Color Theory: How the Color Palettes of YA Book Covers Vary by Subgenre

Have you ever taken a look at your bookshelf and noticed that one color of books dominates over the rest? Maybe that’s not something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but if you’ve ever tried the rainbow bookshelf trend, you definitely know which color of book covers you prefer. Thinking about that got me curious, and I decided to launch a survey asking YA readers which colors attract them most when they go out in search of a new book.

The results were amazing. I was expecting a small response pool, maybe fifty to one hundred respondents, and ended up with nearly nine hundred responses from forty-eight countries. I started by asking how much color affected readers’ desire to purchase a book, and 87 percent of respondents said they were less likely to buy a book if they didn’t like the color of the cover. An overwhelming 78 percent said they would buy a book with a blue cover, followed closely by black with 61 percent and red with 48 percent. Colors such as purple and green weren’t far behind. However, a dramatic drop-off happened with brighter colors like orange and yellow. In fact, only 11 percent of survey respondents said they’d be likely to buy a book with a yellow cover.

Things got even more interesting when subgenres were included in the results. Nearly 73 percent of respondents said they preferred reading YA fantasy books, followed closely by YA adventure books at 49 percent and YA romance novels at 43 percent. When I did the math, all three genres said they’d be likely to buy a book with a blue cover. However, fantasy and adventure readers responded that they were more likely to purchase red, black, or green books, and romance readers were more likely to purchase books with purple or pink covers. Readers of YA contemporary novels only made up 28 percent of the response pool, but I found that they were three times as likely as readers of other genres to buy a book with a yellow or orange cover.

Wanting to see how this played out in sales, I took a look at Seventeen magazine’s December 2019 article, “The 91 Best YA Books of 2019 So Far.” When you scroll through the results, the overwhelming majority of best sellers sported blue, black, or red covers, which might lead one to wonder—would certain books have sold better if their covers had been designed differently?

Unfortunately, that’s a question we’ll likely never know the answer to. Though, if you’re curious, it might be fun to look into how different editions of books with redesigned covers differed in sales trends. But if you’re not up for that level of research, that’s cool too. Just let me know how haywire your brain goes the next time you find yourself scouting the bookstore and end up with a stack of blue books on the way out.

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