Speaking of Audiobooks: Covers – Help or Hindrance?

Crystal Cove(1) When making a decision to buy an audiobook, the cover doesn’t influence my choice one way or another. If I want a particular audiobook, I’ll buy it, and if I don’t like the cover, I’ll remind myself that with my iPod, I’ll seldom see it.

But can an attractive or catchy cover influence me to take a second look at a book by an author unfamiliar to me? Or does a non-appealing cover have the power to repel me enough that I won’t consider taking a deeper look at an unknown author? The answer to both of those questions is a “most definitely.” Do those second looks lead to an audio purchase? I admit that it seldom does but if a cover speaks to me, I’m often inspired to take a closer look at the synopsis and reviews.

When you consider that choosing the right audiobook is a series of decisions as one must consider the author, narrator, and the publisher’s history of production quality as well as the synopsis and reviews, I think a case can be made that audiobook covers need to make an even stronger statement than their fellow print versions. After all, their duty is to attract listeners despite the fact that both the author and narrator may be unfamiliar to the buyer. And that’s what a cover is to me – a sales job. Can they entice me to stop and look just a little longer?

Those Audiobook Covers that Do Their job

On Thin Ice In praise of a job well done, here are ten audiobook covers that attract my eye and set the mood while introducing the listener to the setting. Not all are original print covers.

The best audio cover around in my opinion is Anne Stuart’s On Thin Ice. Talk about setting the mood and giving the reader a few facts. Isolation. Edgy suspense. And what looks to be a European farmhouse.

The Winter Sea 2 Another cover that I think does its job in an exemplary manner is Susannah Kearsley’s The Winter Sea. It captures the mystery of the sea and its absorbing storyline with a simple image of a woman looking out to sea.

Blue-Eyed Devil And then there’s Lisa Kleypas’ Blue-Eyed Devil. The well-chosen title takes center stage and that guy walking down the road is all Hardy – the self-made Texan millionaire who had to scrap his way to the top.

Somebody to Love Not only is the cover of Kristan Higgins’ Somebody to Love low key with a feel-good quality, it also captures elements of the book – a place on the water, a dog, and a next-door-neighbor type of couple.

Tough Customer The covers for Sandra Brown’s romantic suspense tales are bold and direct. Tough Customer is one of her more striking covers. That bridge stretching far out into the water sets the suspenseful tone of the tale.

The Haunting Both the audio and print covers of Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare are evocative, drawing the listener/reader with both the title and the uncertain nature of the illustration. I believe the audio cover does a better job at forecasting that haunted feel. Strangely, the audio hard copy’s cover is different from the print cover while Audible uses the print cover.

Match Me If You Can Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me If You Can immediately sets the tone for this humorous and completely fun romance featuring Annabelle, my favorite contemporary heroine.

After the Night The audio version’s cover for Linda Howard’s After the Night sets the stage for this edgy romantic suspense featuring a disappearance in the sultry Deep South. No indication of a romance you say? The title draws the listener in.

The Autumn Bride Anne Gracie’s The Autumn Bride is another cover that I believe is more effective in audio than print. With its cover, Tantor projects to the listener that there is more to the story than a wedding.

Butterfly Swords Recorded Books used the original print cover of Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords. It clearly projects an unusual setting for romance (758 AD Tang Dynasty) while exhibiting the heroine’s skill with her swords.

Twice Tempted Jeaniene Frost’s Twice Tempted is the rare bare chested cover that works for me. But hey, this is Vlad whose hands shoot flames – he’s gotta be a little hot. Flames surround him while his look of disgust shows he was forced to use his fiery skills.

The Covers Marked “Fail”

What about those covers that push you away rather than draw you in? Once again, for me, it’s all about that second look. If a cover repels me, I won’t explore an unknown book further. And unfortunately, two cover types we see quite often these days fall into this category – the clinch covers of old and the bodybuilder bare-chested man.

Clinch covers have been around romance for decades and I’ve never been a fan. I keep hoping they will just go away. What’s a clinch cover? Although I’m sure the definition varies somewhat, the classic clinch cover is that of a couple embracing with some piece of clothing partially removed. I’m willing to bet there are few romance listeners who are big fans of such covers. Why publishers continue to place these covers on books when the story is so much more than passion and sex mystifies me although I imagine it’s a quick fix “one type of romance cover fits all” type of situation. Why not concentrate on the actual content that makes up the majority of the hours we listen to?

