There are many things to consider when thinking about self-publishing. Since the comments of Saturday’s post included a discussion of the importance of book covers, I thought that would be a good topic for us to address this week.
Books are often judged by their covers. In many cases, the cover can be the first (and possibly only) chance for a book to make an impression on a potential reader. For an interesting discussion about designing covers, check out Chip Kidd’s TED talk “Designing books is no laughing matter. Ok, it is.”
“A cover is a book’s advertising – it functions to tell the prospective reader something about what is inside, with respect to both content and its place within the greater population of books.” ~ Theophania Elliott
A good cover evokes a response in the viewer – an emotional hit. It draws the reader in and embodies the book, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s a big job for something that someone may only glance at for a second or two.
A strong cover is all about marketing; its job is to attract an audience. Your audience.
So, how do you know what will attract your audience?
A good first step is to look at successful books in your genre – books by authors with a writing style similar to yours or with an audience you think would enjoy your writing – and check out the covers. Look at the imaging, typeface, tone, and overall feeling of the covers. You don’t want to copy another cover, but if you are targeting the same audience, you want to consider what elements worked for the successful book covers and how you might incorporate them in your own cover(s).
A great way to get a feeling for different cover styles is to walk the aisles of a book store (physical or online). How do the covers differ as you move from the fantasy section to the mysteries to romance? What visual cues do the covers offer up to prospective readers? What makes you want to pick up a book and give it a chance? Keep in mind the fact that certain images – like the embracing couple on the cover of a romance novel – will set expectations with your reader. You want to make sure that the message your cover sends doesn’t conflict with your actual story, otherwise you may wind up with a very disappointed reader.
Another consideration when thinking about your potential audience is where they are geographically located. What appeals to readers in one country may not appeal to readers in another. If you are planning to distribute your book to multiple countries, make sure to do your homework and figure out what style of cover will work best in each geography. It’s work up front that will (hopefully) pay off in the long-run.
“I went to a convention last year, and one of the interesting bits of information I came away with was that Americans like “louder” covers than Brits. So Brits think American covers are horrible and garish, and Americans think British covers are horrible and boring (“too literary” was the phrase used).” ~ Theophania Elliott
When thinking about your cover design, don’t overlook the importance of branding. We’ve talked about author branding before, and part of that is cover branding – the style, typeset, and overall look and feel from one book to another that will help readers pick your books out of the crowd. This is particularly important if you are writing a series and want readers to be able to easily find (recognize) future releases.
Basically, everything about your cover, from fonts to layout, should be intentional. A pretty cover does no good if it doesn’t attract the right audience for your book.
In essence, book covers are little works of art. As such, everyone will respond to them in their own way.
“Art really is so personal. . . I prefer the cute, retro sort of cartoony block art, and I have bought some less than stellar books on the basis of very cute covers.” ~ Michaeline Duskova
You want a cover that calls out “pick me up” and “check out this story” not one that blends in with the woodwork (or with the multitude of other books out there). As Jenny Crusie talked about in The Crusie Theory of Cover Design, a good cover needs to catch the reader’s eye, be pick-up-able, and capture the mood of the story. Piece of cake, right?
An effective cover has Visual appeal – bold colors, strong value contrasts, distinct typeface – basically anything that will cause a reader to pause and/or take a second look.
Though a bit of a challenge for eBooks, a good cover also has Tactile appeal. For a physical book, that could be a raised texture or some other element on the cover that makes a reader want to reach out and touch it. For an eBook, it could be a great image that makes you want to take a closer look.
Being a writer doesn’t necessarily make you an expert on cover design. While there are a number of sites and resources out there to help you through the process of creating a book cover, you don’t actually have to do it all yourself. Investing in a professional designer may be the best thing you can do for your cover (plus, think of all the time that will free up for writing).
If you are going to work with a designer, do your homework. The clearer you are about your themes, characters, settings, etc., the more likely it is that you will wind up with a cover you really love. Make sure you articulate your vision, ask questions, and (try to) remain objective. If you’re spending the money on an expert, make sure you listen to their advice. You certainly don’t have to take it, but at least listen to it so that you can make an informed, educated decision.
Where will people see your cover? Will it be a full-sized image on an e-reader/physical book or a smaller thumbnail on a smart phone or in an Amazon query list? If your potential cover design is very busy or features very small or intricate designs, it may not catch a potential reader’s attention when seen in a smaller size. When you have a mock-up cover design, it’s a good idea to shrink it down to thumbnail size and see what it looks like. Everything doesn’t have to be clearly visible or readable at a small size, but you definitely want to make sure your name and title are.
If you are designing a cover (or having a cover designed) for a physical book, don’t forget to include the spine of the book and the back cover. A cohesive design across the entire cover will result in a professional and polished end product.
So, enough from me.
What makes a book cover work for you? What kind of cover would make you pick an unknown author out of the pile? Do you have any self-publishing cover design references to share?