What Makes a Good Book Cover-Part I

Writers can spend years working on a novel, sharpening and polishing the manuscript until it’s ready for publication. Shouldn’t writers spend at least something close to that kind of effort on the cover design for their book?

This isn’t an issue for traditionally published authors. Unless you are a superstar author the publisher generally determines the cover art for your book. For self-published authors, however, the cover design is crucial. It’s as important, if not more so, than the book itself. Why? Your friends and writing colleagues will buy your book based on their familiarity with your work, but consumers who don’t know you are going to be drawn to or repelled from what they see on your book page on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

So what makes a good book cover? A good book cover should have:

Visual Integrity. I was going to write “visual attractiveness,” but that’s subjective. What one person might find attractive, another person might view as ugly. Visual integrity means all of the elements of the design work together to evoke an image in the mind of the reader. Think of your book cover as a marketing piece for your work. It is the number one marketing piece for your book. From a non-designer’s perspective, what I don’t like in any marketing piece is clutter. A book cover should not be so busy the reader’s eye doesn’t know where to go.

Elements that reflect the tone and emotion of the book. The cover art should express what the book is all about. Look at the covers of a romance and a mystery novel. You will see how the different elements support and reflect the genre. A reader would not confuse the covers of a Carl Hiaasen novel and an Anne Tyler novel. One screams out “over-the-top” funny, while the other is quiet and introspective.

Readability. This means selecting fonts and typography that are clean and readable. Stay away from fonts that are difficult on the eyes. If the reader can’t make out the book title at a quick glance, you could lose a sale. It’s the same with colors. Choose colors carefully. Bright colors have a certain connotation to the reader. You wouldn’t buy a novel with a dark theme if the colors on the cover were bright pink and yellow. This also means that the type size should be big enough so a reader can clearly see the book title and author’s name at a quick glance.

Compelling images. Whether it’s a murder weapon or drops of blood –essential for a mystery book cover – or a spaceship with aliens, the images should draw the reader in. The reader remembers powerful images on a book cover.

An emotional appeal to the reader. This is one of those things that hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

Distinctiveness. Your cover must stand out from the crowd. A book with a religious theme could have a cross or a crucifix on the cover, but it’s been done a thousand times before. Unless the cross is displayed in an unusual fashion, it’s not going to stand out.

Should a self-published author design her own cover? My answer is a resounding, “No.” Unless you have no other option, find a graphic designer. You wouldn’t perform brain surgery without a medical degree and years of training. Why do you think you can design a book cover? If you can’t afford a designer, barter or try to get a young designer who is looking for work to design your cover.

For more detailed information on book cover designs read this excellent post by Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management site:

Here’s another helpful discussion in this post by Andrew Pantoja

There’s also a site called 99Designs, a crowd-sourced design site where the author names his price and graphic artists submit designs in a contest with the author selecting the winner. I cannot vouch for or endorse this site because I’ve never used it, but the point is there are low-cost resources out there for self-published authors.

So how did I come up with the design for my first novel, Small Change? In my next post, I will describe the process I used.

What do you like in a book cover? What are some of your favorite book covers?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “What Makes a Good Book Cover-Part I

  1. The most recent cover that is a favorite, is the cover for “Blackbird House,” by Alice Hoffman. It’s a simple pair of lace-up, leather granny boots, close-up, in an odd shade– scarlet red. The few other elements of the scene seem to fade, in comparison to the boots. This picture made the book stand out to me, and without it, I might not have read Blackbird House at all– since I navigate through the library or bookstore shelves mainly by intuition.
    The title and the picture caught me before I even noticed Hoffamn’s name– and she is an author I’m always happy to read. Here’s a link to a pic of that cover: http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/0345455932/ref=cm_ciu_pdp_images_all

    See what I mean?

    • Mary,
      Thanks for your comment. That is a great cover. Thanks for sharing it. I do like Alice Hoffman’s work. She uses paranormal activities in a way that doesn’t come off as unbelievable. I was fortunate to work with a designer who understood my vision and was able to turn it into reality, which I will discuss in my next blog post. Thanks again for your comment.

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