10 Tips on Book Covers

10 Tips on Book Covers

You can’t tell a book by its cover but you can hint to readers what the story is about. The choice of text, colour, font and images carry messages for potential readers and can either invite or dissuade purchasers from picking up your book. Many authors are choosing to self-publish or publish cooperatively and sometimes they miss the mark with their covers

You can’t control how a reader will react to your story but you can entice them to at least turn the first few pages with a great cover. Once they’re inside, well, the rest is up to you and your story, author.

1. Start by considering your genre: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, memoir, history, self-help, instruction manual — for each genre, readers will respond to clues you plant with your cover about the genre

2. Look at other book covers, especially those in your genre. Remember that traditional publishers don’t always get it right when it comes to book covers so look for books that were bestsellers for debut authors. Covers for established bestsellers don’t have to work as hard as that first cover and for series book covers, they take on a kind of cookie cutter appearance.

3. Think about the overall book structure: is this a standalone book or one of a series. If it’s the first in a series, you are free to establish the “look and feel” of your cover, knowing that you’ll continue that with the subsequent titles. BUT if it’s the second book, everything you do should somehow connect back to the first cover — the same font and title — the overall appearance should echo the series

4. Consider your concept: complex plot or character driven — this will affect the images you choose — character-driven should give us a “person” as the central focus; but if this is a complex plot, intriguing illustrations or images may take the forefront

5. What about the mood of your book: high stakes excitement or slow unfolding discovery — deciding on this will help with colour palette for the background and the fonts. Too many self-published authors choose a colour for their cover text that disappears into background colours. You want readers to notice your title and your name. If they’re squinting before they open the book, they are already in a negative space.

6. Use images that carry an element of your story: pictures, illustrations, and signs can be integral to your book cover. A springtime tree suggests new beginnings, growth. A barren tree suggests an empty life or one about to end. There are images that symbolize just about anything and photos that can evoke all sorts of ideas and emotions.

7. Experiment with fonts — once you found those perfect images, look for the type of font to match. Horror writers will choose a different font from a romance writer. But what if it is a horror with a romance at its heart? It can get tricky to choose the best style of text for your cover. And what looks good in small type can be ghastly in large letters plastered on the front of your book. Keep going back to existing book covers in your genre and look at the fonts they chose.

8. Mock up your cover — place the image(s) on “dummy” book — print out the image in different sizes and move it around on the blank surface. Of course you can do this digitally but it is not the same as seeing it in trade paperback or hard cover size. See how different lights affect the look. Think about high gloss versus matte finishes. It will all make a difference.

9. Print out the cover text with different fonts and font sizes then try out various layouts with the images and colours you choose. Will your name be on the bottom? Will the title fit on one line? Or is breaking it into two lines more eye-catching? Remember, this is experimentation and will take time until you feel you’ve got the final cover. But this a huge part of your marketing plan: your book title and your author name.

10. Many readers go to the back cover before reading anything inside. So open up that mock up to create the back cover and the spine. Again, you can do this all digitally but what’s the fun in that if you don’t have a tactile connection with your cover? You’ll need to spend some time deciding on what compelling text you’ll add to that back cover. Often, it’s a variation of your pitch, your logline, your #pitmad golden egg that you slaved over to help promote your book.

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8 thoughts on “10 Tips on Book Covers

  1. Copied and saved your advice. I certainly needed it. When I designed my first novel cover I thought only about it as one story. When I wrote the sequel, I didn’t know it’s cover was supposed to carry on the theme. With your advice I would think ahead when designing first cover to make sure it would easily carry the theme of book 2. Thanks for all your good advice. Blessings Janet Stobie

    1. Thanks for this Janet. While you may not have designed the second cover with the first in mind, you did have “A Catalpa Creek Story” on the front and that certainly gives readers the detail that this one has at least another companion book.

  2. One of my most successful covers is the one Jenny designed for my Quantrall series – simple Texas flag with a western font. Very little description is needed to tell the readers this is a story about a cowboy turned PI.

    1. That apple didn’t fall far from the tree, Carol. You’ve got 3 books in the Jesse Quantrall series. Love the “transformation PI” idea because it offers lots of trails to ride that are unexpected.

  3. This advice comes at a timely moment for me. I have been experimenting with book covers over the past few days. I decided that if my novel is going to see the light of day, I will have to publish it myself. So, I am doing all the leg work now, studying the masters of self-pub and preparing for the launch of an ebook by fall. Thank you ladies for ‘reading my mind’. Your blog is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Jeanette. I can’t believe that no perceptive publisher or agent has picked up your novel. But there are plenty of success stories in self-publishing. By doing the research, you’ll be in a good position for success for yourself. Keep us posted on the progress.

  4. Fabulous advice! Remember that when shoppers browse bookstore shelves, the cover is what will attract them. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but people often buy a book because of the cover!

    1. Thanks Dorothea. There are some book covers that I’ll never forget, like the paperback cover of “Dune” or the Classics cover for “Black Beauty.” Those covers brought me to those books and enticed me to look inside.

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