And then there is the bodybuilder-bare-chested-man cover. Do publishers think the bigger the pecs, the more likely we romance fans will sigh and say “Oh yeah!”? Or the washboard abs will have us panting for more? I’ll admit that at sometime in history, a hero may actually have had a body that today is reserved for the dedicated bodybuilder. But every Regency titled hero? An undercover agent without the benefit of a gym? The county sheriff who runs for exercise every day? The Medieval hero who may have had the training but lacked the nutrition? Yeah, I know they’re playing to the fantasy angle but still, an overly developed body builder is not my idea of a fantasy and, more importantly, it diverts attention from the actual story being told by the author. It tells us little about what we may expect if we decide to dedicate ten hours or so to listening.

And Others Join In

I asked my fellow Speaking of Audiobooks reviewers to offer their thoughts about covers as well.

Carrie: I can honestly say covers on audiobooks have no importance whatsoever on my decision to purchase a book. I don’t focus on them and I rarely remember them. I can’t imagine even a really crass cover changing my mind, since no one sees it but me, and only as a little photo on my iPod Touch.

Kaetrin: Most of my audiobook buying is not based on the cover at all. There have been rare occasions where a cover has caught my eye and I’ve looked at the blurb and decided to take the plunge. The last one I remember in that category was 600 Hours of Edward – it’s not a romance and the cover isn’t all that striking really. Perhaps it was the title! There are certainly covers which make me cringe but audiobooks aren’t a visual experience for me and so I don’t rely on a cover for the most part.

LinnieGayl: Wow! Interesting question. I can say unequivocally that book covers play absolutely no part in my decision to buy an audiobook. In fact, I really don’t pay attention to the covers on audiobooks. I’ve purchased some books at Audible that just have that “no cover” thing. I know I’ve also purchased some books with pretty cheesy covers. Conversely, covers play a large role in my decision as to whether to buy a book in print (is it something I’m willing to be seen reading in public) or e-form, but for audio, it’s all about the narrator.

Audio News

Goodreads

You may have heard that Amazon is buying Goodreads and, although that’s not audio news per se, it is news for our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group. What has been the reaction there? For the most part, it hasn’t been negative but more “wait and see.” Most audiobook listeners have experience with another of Amazon’s purchases, Audible, and that site has only continued to improve under Amazon’s ownership. We’ve been given the option to use one sign in for both sites but it’s not required. And Amazon working together with Audible has provided a terrific new way of listening, Whispersync. You can read on your Kindle and listen to your Audible title on your iPod or MP3 player – both picking up where the last used device left off. With such developments and Audible’s recent addition of Coming Soon titles, we aren’t hearing a lot of worry – just caution.

Pamela Clare’s Mackinnons Rangers Series Coming to Audio

Tantor Audio has picked up the Mackinnons Rangers series and knowing Tantor, I imagine recording will start fairly soon. I’m particularly excited to see this series in audio as it is my favorite historical romance series with Surrender at the top of my favorite historical list. Kaleo Griffith, narrator of Clare’s I-Team series, will also narrate the Mackinnons Rangers series. Kaleo has been highly praised for his performance of the I-Team books and I’m expecting great things once again.

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles of interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks is nearing the 500 mark with 498 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

* Lea Hensley

37 thoughts on “Speaking of Audiobooks: Covers – Help or Hindrance?

  1. I’m toying with the idea of making my Regency romance THE WEAVER TAKES A WIFE available in audio format. (I’ve always thought that book cried out for audio, with a narrator who could do the accents!) I would welcome anyone’s feedback on their own audiobook experiences, good or bad.

    • Being a Brit, I confess to being a snob when it comes to accents, so I’m glad you mentioned that :) I’m a relative newcomer to listening to romance audios, but I’ve already realised that the narrator is key to my enjoyment, and have a few favourites.

    • It’s all about the narrator. If you have control over who is chosen as your narrator, listen to a number of each prospective narrator’s books before choosing. It needs that type of attention. As well as checking the accents, do they clearly differentiate the characters? Does a hero sound like a hero? Do they time the dialogue lines well? Do they perform the characters as written by the author?

