I shall try to stay away from as many technical words and as much jargon as I can.
Also, as designing a book cover can be an emotive subject, almost as much as writing the content. I shall say that the following are my personal observations and views, they are not a definitive or an absolute. I do not think any opinions regarding forms of art can be so.
Please feel free to comment, add your own insights and feedback regarding this subject.
So, where to start?
For this, I shall take a tip from the famous philosopher Winnie the Pooh, who said, “The beginning is a very good place to start!”
Your manuscript is completed, edited, re-written, polished, edited, beta read, proofread, edited, formatted and is now ready to go to print.
You are ecstatic. This is your masterpiece.
Now all you have to do is get people to read it.
To do that you need to sell lots of copies. (Unless you simply want to give it away?)
To sell lots of copies you need to attract people to your book.
To do that you need your masterpiece to stand out from the crowd.
Standing out from the masses of other books means having a great cover.
NOT a good cover, a great one.
You are right.
Creating a great cover is not as simple as it first seems. All those thoughts and ideas in your head need transforming into a visual and onto relatively small area AND you need the title, maybe a sub-title, a sub-heading, or a catch-phrase. Then there is your name, you want that on the cover too, don’t you? Oh, and the back-cover ‘blurb’ you need that…now what about some graphics, images on the rear cover too? Is there enough room for that and the barcode?
That’s a lot to consider.
Yet that is only the most basic ‘stuff’! Colour, Images, illustrations, copyright, text style, point size, trim, bleed…oh, you have not thought this far ahead yet?
OK, let’s get basic.
Firstly, you have to get rid of any preconceptions you have. (Not easy).
It is almost impossible to detach yourself from your book, your story, ‘your baby’. But you must if you want a cover which will sell your book.
Nobody but you will ever see, or feel your story as you do. Each reader will have their own personal interpretation.
That is how reading works.
Don’t get caught in the trap of believing otherwise.
Creating a cover is like a black art. It is a totally different skill to writing. Please do not confuse the two.
A book cover’s paramount job is to communicate the book’s content and convey information concerning both what the book is about and what the book is like.
The front and back flaps have something to say and experienced readers may find clues in a summary statement or author’s note. But the text and graphics on the cover deliver the most immediate and indelible impression. A cover’s imagery can establish character, setting, and plot. A cover’s style can suggest tone, mood, and narrative quality. And extraordinary covers employ both elements in synergy.
The second step, be sure of your target audience. That is the people who read the same genre as your book. (Known as demographics in the trade)
You need to ascertain what they look for in a cover, what it is that attracts them to pick up a book, to read the back jacket and ultimately buy.
Big publishing houses spend a fortune on researching this, millions of pounds a year. An amount I doubt you have to spare, even after scrabbling down the back of the sofa.
So use the big publishers as your research, this will only cost you time.
Check out other authors book covers in the same genre, particularly the mainstream published authors. Walk around the store, surf the net. See what the new trends are. Make notes, take photos, make a ‘like’ board.
This is a good starting point.
The next step is to decide what you want the cover to ‘say’. I am not talking about the use of words (yet); I am simply speaking of image perception.
Here are two simple rules:
Don’t Show Too Much of Your Character
It may be tempting to show your book’s main character on the cover, but this usually is not a very good idea. Most readers prefer to use their imagination to depict the story and characters in their own head.
Be Simple, Strong and Symbolic
Refrain from depicting a specific scene on the cover of your book.
It is better to be more symbolic or iconic with your cover design. Try to come up with a simple eye-catching idea that anyone will understand on first sight. Keep in mind that most people will see your book as a tiny picture on a bookstore website or out the corner of their eye in a bookstore. In either instance, a strong, simple, symbolic cover is much more likely to catch their attention than one that is complicated or cluttered.
The next consideration is the text.
What typestyle (fonts) to use.
Do not use (anywhere): Comic Sans.
This font is only acceptable if you are writing a humorous book, or intentionally attempting to create a design that publishing professionals will laugh at.
Please, no font explosions or special styling. Usually, a cover should not contain more than 2 fonts. Avoid the temptation to put words in caps, italics caps, outlined caps, etc. Do not be tempted to “shape” the type either.
Where to put your Title and Authors name; Top, middle, bottom, vertical, horizontal?
The title should be big and easy to read.
This is more important than ever. (Many people will first encounter your cover on a screen, not on a shelf.)
Do not forget to review a thumbnail image of the cover.
Ask yourself this; Is the cover compelling at a small size? More people are buying books on a Kindle or mobile device, so you want the cover to read clearly no matter where it appears.
You should also anticipate what the cover looks like in grayscale.
Now, back to the artwork.
Rule no. 1, Do not use cheap clip art on your cover. I’m talking about the stuff that comes free with Microsoft Word or other cheap layout programs.
Rule no.2, Do not stick an image inside a box on the cover. This is known as the “T-shirt” design. It looks extremely amateurish.
Rule no.3, Avoid gradients. It’s especially game-over if you have a cover with a rainbow gradient.
Rule no.4, Avoid garish colour combinations. Sometimes such covers are meant to catch people’s attention. Usually, it just makes your book look freakish!
After all this, if your head is not spinning from the do’s and do not’s I will be surprised. Let me make it simple with a great example of excellent covers.
The bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella’s novels have about everything that is right when considering a book cover.
These romantic comedy covers have not been created by accident. They are specifically designed and crafted via Penguin Random House.
Clearly, the target audience is a, young, twenties something, fun, flirty, feminine female.
Best known for her ‘Shopaholic’ series, the main images on these covers are of highly stylized woman, with a clutch of designer carrier bags, against a background suggestive of location.
Here are three examples which follow all the rules (do’s & do not’s).
These are my suggestions for a great book cover:
Keep it simple.
The only hint at the content.
Go with the latest trends in your genre…OR…
Take a punt at something ‘outside the box’ (but try to keep within these guidelines).
Below are some covers I love, even my own award-winning designs…Oh, didn’t I mention I also design covers for Indie Authors…how remiss of me!
If you would like to contact me about cover design, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please put ‘book cover enquiry’ into the subject bar.
Thank you, Paul.