were to take a poll of all the books I have in my house right now, I'd say over 50% of them have a female protag on the cover.

I want my male protag on mine - if I ever get it written! LOL!