The old adage reads: Don't judge a book by it's cover.
I wanted to find out where that worn out phrase came from, so I asked the Google gods, of course. I only found a couple references to a novel that uses a similar notion in it's narration and a lot of posts about what the phrase means--which we already know--is to not make a decision solely on the first impression.
Who actually adheres to that?
As an avid reader, I can somewhat appreciate the cliche'. When I'm looking for a new book to read, I judge my choice on several things. The author, the story-line blurb on the back, reviews, and, ahem, price. The cover isn't always the clincher in the deal. For instance, I don't really like Stephen King's 11/22/63 cover, but it's Stephen King. It'll probably be a good read. (And it is..I've already started digging into the massive beast.)
However, if just browsing the bookstore--or library--the covers are the first thing you see. They either catch your eye or they don't. And unless I've heard about a book or the author's reputation precedes it, I don't usually pick up novels with less exuberant covers. (Unless the title grabs me--another first impression) Yes, many beautiful books are overlooked this way. Which is exactly why, as a writer seeking publication, I think this old adage is misleading. Especially in YA. Teens are going to be grabbed by a hot cover. Period.
There are exceptions, of course, but marketing is a huge aspect of publishing a book. How can a book with a lousy cover stand out? There are so many challenges in this industry, I don't want to start out already behind with a boring first impression.
As I research small presses, the first thing I look at is their website. If they have an awful website, then how much worse will their book covers be? I've seen a few horrific sites and the covers they boast and I just can't bring myself to submit to them. But then I run into a few that impress me quite a bit. Such as Quirk Books and Flux. (Of course, upon further inspection, I found out that Flux no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts. So much for the direct benefit of a small press.)
I want to be published, but I want to be published well. I understand the collaboration that goes into a small press package, the marketing and self-promotion I'll be responsible for, the direct contact with the publisher, etc. I'm willing to do the work; I want to do the work. But I don't want my book to start off a lap behind because it has a poorly conceived cover. And, sure, I'd like to think the story line will grab the reader and that my work will stand for itself, but in this visual day, I'm not sure I want to take the risk. I want a standout cover that grabs the attention of the most reluctant reader. Something I can stand behind and be proud to market all over the place.
If agents and publishers are picky about their writers, why can't writers be picky about who they submit their work to? Yes, I realize the odds are piled against me in that manner of thinking, but I have to ask myself: Am I just desperate to be in print or do I want to start a real, breathing career?
For me, it's the latter. So, I'll stick to being a cover snob.