Your book cover is your first impression. It’s your marketing, your advertising and your promotion all rolled into one and if your cover is poorly done or unprofessional or even if it doesn’t match the current conventions for the genre you are writing in it will most certainly impact your sales. If your book isn’t selling the way you had hoped, then the very first thing you need to do is take a hard look at your book cover.
If anyone ever says to you, “It’s art, there are no rules,” they are wrong. It’s not art, it’s your book cover design and there are rules and guidelines that should be followed for every book, for every genre, to get the results you need to get from your cover.
Keeping it simple
Nothing will confuse your readers more than a cover designed around a concept or symbolism from your book that only you understand. You shouldn’t need to explain your cover to people. The goal of your cover isn’t just to deliver a message it is simply, at its cover, supposed to get people to pick up your book and who want to know more. If they need to read your book to understand your cover then your cover isn’t doing its job. Your cover doesn’t need to tell the story, that’s what the book is for. It doesn’t even need to make them wonder what’s going to happen, that’s what the description is for. Your cover simply needs to be eye-catching enough to get people to pick it up (or click on it), flip it over and read the description.
Stick with a style that people will recognize as a genre or type of book they like to read. If you go to Amazon right now and look at the bestselling books in your genre you’ll notice that the majority of the covers all have a particular style. Whether the reader knows it or not, that style becomes a visual cue that that is the type of book they enjoy reading. If you try to be too cute or quirky with your cover you are going to risk the chance that people won’t recognize it as the type or genre of book they enjoy and therefore they won’t even bother picking it up to see. Keep your cover recognizable. Do some research before settling on a design idea so you know and understand the style of other covers in your genre.
Your cover should immediately evoke emotion from your potential readers. It should convey the overall mood of the story and/or genre of the book. If your book is gothic and dark and full of angst and drama then a photo of a happy, smiling person on a bright sunny day is hardly an appropriate cover and will mislead people into thinking your book is about something it isn’t. Think about the setting, the emotion and the mood and not a specific scene when you’re coming up with ideas for your cover.
You don’t need to beat your readers over the head with information. Most readers are intelligent people. It’s not necessary to repeat themes or information on your cover, in fact this wastes valuable space that can be used for other things. If, for example, your book is about a werewolf, it’s not necessary for the artwork, title, subtitle and tagline to all have “werewolf” in them. If your subtitle is “The Werewolf Chronicles” people will understand that this book is about werewolves. Make your cover beautiful and compelling but don’t get stuck on the theme to the extent that it takes away from the cover’s job of making people pick up the book. Many authors get so mired in their original idea for a cover that it’s hard for them to see past it. Always keep an open mind and listen to your designer. If you’ve chosen the right one they will know what the best cover for your book is better than you do. It’s their job, they have the experience and the knowledge, and if they don’t, then don’t hire them in the first place.
You’ve probably heard people say that your cover needs to read at thumbnail size. In this case “read” doesn’t mean that the title and author name need to be readable at that size, what it means is your cover has to have the right amount of pop and contrast for people to see it and be compelled by it at that size to want to click on it to read the description. Unless you have a following of readers that are looking specifically for the title or name (and if you do, chances are they aren’t searching Amazon for it, they already know it’s out and how to get it), it doesn’t really matter if they can read your title at that size, or your name.
Remember that no one has read the book yet when they see your cover for the first time so it doesn’t matter to them that the dress described as pink in the book is blue on the cover (unless it’s a major plot point). Hair color, eye color, those types of things should be as close as possible to the character you are portraying but by the time people have read your book to find out that the heroine is wearing a blue dress not a pink one on the cover it won’t matter because they will have already bought and read your book. And isn’t that what you are going for?
Always be sure the choice of font for your title is appropriate to your genre and stick to two (three maximum) fonts total. The world is full of thousands upon thousands of fonts and there’s no reason to use a pre-installed system font (such as Arial or Times New Roman for example) for every piece of text on your cover. You want your titling to be as beautiful as your artwork. That being said, if you’re going to choose a fancy font for your title then choose something simple for the author name. The author name is simply there to impart information.
