Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

YES, book covers do matter.  We should judge a book by the cover—and everyone does. A book cover tells us how professional the author is.  Did she care enough to hire a professional designer instead of using a cheap template?  Is she smart enough to select a compelling cover? Does the cover show what to expect inside the book?


This is wrong on so many levels

Do-it-yourself book covers: You’ve seen them. Garish colors, hard-to-read text, a perplexing title, and weird symbolism.  Sometimes I cringe in sympathy for the proud author who thinks he’s going to sell a million copies of an ugly book.

A bad book cover. Don't you agree?

A poor choice, don’t you agree?

Publishers are not immune to bad cover decisions, which is why we use a professional designer to help keep us on track.  For us, a book cover is all about product development, marketing, and making a profit. Isn’t that what you want? As you consider the cover for your book, think about these basic elements:

1.  Your book cover is primarily for MARKETING .  We often struggle with writers over this concept.  The book cover is not  a place to display your favorite colors, explore the inner life of your characters, or show how artistic you can be.  The cover is all about convincing people they must have your book.  The book cover is your number one sales tool.

2. At first glance, prospective readers should be able to tell your book’s genre, the general subject, and the tone of the book. The Color of the Wild For example, you don’t want a New Age title that resembles a history book, or a romance cover with a horror vibe. Our new book  The Color of the Wild is a memoir that focuses on nature.  The cover’s soft colors hint of intimacy and a human story.

  1. Chemo front cover large fileBackground colors are important. You can choose a vibrant, arresting color like bright red, or go with a soft color.  Keep in mind that white fades into the background on internet sales pages.  We chose bold purple for Chemo: Secrets to Thriving from Someone Who’s Been There.  The authors didn’t want the standard pink for breast cancer, and readers seem to love this shade of purple.

4. Your font should be easy to read, even when you shrink the book cover to 25% on your computer screen.  These thumbnail copies will appear online, and the title should still be legible.  Avoid fancy fonts that make people read twice.

5. Avoid clutter.  If you’re writing about home repair, don’t have ten different tools scattered around the cover. Focus on your main idea and avoid distracting images.

  1. Final-ISA CoverYour own photo?  Yes, some authors place their pictures on the cover to good effect.  This works if you’re attractive and the setting helps show readers what the book is about. For example, with our book Community College Success we considered half a dozen cover images and finally decided to use our author, Isa Adney. Isa hired a professional photographer, which is way better than using a selfie!

7.  Unexpected is good, but don’t go too far afield.  Your book cover isn’t the place to be overly cute or use symbolism most people won’t understand. The cover is for your readers, not for your ego. shut-up-skinny-bitches-cover The cover for our book Shut UP, Skinny Bitches! is for shock value, but that may not be the best choice for your book. If you’d like a quick, easy way to study book covers, sign up for a service such as BookGorilla, GoodReads, of BookBub that will send cover images and book descriptions to your Inbox every day.  Just remember to stay within your own genre. I also recommend book designer Joel Friedlander’s amazing web site: Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review for Dialogue for Writers:

Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.

Find the book on

Comments on: "Book Covers: Do They Matter?" (3)

  1. Great post, Sammie.I did not realize what a strong impact covers have until we started considering one for our first book together. Your designer’s work brought tears to our eyes, and from that, I learned how powerful and effective a well done cover that captures the essence of the book can be. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. I too love Joel Friedlander’s site for cover ideas and inspiration. His comments are worth reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’re working on your second cover now, and I hope our designer comes through again. The amazing photos you send us are half the battle. It was interesting when we first started hiring a professional. It was Amateur Hour when we compared our work to his. He has access to fonts, pictures, and education.


    • Well done in finding him – I am impressed. Now I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next – for the next one. Any news on when we’ll be able to see that?


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