I am not going to quote that overused, cliched epithet, but you know which one I mean (about judging). Unfortunately, it’s true. But not only do people judge the book but they’ll judge you, as the author, and your publishing process. I do. Most do.
So, in the vein of being helpful, here are ten tips to consider when you are in the process of covering your novel.
1. Don’t do it yourself. Unless you are a trained, working graphic designer who has designed book covers for major publishing houses, you do not know how to design a book cover. Read on, and I’ll tell you why.
2. Don’t have a friend or family member do it. Unless he or she is a trained, working graphic designer who has designed book covers for major publishing houses. Not a student, not a friend who designs tee-shirts or business cards or websites. There are specific skills and knowledge needed to design a book cover. It has more to do with marketing than design, but those who are experienced in the field know the marketing rules. Plus, if it doesn’t work out the way you want, it may hurt your relationship. Whether you are self-published or not, if you are in charge of hiring a book cover designer, hire a professional book cover designer.
3. Don’t buy a template. Templates look like just that: templates. I know it’s cheap and easy, but you get what you pay for and that’s what it will look like.
4. It must look great at 160 pixels. Amazon displays book covers at 160 pixels in search results. Make sure that at this resolution your title is legible, and your graphic is discernible. I’d reduce it even further to 56 pixels in height, which is what Amazon uses for the “Customers who bought this book also bought…” section!
If your cover has a white background, make sure that the person who is uploading it to the book sites puts a thin dark border around the image. Otherwise it will fade into Amazon’s white background.
See the covers to the left at 160px. Which one catches your eye? I like the color of Jennifer Weiner’s book, but I can barely read the title. This isn’t as much an issue, as the title is usually printed beside the cover. But something to consider if people are in “browsing” mode.
5. Mind your fonts. Do not use more than one font on your cover. If you MUST, no more than two. Do not use a standard font that comes with your PC or Mac. Do not use outlines, drop shadows or glow! The sure signs of an amateur designer. Find a unique font (that is readable at 160 pixels) from a font foundry or font designer. Please note, though, that even if a font is royalty-free, there may be a charge to use it commercially. So be legal and pay the fee. Some designers will only require a “donation” for their services. Do it. Artists like to get paid.
6. No faces. I advise against using any image with a face on your book cover. Those authors that do are immediately telling the reader what their characters look like. First of all, you should have done that in the narrative. Second, readers like to “cast” your characters themselves, in their own minds, using faces that are familiar or attractive to them. Psychologically, it makes the reader more of a part of your story. You wouldn’t want to turn off a potential reader because the face doesn’t appeal to her or him. The exception to this rule is the romance genre, which has used faces for decades. However some authors successfully leave them to the imagination (see image).
7. Research Your Genre. In the last point, I noted there was an exception to the rule in the romance genre. Many book genres have their own graphic “look” for the book covers. This look will include specific types of graphics, colors and fonts. For example a cover in Romantic Comedy (formerly Chick Lit) will be light colored, have a pastel palette, have a cartoon on the front and skinny or cursive fonts. While a cover for the Thriller genre will be darker, with a foreboding image and large, thick fonts.
As you can see, I also had my designer carry through with the same font, which I also use on my website and marketing materials.
9. Non-fiction: Don’t overload. Non-fiction authors tend to overload their covers with tons of information. Title, subtitle, quotes, how this book will help you, yadda yadda yadda yadda. Taking into account the 160 pixel rule, this will not attract potential buyers. Keep it simple. Make it attractive enough to get them to either preview or buy the book.
Look at the book cover on the left: How to Make Money with Real Estate Options blah, blah something under that, then blah blah something in a green box, then some picture to the right of it I can’t make out. Compare that with Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick’s The Art of Social Media – Power Tips for Power Users. Actually, I think I’m actually going to buy that one. Looks good. From the cover. (See what happened there?)
10. The author should not have final say. WHAT!?!?! Yeah, I said it. You are a writer, not a marketer. Your book cover is part of your marketing plan. If you do not have a book publicist or marketing department, then bounce it off of as many readers as you can. Even though I was with a publisher, I chose to hire my own book cover designer and I managed the project. I had narrowed my first cover down to five choices and put them out there to friends and family without telling them my preference. My “readers” chose a cover that was not my first choice, but I went with it and I’m glad I did. The cover grew on me, and now I can’t imagine any other.