Justine: (Is It?) All About the Book Cover

Recently, Nancy debuted her cover for the first novel-length book in her series, and Kay posted about the redesign she recently did for a previously published book. I find myself in slightly different territory…I don’t have a book published (although it’s coming later this year), yet I’m already redesigning the cover. Why, you may ask?

Marie Kondo. That’s why.

My cover does not “spark joy.” Don’t get me wrong…it’s a pretty good cover. But as time goes by, and the more I look at other covers in my genre, the more I think my cover is very good, but not quite what I want. It doesn’t spark joy in me…it sparks wanting.

I want more.

So I’ve taken on copy editing jobs to pay for my cover habit. 🙂 My new designer, who I will reveal in the upcoming weeks, should be starting on my new cover — from scratch — in the beginning of February.  In the meantime, I’ve been putting together a short-list of covers I like. See if you can identify the common themes in the examples below:

Have you guessed it? Perhaps these paintings from Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent provide a clue:

Think you figured it out? Take a look at my original cover and see if that doesn’t help:

His Lady Protect Sml-1

Give up? Here they are:

  • I want my cover to have more color contrast…mine seems a bit bland right now
  • I don’t want any of the design tchotchke that some covers have (my current one doesn’t, and none of the ones I selected do…no fancy scroll work or designs…some covers go to town on this sort of thing)
  • I want the image to be more “painting-like.” If you look at all of the covers I posted above, they all have a soft, painter-like quality to them, as in the Gainsborough and Sargent portraits. There’s no photographic harshness in those covers. It’s funny how something so seemingly insignificant could make me want to redo my covers, but…I do.

Next steps: I have to share my likes/dislikes with my new cover designer before she starts work. I promise to share every iteration of what she’s done until I have a cover I’m happy with.

What is your take on covers? Important? Not? Am I crazy for redoing what seems to be a perfectly fine cover?

14 thoughts on “Justine: (Is It?) All About the Book Cover

  1. Publishing a book, like writing one, is a creative endeavor. If your cover doesn’t spark joy in you, especially to the degree that you’re willing to do copyediting to pay for something you do love, I say do it.

    (BTW–Love, love, love Sargent. The last time the RWA national conference was in NYC, there was a Sargent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum and I spent an afternoon there, just wandering around and breathing them in. They were exquisite.)

    As far as covers, I have kind of the opposite problem. I adore my covers. I think they communicate both the theme and the tone of the books. Unfortunately, my clicks to purchases ratio from my FB ads, suggests that something, either my covers or my blurbs, doesn’t entice people. So I’m actually thinking about new covers that are more standard romance covers.

    But not yet, I’m going to ahead and release Book 3 this fall (I hope) and Book 4 next January. I have a hypothesis that the four covers together will create a brand that may be more appealing in the aggregate than they are individually.

    • There could be a couple things out of whack re: your click ratio for ads. But that’s an area of publishing I really haven’t gotten into yet, so I’m hardly the expert. I’m glad you love your covers. For you, they clearly spark joy. 🙂

  2. I like your original cover, but you should go with what feels right for you. I used to work for a magazine publishing company that did a lot of customer research around covers, and one of the things we learned was that customers at newsstands spent, on average, 1.7 *seconds* looking at a magazine before they bought it, assuming they weren’t looking for that particular issue, and the magazines they most frequently picked up, by a margin greater than 80%, had primary colors that were red or yellow. So, of course, we used red or yellow on all the covers except the ones that were already “special” issues that had higher-than-normal sell-through rates.

    In looking at the covers you’ve displayed, I’m interested to see how many of them use warm colors as their primary color. Even the “green” covers by Jenna Jaxon and Valerie Bowman have strong yellow backgrounds, and the artist perked up the “blue” cover by Vivienne Lorret with that strong orange/red background. I wonder how the blue cover by Celeste Bradley sells, especially compared to her other titles?

    Of course, the idea of “romance” is frequently sold with warm colors, so the magazine research may just be a coincidence. But while I’d pick up your current cover for a second look, your plan to go with greater contrast, especially in the warm tones, could help sales.

    • I’ll need to dig around and see what research there is on book covers. It’d be great to know what works and what doesn’t…and what’s changed. Obviously, the Fabio covers of the late 80s are no longer in vogue. It’s more typical (at least in my genre) to see a girl sitting in a sea of dress (but that doesn’t suit my books, because they’re primarily about the guys, not the girls). I see lots of jewel tones on covers (and have planned the six books in my series to each have a different colored theme) and just feel that mine are a bit blah in that regard.

