This worn-out cliché has come to be known by all as a reference to being quick to judge people, places and things by outward appearance, without giving them a real chance. As readers we take this adage to heart, sometimes without meaning to—it can’t be helped. We are drawn to what attracts us through our senses. And since we cannot smell a book (at least not at a distance—love the smell of new pages pressed to my nose, though), or hear it, the first aspect to catch our attention is, of course, the visual. We’ll check the title next, or perhaps the author, read the blurb describing the (hopefully) wondrous contents between the front and back well-crafted covers.
Or, at the very least, that’s the idea, the grand plan.
As authors, we are perhaps even more aware of the treacherous vagaries bound into our book covers. A bad or mediocre image, or merely one that does not reflect the novel’s content, can dampen sales. Traditional publishers employ professional, often freelance, artists, but even they have been known to occasionally fall short of the mark.
A cover is the crucial first impression. We can all hope what we’ve written will draw the public’s interest, but if we can’t get them past that first look, where are we? How many of us have walked up to a rundown restaurant, perused the menu and walked away? You need something more to entice a body inside. You need a welcoming door. (That, and a good aroma, but as I’ve pointed out, unless you can get the book shoved up close you’re not gaining the attention of someone’s olfactory organs…)
Last winter, I took a turn through my local Barnes & Noble with nothing particular in mind. I wanted to be inside a brick and mortar bookstore. However, while I traipsed around aimlessly, absorbing the bookiness (I know that’s not a word) of the place, the cover below caught my eye on a hardback for sale in the new adult section. I walked over, pulled it down, studied the lovely image, read the reviews on the back, and about the book and the author on the inside flaps. The author was unknown to me. Nevertheless, I shelled out $18.99 plus tax and went home the proud owner of Wintersong. The cover’s promise was fulfilled by the book’s contents (one could make a shambles of enticing readers with a wonderful cover if the interior is as rotten as an old apple). This book was as poetically expressive as the title suggested, evocative, involving, and imaginative.
So, I guess what I’m blathering on about, most particularly to those engaged in the limitless opportunities of self-publishing, is this—don’t permit the cover (and your words) to let you or your readers down. A cover’s purpose is to:
Engage the reader visually and immediately
Depict the genre in a recognizable fashion
Make a promise to the reader regarding the book’s contents
Peruse your local bookstore or an on-line marketplace for books in the same category in which you are writing. Check out science-fiction, fantasy, cozy mystery, hard-core mystery, crime novels, romance, middle grade, young adult, historical fiction, non-fiction—whatever matches your subject matter. Romance and young adult/children’s books will likely have the most varied covers, due to the range of sub-genres. Even so, all books in a category will have something in common to give a reader a “feel” regarding what they can expect from the novel’s contents. You may note certain fonts, images, layouts being used. Some may (fairly) consistently use photographic images, others illustrations. The use of photos and illustrations is especially noticeable between young adult and middle grade/children’s books, as well as mystery and cozy mystery.
While you do want your cover to stand out and, of course, always be original, it is important to display the elements of your genre—the promise to your readers as to what they will find inside.
If you’re computer savvy, you can make your own covers (being careful to follow instructions regarding size, bleeds, etc.) using programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. I use the latter when creating cover art for my self-published works. Images are available on a variety of sites for a fee and can be downloaded for manipulation on your computer.
If you don’t have the expertise, then you can (and should) pay for a cover artist to create a cover for you. It can’t be repeated enough that when it comes to book covers, first impressions count. You’ve worked so hard writing your book, gnashing your teeth through all the edits, making your story the best it can be—don’t shortchange yourself on the artwork.
This is the cover art prepared by Kensington’s Lyrical Press when they published my Dark Tides series. If you are introducing a series, it’s always important to make the covers similar in nature so that they are immediately recognizable in some fashion.
This is the cover art I prepared for my self-published Connor Falls Christmas Romance series. You will note that although not exactly alike, there is a resemblance between them, from the layout to the romantic close-ups. I did, however, prepare different covers for the novellas (underneath), but they, too, have their similarities to each other.
And these are two mockup covers I did for what I called in my head the Sassy Redheads Series. Fairytales re-imagined, the reader would receive the impression of a strong, sexy heroine. These books still dwell only in my head…
For your information, below are two cover designers with which I am familiar.