I am the choir on this topic, and she's preaching to it. I have never publicly expressed dislike for the cover of my debut novel, What More Could You Wish For. I didn't want to seem ungrateful. I am thrilled beyond imagining that St. Martin's Press published my book. I loved working with them and had an awesome editor. But I had an issue with my cover.
When the book was going to the design department I was asked to send images of covers that I liked, and I did - six or seven of them. The cover I got had not the remotest resemblance to any of the ones I sent. My book is about a woman turning 50. She's at a crossroads in her life and a family tragedy motivates her to reevaluate decisions and change the direction of her future.
The cover I got was all sweetness and light – pastel colors, with my name in pink (pink!) and a picture of a cupcake with a gazillion candles. Cute? Yes. Perfect for a YA novel. There’s not a cupcake to be found anywhere in the book. I worked to get it changed to something more sophisticated; something that would reflect the seriousness of the story, and the only concession I got was that my name was changed to blue.
I believe the cover limited the audience of my book. There could be many reasons it didn’t sell well; lack of promotion, unknown author, bad writing (I hope not!), etc. It’s tough for a debut author unless you get very lucky. I knew that. I never expected it to make the best seller list (though I did imagine that). But I know that that cover didn’t help.
When the book was translated into German it got a whole new cover, which I loved, and especially appreciated because Germans are not known for their sense of humor. (Now don't get all huffy if you're German. I love German people... but you have to admit...)
Anyway, back to Catherine McKenzie's question: why do books written by women get such audience-limiting covers?
Anna Quindlen had a book published the same time I did and her cover was a sparkler, for Pete’s sake! Elizabeth Berg had a book come out the same time also, and she got a teacup! Frilly, lightweight covers. But they’re well-known so I’m sure those covers didn’t affect their sales.
Still…why not let the cover reflect the interior? People DO judge a book by its cover.