I follow Joel Friedlander’s website for handy tips on book cover design. For us at NorLightsPress, covers are a vital part of the publishing process, and we ask our authors for input well before we finish editing their books.But that’s where we sometimes run into trouble with writers. As Joel says, “Especially for first-time authors, it can be a real and difficult challenge to step back and try to see your book cover as a selling vehicle for your book, and not as an extension of your own identity.”
We see book covers as business tools and marketing items. Authors have a more personal relationship with their covers, especially if the book is a memoir or a heartfelt novel. We try and compromise, seeking a tasteful, meaningful cover that will also have market appeal. Usually we succeed, although we’ve done a few covers I’d like to go back and change. Here’s more info from Joel’s special report on book covers:
Your Book Cover Has a Job to Do (or Maybe 5)
Let’s face it, there are hundreds of different genres, different kinds of books, and different ways to solve the problem presented by the need to create a cover—a brand, an image, an exemplar, an avatar—for your book.
Taking that vast variety into account, and confining myself to books that their authors hope to sell commercially, it seemed like there were 5 separate tasks your book cover has to accomplish:
- Announce its genre
Clearly, many book buyers search for books by category, niche, or genre, so this instant identification with where your book belongs is a critical task.
- Telegraph its tone
Although more subtle, it’s also important to imply the tone of a work, especially fiction. Is it a brash, over-the-top page turner, or a subtle character study?
- Explain its scope
More common to nonfiction, readers need to know what’s included in your book and what’s not—in terms of subject matter, time periods, geography, skill levels, or any other guide that will give potential buyers this information.
- Generate excitement
Effective book covers have a “hook”—something that intrigues, grabs you by the throat, makes a promise—something that will attract and hold a reader’s attention and make them want to know more.
- Establish a market position
Your book cover can help browsers by letting them know where your book fits in with other, similar books they are already familiar with. More encyclopedic? With vampires? And tons of resources?
Looking at the books that did not meet these criteria, I was able to identify 4 main reasons for their failure:
- They are illegible
Although it seems that the least we can expect of a book cover is to be able to read it—both the type and any images used—many covers were either unreadable or just plain hard to make out.
- They disregard their genre or niche
Maybe you’re publishing a thriller, and want to attract readers who enjoy thrillers. If you put a cover on your book that makes it look more like a history or an academic paper, won’t it be harder to interest those readers. Many book covers fail this test.
- There’s no “hook” Maybe that “sunset on the ocean” was incredibly meaningful for the author, or connected to a crucial scene in the story, but we don’t know that, do we? These books present no particular reason to even pick up the book to find out more. In a word, they are boring.
- They are graphically or typographically incompetent
This is the biggest challenge for novice book cover designers. It’s not that easy to learn typography, or how to composite images in an image editing program. Too many books show the results: incomprehensible images, inappropriate fonts, and tortured special effects, all filling the vacuum left by the absence of any real design.
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and an accomplished blogger. He’s the founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, and a frequent speaker at industry events where he talks to writers about how the new tools of publishing can help them reach and inspire their readers.