      Off to do research!

  3. Your existing cover is professional and genre-appropriate, Justine, but if you want something more or different, I say make the change. You’ve worked too long and hard on the story inside to settle for packaging that doesn’t delight you.

    Your cover is tasteful and elegant, but I like the energy of the more brightly colored ones. February is…next week! Look forward to hearing more about your new designer and the decisions you make.

    • I’m excited to start. The designer I’m working with is just expanding into the historical genre, but the covers she’s done for cozy mysteries, WF, and SFFP are amazing. Plus she has some killer digital art skills and her typefaces are phenomenal.

      I think for me, what it comes down to is creating a cover that would be difficult to discern as a self-published cover. Some of the self-published covers I’ve seen are abysmal, and I don’t want any reader prejudice, simply by looking at the cover, that the contents are anything but the highest quality. Fake it ’till you make it!

      • I should clarify my last comment to say that there are no doubt many books with horrible covers that are phenomenal books…but if I go by my own reader barometer, the cover is the initial driver for me. Bad cover…less likely I’ll pick up the book. It’s my own prejudices as a reader that I’m trying to overcome.

  4. As for book covers, (in a completely different genre because my kids were the perfect age when they came out,) the Harry Potter series did a wonderful job of conveying some of the key story elements with no spoilers. Once you read the book, it was an ah-ha moment of why certain things were on the cover. The new designs do the same thing except I think they expect that you’ve seen the movies or already know the story.
    I like the jacket to be a bit of a preview of what’s to come and especially with an author I don’t know has to catch me before I even read the dust cover and reviews. As noted above, I don’t spend a lot of time scanning. Also consider the bindings since most books end up selling from that view. Especially for a series, the edge bindings that make a set are, in my opinion, pleasing to the eye and make me want the whole set for my library.
    Best of luck finding your cover! I look forward to the updates!

    • Ooo, I never noticed that about the Harry Potter covers. I’ll have to check that out now. My kids have just plowed through all of them. I like the idea of the jacket/cover being a bit of a preview, too. Something to keep in mind, particularly the back cover. I don’t think I’ve given that much thought. The same could hold true for ads I create…there’s a great site called Book Brush that allows you to make digital ads for FB, Goodreads, etc. VERY easily. Incorporating some teasers into that (in lieu of a back cover) might be fun, as well.

  5. I think your cover now says “historical romance” loud and clear. One thing that I notice on your favorites is that the guy (if there is a guy) is looking lovingly at the heroine. On “His Lady”, he’s holding and protecting one girl, but he’s looking right at me. I feel like he’s cheating on me. Or her.

    I’ve heard that a lot of the things that happen on romance covers are supposed to make the viewer feel like SHE is the heroine — no heads/faces means she can replace her head, for example. So, that loving gaze directed at me might work on me . . . but not if he’s holding another girl and proclaiming to protect her.

    I wondered if there were any romance covers that just show the hero. I can’t remember any, but a vision crossed across my brain of a fan in the bottom half (providing a nice place for title and author), as if the reader holding the Kindle or book were looking directly at the handsome hero.

    My favorite shot in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is when Darcy is standing alone (in those perfect clothes!), watching Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle drive away from Pemberley. Catches my heart every single time. I can’t remember how much buggy is in the picture on that one.

    Just my input as a consumer. I know there are a ton of constraints on the kind of photos available, and even if you have a photographer, directing them can be a ticklish sort of thing.

    • Yeah, I’m picky about the whole “guy looking at the camera” sort of thing. For me, the reader, it helps me imagine myself as the heroine of the story. Sort of puts me in it. Call it a quirk or whatever, but if I can swing it, most of my heroes will be looking at the camera.

      I’m with you on the BBC, though. *sigh* What a great scene!

      There are plenty of romances that just show the hero. Grace Burrowes has a series that just features the guys on the cover. Quite close-ups, and I believe they’re looking at the reader, too, if memory serves (I think I have one of her books stacked in my bedside table…I’ll have to go look now).

      We’ll see what my cover artist comes up with. On Thursday, she sent me the questionnaire for all of her covers. I’m excited to see what she comes up with!

  6. Pingback: Justine: (Is It?) All About the Book Cover, part II – Eight Ladies Writing

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