Are nonfiction book covers as important to sales as fiction book covers?
Yes. And possibly even more so for indie authors.
Regardless of the book, a strong cover is going to work as good advertising. The book cover really is the handshake that greets the world. Current data specifically on book covers and sales is hard to come by, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests cover design has a great deal of influence on buyers.
In the late ’90s, Penguin redesigned covers for its Modern Classics series. Soon after, sales soared in the under-25 demographic. In the March 2006 meeting of the Association of American Publishers, Marcella Smith, director of small press relations for Barnes and Noble, discussed the remake of the cover for the nonfiction book, The Little Book That Beats the Market (Wiley, 2005). In the March 24, issue of Publisher’s Weekly Daily, Smith is quoted as saying the original book jacket was pale blue and featured a dollar sign. After discussing the cover with buyers, the publisher decided to change the book jacket to a more classic dark blue with white lettering, which they felt better suited a traditional business audience. It became a hit and the jacket was credited with the book’s increased popularity.
Independent authors are usually doing most — if not all — of their sales online. For indie publishers, the focus has to be on the online cover, since that’s where they sell their products. It’s quite easy to weed out books that are self-published when the cover is obviously amateurish. Poor cover design can lead potential buyers to assume that if no effort was put into professional design, then there probably wasn’t much effort invested in editing, or layout or even research and story development.
Since covers are often only displayed at one or two inches online, a book cover is pretty much at the mercy of good advertising techniques to get the click-through on a page filled with similar books. An easily read title and strong use of color are going to play a role. While things like author familiarity will help sales for established authors, they are not going to help independent authors just entering the market. For this reason, the book cover is even more important for indie authors, whether they’re publishing fiction or nonfiction.