      By listening to books by possible narrators, you know they have experience. New narrators are everywhere but few have the training necessary to pull off a successful narration. Another oft use phrase around here – a narrator can make or break a book.

      Good luck!

  2. Off topic, but could someone explain audible.com to me? I feel like an idiot, cuz I’m confused about how it works. Is it like Netflix where you pay a monthly subscription fee and download for free? Or do you have to pay a subscription fee just to get a discount on audio books? The web site is not very forthcoming with info if you’re not a member. Thanks.

    • There are several levels of membership at audible.com. I pay $14.95 a month and earn one credit a month. If I decide not to buy a book one month, I can “bank” up to 5 credits. One credit generally gets you one book. Very few books are more than one credit. So, essentially, you are getting an audiobook a month for 14.95. Like I said, there are other deals. If you get more than one credit a month the per-credit cost is cheaper. You can also decide to buy 12 credits at once 9for the year) and use them as you like.

      One of the best things about being a member is the sales. Audible has some amazing sales each year where you can get select books for $4.95, $6.95 or 2 for 3 credits–stuff like that. Every so often you will be offered the chance to buy 3 extra credits for a reduced price.

      Call the customer service dept if you have more questions. They seem pretty good to deal with. or ask more questions here and hopefully we can help. Cheers!

      • Thanks, Amazon is offering a deal 7.95 for the first three months. I would prefer to just borrow, but since some books I really want to listen to aren’t availible at my library e-media site I thought I would try audible.

  3. I’ll speak up in defence of a nice male chest on a cover – book or audiobook. I don’t mind it myself. :) Jaci Burton’s Play by Play covers are SPECIAL.

      • Oh, I like a nice bit of rippling muscle as much as the next woman :) I just think it’s been done to death and I like to see something different from time to time.

  4. If I never see another clinch / bodice ripper cover it won’t be too soon – I’ll never understand how the powers that be can think that type of cover is a selling point when they are so awful.

    Carrie my first thought when it came to cover art was how much I liked Julie James contemporary covers. We’re on the same page there with your comment The covers are very simple, and the fact that the dress the lead wears to an important event actually matches the color of the cover is a great little detail.

    My thoughts on that type of cover also include leaving the hero’s features to the imagination or mostly so. I don’t want an image superimposed over my own as I read or listen.

    I did enjoy the muscular arms with tattoos or arm bands on Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander covers but the bare chested body builder covers leave me grimacing.

    I agree with your examples Lea – tasteful and intriguing works best no matter the genre.

    As always the different opinions when it comes to narrators is fascinating…

    • One cover you pointed out recently to me that you thought especially well done – Karen Marie Moning’s KISS OF THE HIGHLANDER – I totally agree is one of the best medieval covers. You still get a picture of the hero but what a pic!

  5. Funny but with me, covers for audiobooks don’t matter or influence me. It is first the narrator….because through my experience with audiobooks…..I have been greatly disappointed in audiobooks with ABOMINABLE narrators no matter how great the novel, they just ruin the enjoyment of listening.

    There are two novels on my iPod gave up listening to…because of the narrators, Angela Masters and Phil Gigante…sheesh I was so aggravated with them!!

    • It is ALL about the narrator, isn’t it? Great covers are usually just icing on the cake for me.

    • The narrator I find it very hard to listen to is Anne Flosnik – which is a great shame given she’s narrated a lot of historical romances I’d really like to listen to. Her voice is nice enough, but her narration is so pedestrian and monotonous, and her pronunciation is often tortuous – at times she sounds like she’s computer generated!

  6. One thing that listeners might not know is that when an audiobook publisher buys the rights to a book, the original print cover is not always available (or is possibly too pricey). In this case internal design teams come up with an alternate cover for the audiobook.
    This does seem to be happening less often than it used to, and in general the work seems to be getting more sophisticated, but I want to call out Tantor for what I thought was a great upgrade from the first 3 titles in Jill Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series (where, honestly I thought the animals were creepy – though in this one at least the cat hides the chest partly)
    http://karenwhiteaudiobooks.com/2012/01/27/animal-attraction-by-jill-shalvis/
    to the one for #4 in the series which is beautiful! (and no “man-titties”!)
    http://karenwhiteaudiobooks.com/2013/04/08/rescue-my-heart-by-jill-shalvis/

    • When choosing covers for this column, I noticed a good number of Tantor covers that I considered improvements. Their covers keep getting better.

