As important as it is to write the best book possible (quality will lead to word-of-mouth sales), the book may never leave the bookstore shelf if the cover doesn’t grab the reader’s eye. Bottom line, what your book cover looks like is probably the most important aspect of the entire book design and marketing process.
In designing your book cover, remember, “Less is more.” A simple straightforward concept on the cover will do more than complicated designs and fancy artwork. If the cover doesn’t grab the readers’ eyes and make them curious about your book within a couple of seconds, the sale is lost.
Here are a few tips to make sure your book cover is as visually effective as possible.
Study Similar Book Covers:
Go to your local bookstore (you can look at books online as well but you do not get as immediate an effect nor see books next to each other). Look at books in the same category as yours, whether it’s romance novels, cookbooks, self-help, or fishing. When you go to the section of the store where someday your book will be, what’s the first cover that grabs your eye? Why that cover? Is it the color, the people or scenery on the cover, the boldness of the title? What makes the cover stand out compared to the other covers? Look at what you consider the best cover(s) and also the worst covers. What makes you judge a book by its cover the way you do?
Think about the psychological effect of the colors you will use on your cover. If you’re writing a book on meditation, you probably don’t want a black or red cover because those colors traditionally suggest danger, fear, guilt, death, or anger. White or blue-colors that are more soothing and peaceful, are probably more appropriate. Again look at other books in the same category and consider the colors they use. How do you want people to feel about your book’s content? What color makes you feel that way?
As an interesting side note, in the 1980s when Helen Hooven Santmyer’s bestseller “…And Ladies of the Club” was published, the publisher printed four different covers. Each book had the same artwork, but the book came out in different colors-pink, yellow, green, and blue. I’m sure the multiple colors resulted in more sales because the blue cover appealed to people who might not have paid attention to the yellow one. I remember seeing all four versions beside each other in the department store on a center aisle table. It was hard not to pay attention.
Title and Author’s Name:
Unless you’re Stephen King, your name should appear at the bottom of the cover. Your name is unlikely to be what sells your book so it shouldn’t be the first words the customer reads. Instead, put your title at the top and make it as large and preferably larger than your name. Make sure it is easily readable, clear, and stands out. Simple fonts are better than fancy scripts that might make a letter difficult to read or your title misunderstood. Make sure you choose a neutral color like white or black, but one that will not blend in with the color behind it.
Make sure the artwork matches the content of your book and does not distort what the book is about. An excellent example of what not to do is the marketing that has been done for some of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery novels. Christie is not a bloody or gory writer, but various publishers since her death have created book covers that have mouths with blood streaming out of them and knitting needles in people’s heads. These covers may be sensational and grab attention, but they also do a disservice because readers who might otherwise enjoy the books will stay away under the impression the books are gruesome. Similarly, people who like a gruesome story will feel cheated when they pay for the book only to find no guts or gore in it.
I have seen books with pictures on their covers that have nothing to do with the book’s content, but the author simply liked the artwork. While the author should have a say in the cover, they should give some ideas or concepts to the artist and then let the artist, the expert, create the cover. Make sure the artist hired has designed book covers before and is willing to give multiple samples and will continue to tweak the cover until you are satisfied. Especially if you want to have people or animals on your cover, ask for samples of the artist’s work-nothing looks worse than a poorly drawn person.
Do not hire an amateur to do your book cover. It will look unprofessional and may even be laughable. Do not let hurting the feelings of your niece, the art major, stand in the way of your book sales. Do not try to save money by doing your own cover. Book covers are not a reason to become sentimental, nor should you spare expense on them. Paying a professional to design the cover is the best investment in your book that you will make.
Make sure the cover is not too busy. Do a distance test. Have the cover reduced to one inch in height, about the size it will be on the Internet. If at that size the artwork cannot be easily distinguished, the artwork is too complicated. Also take the cover art at book size and stand ten or twenty feet away from it to make sure it is distinguishable.
Occasionally, photographs are used on book covers. Photographs are fine if the photograph clearly represents the book. Nature scenes are preferable for self-help, spirituality type books. Historical books, fiction and non-fiction, might use a historical photograph. Authors should avoid putting photographs of themselves on their covers unless their faces are well-known (Dr. Phil, Bill Cosby, or Barack Obama well-known). Sadly, unless you’re drop-dead gorgeous, your face will probably hurt your sales.
What to include on your back cover will be a separate article, but I’ll include what to do with the book cover spine here. Chances are that only your book’s spine will be visible in the bookstore, so make sure your name and book title are clear and easily readable on the spine. Do something simple to make the spine stand out, such as including a small version or detail from the front cover. I’m a big fan of book covers that carry the artwork from the front cover across the spine and to the back-this design makes books feel lush and exciting in my opinion. This larger picture will make the spine stand out, but make sure it does not make the spine too busy. You might have a ship on the front cover and a lighthouse on the back cover, but on the spine, just have some ocean waves toward the bottom so it does not take away from the book’s title.
No book cover is perfect, and different covers will appeal to different readers. Do your best to create the cover that will appeal to the largest number of people. Don’t settle for the first option, but look at your book with various covers and various colors, and get as much feedback from people as possible. Don’t just ask friends, but take your samples to bookstores and ask the workers what they think will sell. Once the book is published, if you get positive comments on the covers, great. If sales are slow and you get no comments on the book cover, consider changing it for the next print run.
Remember, your cover is your first selling point so take the time and invest the money needed to make sure it’s done right.