“I think covers are extremely important. The cover of your first book is like your wedding dress if you’re a woman: You want it to represent who you are, but you want it to make you look much better than you normally do. And you only get one first book. I can’t think of an apt metaphor for men. Your first book cover is like… I don’t know, your first car?” Mark Jude Poirier, author*
“As the owner of a website that promotes eBook deals, I receive a lot of self-published submissions. When I sort through these books, more than three quarters are rejected in the first three seconds. Why? The book cover is poorly designed.” –Jeff Goins, author/blogger
I have a tower of unread and halfway-through books stacked alongside of me as I sit typing this post. Another column is rising precariously up from the floor below me. Numerous articles and opened book pdf’s currently litter my desktop and are probably slowing my RAM down.
My reading choices are, on one hand, delightfully bountiful but the reality of busy schedules and limited extra time—makes it also potentially frustrating, because there’s just too many to read and too little time.
When it comes to choosing your next book purchase, statistics show—in a market flooded with choices—the biggest determining factor for acquiring said book is:
As the average book shopper peruses GoodReads or Amazon they’re looking for something that shouts to them—interesting, pick me! If, instead, it triggers the following responses:
“Boring cover (!!) = must be a boring book…” or
“Looks like the last 10…too many similar ones to choose from, nothing jumps out at me…” or
“Just…no,” …well that’s one less book bought and shared.
First impressions, for the average person, form within 5 seconds or less. Your cover reveals to the world your legitimacy as a writer and the quality of the work behind the cover. If you want that second glance and consideration by indie publishing houses, professional-looking cover design is essential.
There are a lot of self-create cover sites out there these day and some can do a fairly good job if a person has good design sense and knows the rules that make for graphic brilliance. If you have little to no professional design experience, please hesitate when the urge is there to throw any old font over a bland stock photo and think it’s going to work.
4 Keys to Good Cover Design
If book cover art does its job well, it will portray the tone and genre of the book accurately—and help it stand out from its competition on the bookshelf. We’re often looking for a reason to say “no” to help us screen out the wheat from the chaff when we have 100 covers staring back at us on the shelf or on our Wish List. Most often, only the most intriguing, beautifully crafted or thought-provoking get that second look…
Who is your book’s target audience? There is something to be said for keeping within the parameters of your writing genre’s cover art – you typically don’t want a thriller to look all ‘girly’ and have flowy-script-like display font… Strong images are ideal, blocky, easy to read font, bold colors… This gives us the viewer confidence that we will read something inside that matches our perception of the outside. However, let’s not throw out the power of something truly outside the box when it comes to designing within genres. If it’s well done, and doesn’t look like all the other covers, it could prove to be that one that pops out from the rest and draws more attention. Just remember it needs to hold a visual promise in keeping with the content inside the book.
One of the BIG giveaways that the cover is amateur quality is how the type is handled. Professionally designed covers will typically use a display font like the ones pictured below for the title typeface not a text font. There is a big difference. Display font is designed to be more eye grabbing, and can be linked with a particular genre as well.
Stroked text – It is probable that there has never been a great example of when a strongly stroked title or author’s name is used well on a cover. Sorry, but true. I’m all eyes if you find one, please let me know! It ends up looking too clunky, maybe okay for a children’s book in certain circumstances but not for a novel. Let the beauty of the font shine on its own. If you need it to pop out from the background there are other means to achieve this. Drop shadow behind text is one way to do so, but if not used properly, is another dead giveaway of amateur (see the middle cover in the image below). Drop the opacity WAY down. Subtlety is key.
Spacing of Text– There should be some space between the edges of the book and when the title and author’s name begins; the tendency in amateur quality designs is to enlarge the cover text until they are within centimeters of the edge; give your text a little room to breath.
Hierarchy – Implementing hierarchy in type is a winning professional design trait. Next time you peruse cover design, take note of the varying size of display font. Variations in size and width can show meaningful emphasis and highlight the beauty of the type.
The covers below mean well, and I’m sure they are interesting reads— “E” for effort (!!)—but unfortunately fall short in the professional quality department.
3. Key Ideas/Themes
If it is a fiction cover – images representing the characters on the cover is usually always acceptable, however keep in mind that elements of your content – main theme, motifs or ideas summarized and symbolically represented can be very compelling and make for an unforgettable, well designed cover. Less is usually more, here. There is no reason you need to have the whole story depicted on the front cover including the protagonists, antagonists, their pet cat, their ornery neighbor and what they keep stashed away in their closets.
Subtlety and symbolism is where it’s at.
4. Blending and Use of Images:
A thousand words can be conveyed in one image. Treat them with care. Listen up now—it’s NEVER okay to manipulate your photo images by dragging the endpoints and stretching them out to fit the cover dimensions. This leaves you with a distorted image, you lesson the quality and resolution because you are stretching pixels to fit a space they were never intended to; it’s also difficult to retain their crisp sharp details. Instead, go the route of enlarging the entire photo by holding down “shift-key” and using your corner to drag outward until it fits, or use Photoshop’s amazing design capability “extend” content aware tool, to name just a couple of ways.
Blending images together: When adding multiple (composite) images to one design, working to make them look seamless instead of “pasted on” is usually where the amateur vs. the professional can be spotted fairly quickly. Just decreasing transparency on the top image does not make for a blended overall design – it just looks like the designer was lazy and the overall quality mediocre. There are whole photoshop classes in just this sort of technique which we can’t get into here, but there are plenty of tutorials on youtube!
“If your cover is well-done, it will increase your sales. If it is boring or unconvincing, it will absolutely detract from your sales. —Bruce Willett, sales manager of Ulysses Press, a travel book publisher.
If you’ve made it this far, good for you!!
As a writer, you’ve spent hours pouring literary genius into your book, when it comes to choosing a cover to launch your baby into the stratosphere, this is not the time to skimp on your choice of design.
The two questions I leave you with, dear writer:
One – is your cover intriguing enough to captivate the visually discerning book buying throng, or time-crunched Indie book promoters/publishers who have to sift through hundreds of submissions and choose only the most well-crafted and captivating of book submissions?
And Two – how much of a priority on professional-quality cover design are you willing to make for yourself? Your book sales will depend upon it! So either implement some of these design techniques if you’re feeling confident and up for the challenge or research the right designer for you get going!