  7. I’m drawn by the cover, but the book blurb and the sample narration make the purchase for me. I’ve bought a few without listening to the sample, and regretted it. A good narrator can make a so-so book excellent! A bad narrator can make a great book impossible to listen to…IMHO.

    Taylor

    • I too have succumbed to impulse purchases as I was so excited to see a particular author finally in audio that I hoped I could tolerate any narrator just to hear their books. Wrong – talk about disappointment and disgust that the publisher didn’t take the time to match a trained/talented narrator with a well-known romance author. Did I listen to the sound sample? Yes, but each time I hoped for more. Thank goodness Audible now has an excellent return policy although there is still the tragic loss of a potential audio hit.

  8. I agree 100% about the off-putting nature of the ‘man-titty’ cover and really can’t understand why publishers continue to throw them at us. Maybe they’ve done countless focus groups which show that they’re helping them to sell books… but all I can think is that they must be asking the wrong people, as most of the people I know who read romance novels don’t like them! In fact, those covers are quite possibly one of the reasons it took me so long to get into reading romance novels; I used to commute to work on the London Underground and sitting there for 45 mins each way each day brandishing one of those loud 80s covers was a big no-no!

    I like what Harper/Avon is doing with Julia Quinn’s bookcovers in the UK -0 eg. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Sum-All-Kisses-Smythe-Smith/dp/0749956348/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1366036672&sr=8-3&keywords=julia+Quinn

    Understated and much more attractive to my eye, anyway.

    As to audiobook covers… personally, the cover makes no difference to me, because the first thing I look for if I’m looking for a specific title or author is the identity of the narrator, and then maybe the publisher so I can see if it’s likely to be well-produced. For newcomers to audios, I can see that the idea of an attractive and ‘informative’ cover would be very useful, and there are some publishers who do design different ones rather than just using the same cover that appears on the paperback. But sometimes, it can be confusing, if you’re looking for something specific – with a totally different cover, you could even overlook the title you want!

  9. Lea- I have been watching to see when Romance Audiobooks reaches 500 members. It has grown so fast just in the past two years. Congrats and thanks for all your hard work.

    • Thanks Lee! I’m hoping with this column, we will finally reach that 500 mark. It is such an enjoyable and informative group.

  10. For years, I only listened to Recorded Books checked out from the library. Very little of the cover of each book showed up on the big red CD case so I paid no attention. When I switched to Goodreads and Audible, I started noticing covers more when I would read reviews and recommendations. Sometimes a particular bookcover will lead to me reading a review I might not have before and subsequently I will listen to that book. I do like reading what people have to say about covers since so many folks are very observant and will bring out ideas and details that I don’t catch. The evolution of covers is almost a study in itself!

    • I came so close to featuring an image of one of those Recorded Books red covers. So well done – never over the top. They always invoke a feeling of excellence as Recorded Books represented pure quality to me back then. It’s not that they don’t have quality recordings today but I was never disappointed in one of their audios back in the day. They spoiled me big time.

  11. I couldn’t agree more about how off-putting the he-man torso bearing men are on covers. I just don’t see the need or the reasoning behind it.
    I’m not a prude, I enjoy a vacarious romp when the couple are doing it as part of the storyline. If I were having a romantic relationship I would hope it includes some naked tangoing. But the cover of a book should reflect more than just that side of the story – unless, of course, there isn’t much else to the story. And that is what I tend to think when I see these covers. That is why they put me off and why I don’t see the reason behind using them.
    I believe most readers want some substance to our reading, be it in print or when listening to someone else bring the story to life.
    The cover of ‘The Winter Sea’ by Susanna Kearsley is full of intrigue. It may also contain romantic sex scenes, I don’t know, but I do know that it looks interesting and I’m going to find out.

