What Makes a Good Book Cover?

BookExpo2016

 

That’s a question I wrestled with as I walked the aisles of BookExpo 2016. A great cover can be the secret sauce that gives a book the oomph it needs to get discovered. But how do you get there?

I never recommend authors create their own covers. Never. Your book must look as professional and polished as those created by pros—so hire a book designer. It’s worth the effort. If you’re strapped for cash, try a crowdsourcing service such as 99Designs. There are plenty of talented designers looking for work.

And once you’ve settled on a designer, learn to speak her language. In my experience, you can talk to a designer all day, but unless you show her samples of what you like, she will seem deaf as a post. Designers are right-brain people: they understand images. So go onto Amazon and find some covers you like. Use an app such as Grab to take a digital picture of your favorites, and prepare a creative brief for your designer, explaining what you like about each cover.

 

Here are some things you might discuss:

  1. The Mothers - A Novel, by Brit Bennett

     

    Show your designer the color palettes you like. Note: I didn’t say “colors”; I said “color palettes.” You want to choose a palette with several colors that go together and that capture the mood of your book. You’ve written a thriller? Maybe dark colors. A business book? Maybe jewel tones. Stay away from white covers, which look terrific in a busy bookstore, but which disappear into the background on the Amazon page.

  1. Decide whether you want the dominant element on your cover to be type (common for business books) or images (photos or graphics). Even when creating a cover that’s primarily type, look for small spot images or graphics you can use to suggest something about the content of your book.
  1. Often, an image that captures your book is hard to find. Check what your competitors have done. Then peruse Istockphoto or another stock house to see what’s possible. For a fee, your designer will do a photosearch for you, and frequently she will come up with a better idea than yours. She also knows how to manipulate photos, which can produce powerful and unique covers.
  1. Find fonts you love and show them to your designer—but let her choose the fonts to use. Poor font choice is the most common error I see on self-published books.
  1. First Snow book

     

    Make your title big—because it’s going to appear postage-stamp size on the Amazon page, your primary selling location. Check to make sure it’s still readable in that small size.

  1. Pay attention to the back cover, too. It should have a short descriptive paragraph about your book, a bio and your (professionally produced) photo. People want to see who wrote this book. Also, a barcode is necessary, and your publishing imprint with city, state, and website are helpful.
  1. If you have testimonials, add a few at the top of the back cover. If you have a great one from a crackerjack reviewer, put that one at the top of your front cover. All the rest can go in the very first page of the book.

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2 comments to What Makes a Good Book Cover?

  • JMuller

    My author used fiverr for typesetting and cover. She had purchased the perfect image to complement her book, but sent it in the middle of a page with title and subtitle above and below on the white page. We pieced together the back cover based on what we saw on similar books.

    What was returned to us was a thing of beauty. There was nothing about that cover that said “self-published.” That was our “oh wow, we have a real book!” moment.

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