Do you choose books based on colour? This article explores how to judge a book by its colour.
First impressions count. That’s true for meeting people, and certainly true for encountering books at your local bookshop. What books you buy is influenced by the colour of the book cover. This article will help you choose the right one.
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How To Judge A Book By Its Colour
Books are a product that needs to sell. It’s hard for writers to think like that, I know. But that’s what you need to do if you want to get your book into the bookstores.
Readers are potential buyers, and they will judge your book by its cover. So, the way your book looks might make or break its success. The decision to purchase (or not) is largely dependent on the colour of the cover.
With traditional publishers, writers finish their manuscripts, and a professional cover designer takes over. In that case, writers are lucky. If you self-publish, then the book cover is your job.
Either way, you need to know the basics of colour psychology, or you just won’t sell your book. Please look at this article on Colour Psychology For Writers to brush up on the basics. I will refer to this infographic when I explain the meaning of the colours further down.
What Colour Psychology Tells Us
The look of a product, especially its colour, influences a buyer’s decision. Books are no different. Colour psychologists have proven that in many studies. Today, we’ll only look at the main colours of the cover, fully knowing that the motif on the cover, the book title and its font also have a major say. But today, we need to simplify.
In 2003, scientist Joe Hallock conducted a study that is interesting for our purposes (here’s a summary). He looked at what people thought about colours in general and checked if there are gender differences in the way colours are perceived. I’ve applied some of his findings to books as a product.
So, hardcover books are less likely to have a cover in yellow or orange because Hallock says people think these colours are inexpensive. Who would pay a hardcover price for a book that looks cheap? Paperbacks are a different thing though. I think we all know a major paperback publisher whose main colour is orange, don’t we? This publisher wants to show that we get a quality story at a bargain price.
You won’t find many books in orange or brown because these are the least favourite colours of both men and women. Blue, however, is liked by 35 % of the women, and half of the men. That makes it a good choice!
Must-read: The Psychology Of Colour
Genres Have Favourite Colours
Let’s look at the colours one by one and see if we can find out why they were chosen for a particular genre.
Red is the colour of passion and desire, but also war and danger. It is the number one attention-grabber. That makes it attractive to any kind of book. However, red book covers tend to belong to mysteries, thrillers, or horror stories.
These stories are action-packed, there’s bloodshed involved and life-threatening danger. Here are some examples from my bookshelf:
Pink is the pale ‘sister’ of red. Whereas bright red stands for desire, subdued pink is the colour of softness, love, and femininity. Can you already guess the genre? Pink covers usually belong to romance books and women’s lit.
This is a family saga about the American South, centred around women. The colour already tells us it’s women’s lit.
Blue is a bit tricky to associate with just one genre. Many people name blue as their favourite colour. So, publishers may use this for all kinds of genres.
In colour psychology, blue is the colour of inspiration, wisdom, and loyalty. A blue book cover tells you this is a thought-provoking book. This can work for poetry, fantasy novels, and even for non-fiction books. A blue book cover tells you you’re in for a mental journey.
Green is the colour of nature, hope, and healing. It can also mean naivety and inexperience. This makes it the ideal colour for books about nature, personal growth, or even fantasy.
The example from my bookshelf seems an odd choice at first. If you think about the story, then I think you’ll agree. It is an adventure story set in the jungle where an innocent and even naïve man learns about modern civilization.
Black is another favourite colour for book covers because it has so many connotations. It’s mysterious, and conveys power and authority, while also being elegant and formal. Black is also the colour of death which tells us this book will be very interesting indeed!
A black book cover makes the other design elements stand out even more, so pay attention to the other colours involved. Here’s one that mixes black and blue:
This cover tells me it’s a book about mystery and death but also about wisdom and loyalty.
In colour psychology, white stands for purity and innocence. It is thought to balance and clear the mind. Here’s the perfect example. The subtitle ‘Antidote To Chaos’ says it all, doesn’t it?
I have chosen book covers with mostly one colour. If you combine colours, then the principles of colour psychology become more complicated as the combination can acquire a whole new meaning. Rest assured that experienced cover designers know their colour palettes well. Nothing is left to chance.
What do the above covers tell us about the readers that buy the books?
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Different Colours, Different Readers
Colour psychologists will tell you that men and women perceive colours differently, just like adults perceive colours differently from children. It’s in our nature. Let’s look at what that means for our book covers.
Joe Hallock’s study says that in general, men prefer bright colours and women like softer colours. This means all the above-shown book covers will probably appeal more to men than to women, except for the pink book cover. Pink is a soft colour. It appeals exclusively to women because men just don’t like it that much.
You can observe a similar tendency if you look at shades and tints. Shades are colours where you add a bit of black. Tints are colours where you add a bit of white. This way, burgundy is a shade of red, whereas pink is a tint of red.
Shades are considered mysterious (because they’re darker), whereas tints are perceived as youthful and soothing. If men prefer shades, and they’re mysterious colours, then it seems that men buy mysterious thrillers that get their adrenaline pumping, while most women buy books in soothing tints because they read to be relaxed. Or so the colour choices tell us.
The colour purple points us to the biggest gender difference. Women tend to like it a lot, men not at all. A book that targets both genders will probably not have a purple cover.
With children, things are slightly different. Children prefer bright clear colours that have a yellow base, like sunshine yellow, sky blue, and even lilac.
Please be aware that I am referring to scientific data, and I am only looking at the main colour. Individuals may have preferences that do not follow these scientific findings. Our decision to buy is also influenced by all the other aspects of the cover design.
The Last Word
Designing the colour scheme for your book cover is an important job. I hope you have found this article helpful. I hope you choose the colours to make your book a bestseller!
By Susanne Bennett
Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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