    • Susan Elle: I couldn’t agree more about how off-putting the he-man torso bearing men are on covers. I just don’t see the need or the reasoning behind it.
      I’m not a prude, I enjoy a vicarious romp when the couple are doing it as part of the storyline. If I were having a romantic relationship I would hope it includes some naked tangoing. But the cover of a book should reflect more than just that side of the story – unless, of course, there isn’t much else to the story. And that is what I tend to think when I see these covers. That is why they put me off and why I don’t see the reason behind using them.
      I believe most readers want some substance to our reading, be it in print or when listening to someone else bring the story to life.
      The cover of ‘The Winter Sea’ by Susanna Kearsley is full of intrigue. It may also contain romantic sex scenes, I don’t know, but I do know that it looks interesting and I’m going to find out.

    • Susan – The Winter Sea in audio is wonderful. I highly recommend it. Rosalyn Landor also won the Best Female Performance at the Audie Awards in 2012.

      • I have The Winter Sea sitting on my TBR pile and am itching to get to it. I’d listen to Rosalyn Landor reading the phone book!

    • It’s a wonderful book, but she closes the bedroom door. In this case it’s all right, because by the time the characters go to bed they’re in love and in tune with each other, so there wouldn’t be much of a change in their relationship. Their sexual tension has already been resolved.

      • The bedroom door is firmly closed in all of the Kearsley’s I’ve listened to so far. While I usually like more in the way of love scenes, I love Kearsley’s books so much that it’s not a problem for me here. I listened to the UK version of The Winter Sea (Sophia’s Secret) narrated by Carolyn Bonnyman. That was excellent narration also.

  12. I’m the same as you, Lea. If I want to buy a book, I buy it regardless of the cover BUT a nice cover of an unknown author makes me take a second look. It always happens to me in the Audible sales when you have hundreds of choices that I may scan the lists and click on books with nice covers. Then I read the description, hear the sample and check the GR rating to see if I may like it. If an unknown book has an ugly cover, it doesn’t get a look.

    I laughed at your description of the buffed guy in Historical covers (and those shaved chests, LOL!) I’m not the type that gets mad if covers don’t match the book description but I would roll my eyes at least. However, Ilona Andrews recently wrote about covers selection and it gave me a different perspective on the whole covers business: http://www.ilona-andrews.com/work/writing-business/cover-question

    I learned lots of new things even reading the comments. I didn’t notice that the tats in the Mercy Thompson covers weren’t the same from book to book!

    • That was a great article, D.G. Thanks for posting the link. I did notice the tattoo changes on the Mercy books. ;-) I also noticed from the first that they didn’t ever match the tats described by the author. But I still liked the covers and I figured authors probably had little control over covers.

      I remember commenting that the dress on the cover of Julie James’ book matched the dress the heroine wore, and a friend told me she’d read that Julie James went back and changed the color of her female lead’s gown (at least in the first couple of books in her FBI series) in order to match the cover! The covers are very simple, and the fact that the dress the lead wears to an important event actually matches the color of the cover is a great little detail.

    • Thanks for the link! Interesting – bare chested men with tattoos let readers know it’s a paranormal. Hmmm. You know, I do think I can more easily accept a bare chested man cover in a paranormal! The whole sub-genre clearly broadcasts “fantasy.”

      And the shaved chests! HA! Thanks for pointing that out. You know, I think one of the worse bare chested man audio covers is Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady. It’s also the original print cover although Berkley wisely chose to replace the print cover in 2010. It’s not that his pecs are overdone (although he definitely has the washboard abs) but it’s the fact that TSL is such an intricately written historical romance – such a class act (btw, the audiobook is absolutely wonderful) and here the publisher chose to feature a close up of a man in a uniform with his jacket and shirt open to reveal his nearly all his chest. That is SO not what the book features and is such a disservice to the book.

      Oh, I love getting to rant this way!

    • D.G.: I’m the same as you, Lea. If I want to buy a book, I buy it regardless of the cover BUT a nice cover of an unknown author makes me take a second look. It always happens to me in the Audible sales when you have hundreds of choices that I may scan the lists and click on books with nice covers.

      Your comments sum up my own thoughts when it comes to audiobook covers DG. They don’t hinder me if I know the author or narrator but they can help for the unknown or impulse buy.

      I remember reading the reasoning behind why the artist changes Mercy’s tattoos for each Briggs cover. I thought it clever subliminal marketing though I can’t remember why now. :D

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