Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

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Undercover: A Book Designer Talks about Covers

Living Blue Front Cover FINAL

Our newest cover

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)

Not the best title!

Not the best title!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Book Covers Often Fail These TasksWorst-Book-Final-Covers-lores-090414

Looking at the books that did not meet these criteria, I was able to identify 4 main reasons for their failure:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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.

 

Book Covers: Do They Matter?

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?

Knocked-Up-Satans-Daughter

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: www.thebookdesigner.com 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 Amazon.com:   http://dld.bz/dngkg

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