Remember that it’s not the end of the world if your title covers up part of your cover art. I’ve seen too many covers ruined because the title is too small or horribly off center because the designer didn’t want to cover any of the artwork. Cover design should always be planned out ahead of time with space for a title in mind, so if it’s that important to you that the title doesn’t overlap the main elements of the cover it should be planned for in advance. There are plenty of ways to integrate titling into the design without overlapping elements on the cover. Planning it out ahead of time allows for you to take advantage of some of these by leaving blank space, dropping the title behind one of the elements or even using the title itself as part of the artwork. With proper planning, there’s never any reason your title should look like an afterthought.
Use a teaser or tagline
A teaser, or short tagline, is a good way to get people who see your cover to flip it over and read the description. It’s a good way to impart some information about the genre or book itself that may or may not be a little fuzzy when looking at your cover. It can be used to tell readers that this book is written by the same author who wrote that other book they liked so much.
The only problem with teasers or taglines is they do take up valuable real estate on the cover and can make it look cluttered and messy. If you’re going to use one be sure it is useful, that it fits in the space without making the cover look overly crowded and that you use small font. A tagline should not be the same size is your title, subtitle or the author’s name.
Reviews are another good way to tell people your book is worth reading and getting beta readers or giving out ARCs with the purpose of getting pre-release reviews is generally a good idea. When it comes to your cover however remember that our goal is keeping it simple. As a general rule of thumb reviews should go on the back. If they are very short they can be used on the front in place of a tagline or teaser but using both on the front cover is just going to make your cover look cluttered and disconnected. Always remember it’s not the primary job of your cover to give the reader information or tell the story. It’s simply a way to get people to pick up your book and flip it over. If your cover has done its job then putting those rave reviews on the back is a great way to get people to read your book.
Don’t give away the plot in your blurb or on your cover
One of the worst things you can do for your book is to give away the plot before the reader can even buy the book.
When you create your cover (or have it created) try not to use the “scene” method when deciding what you’d like to see on the front of your book. Scenes are generally crowded, cluttered and tend to look very messy and unprofessional on a cover thereby breaking the “Keep it Simple” rule above. Also keep in mind, unless you’re having a cover hand drawn or painted from scratch (usually a very expensive option), you (or your designer) are going to have to find stock photos for every element of your cover. While stock photography has come a long way of late with more specific online resources opening up geared towards book cover designers, finding every element of your complex scene as a stock photo is going to be nearly impossible and possibly quite expensive. Even if you should manage to find every element, compositing them together seamlessly in order to have a professional looking cover is a very daunting and, again, next to impossible task.
The other problem that arises when using the “scene” method for building your cover is that chances are the scene you think is best is going to be a major plot point scene in your book. If you give that away on the cover your reader is going to know what is going to happen next, giving them no real reason to keep turning the pages to find out.
Similarly, the blurb or description for your book is just that, a blurb. You don’t want to outline your plot or give away the ending. Your description is a follow up to the cover designed to intrigue the reader and make them want to purchase your book. Your blurb should be well written enough to compel the reader to buy your book simply to find out how your characters handle the scenarios put forth in your description. Also keep in mind one small point. If your book is going to print remember that your blurb is going to have to fit on about three quarters of the back cover. Why three quarters? There needs to be space left at the bottom for a barcode. Remember to keep your blurbs short and sweet but compelling. This is not an easy task and one of the reasons authors tend to find writing blurbs the least enjoyable part of publishing.
Keeping all of these things in mind before your cover is designed will help you get the cover best suited to your book that will get people clicking and picking it up off the shelf. Always keep that goal in mind when planning out your cover because if your goal was to create beautiful artwork you’d be a painter. But you’re not, you’re a writer and your goal is to get your work out there into the world so people can read it.