Monday, August 7, 2017

The Truth About Book Cover Design


I design book covers. To some of you, this may be a surprise. It's not a full-time job for me, but it made sense to add book covers to my design repertoire because a) I love books b) I stare at book covers almost every day c) I have an eye for design. I say none of these things in order to sound egotistical or persuade you that I have "all knowledge" of book covers and best design practices, but I do tell you this for the sake of this post and the good of human kind. Ok. That was too dramatic.

Dad and I at one of his art shows
But really...I am a designer and a photographer and was blessed with "the eye" as my dad calls it. Coming from a him, that's a huge compliment because my dad is a seriously amazing artist. Like. Wow! And growing up in our artistic household meant I was given instruction about artistic things--sometimes when I wasn't even realizing it.

I've taken this knowledge along with my passion for books and started to create art that expressed how I feel about books, writing, and my love of reading. You can see my designs on Society6, Redbubble, and in my Etsy shop. Then came the book covers.

In this post, I'm mostly speaking to Independently published authors because they are the ones making the decision to hire a cover designer. But, traditionally published authors can definitely take note here because you have to work with designers as well. 

**Please Note**
I am in no way writing this to gain clients for my business. This post goes deeper than that for me. This is for the sake of the industry and for all of the times I cringe when I scroll through Amazon's eBook section and see covers that were badly photo shopped, have poor font choices, or look like the creator did no research into the market aspect of their book before they or someone else created their cover.

The truth about book covers

I hate to break it to you...but the old axiom that says you shouldn't judge a book by its cover is FALSE! We do it. I do it. Everyone does it. You can't help but look at a book cover and think something about it. To be fair, not everyone will allow that initial feeling to rule their decision to buy said book, but I have to believe that even the most religiously non-book-cover-judgers still judge...just a little.

Because of this, your book cover design is essential to selling your book. (tweet this) Can you re-read that? Please? Because it's soooo true!

Who needs a good book cover? 

You may agree with me on my first point, but now I want to address the need for a good book cover. You may have heard it said that there are two things you should put money into when independently publishing: editing and your book cover. For those of you who thought the book cover part was a joke, you're wrong (see my first point). Because of this, it is crucial that you hire someone who not only grasps the vision of your book, but someone who has a good eye (there's that "eye" again).

I'm going to ask you, dear author/writer friend, to take a mental step back with me so that you can honestly ask yourself: Do I have the eye, or am I hiring my designer to have the eye?

This is crucial because, unless you're a graphic designer with experience creating book covers, the chances that you know what's best for your book cover are little to none. >Holds up hands to stave off argument<

I'm not saying you can't see when a cover is good or make good suggestions to your designer. I am saying that if you trust someone enough to hire them, then you should trust their vision (after your input) for the cover design. Yes give input, yes make suggestions, yes be sure to tell your designer when you don't like what they've done, but consider asking your designer for their input. If they don't have experience in your genre, then that's a different story, but either way--trust them to create a design that will not only look amazing, but sell your book too! In most cases, a designer isn't out to make their design known, but to sell your book. If not, then maybe choose another designer ;-)

What makes a cover bad? 

There is no way I could fully list all things that make a cover bad (or good) in a post, and it's difficult to do so without visual examples, but I'm afraid of picking on covers and possibly insulting someone so...for the sake of this post, I'll just list things I often see on covers that make me cringe.

- More than two fonts used (generally). It's a good rule of thumb to stick to one or two fonts for a cover in order to keep things simple and clean. Don't believe me? Check out the best sellers area of Barnes and Noble. Most covers use only one or two fonts.
- People, animals, objects are photoshopped and the lighting/color is not taken into account. This creates an uneven look to the cover.
- Placement of title and authors name*
- Balance of the cover. This goes to the overall feeling of the front cover, where the title/text/subtitle is, as well as the images featured.
- Colored text. This has to be done really well and make sense within the context of the title.
- Concept. I've found myself thinking: Ok, so why is there a HUGE face of a woman/man looming in the sky along with several other fading images spliced together on this one cover? If you are trying to convey your whole book in a series of images on the cover, I'd recommend not doing it.
- Shadowing of text. This, if done well, will set off the text perfectly, BUT if done wrong will be the only thing you see. Be wary of glowy highlighting around text that makes it look like it's got a neon sign around each letter. Also, dark black shadowing does not (usually) look professional.
- Paintings used as digital art. Ok, sometimes this can totally be done well and look amazing! I've seen it. But, it can also be done really poorly and must be treated with caution.
- Poor model choices. This one's so hard--especially if your budget is tight and you can't afford premium stock photos--but it's crucial that your models a) fit the descriptions of your novel b) don't look awkward. Come on, you know what I'm talking about ;-)
-Unprofessional. This is kind of a catchall for anything I forgot to mention. When you hold up the book next to a traditionally published novel, can you tell the difference? If so, that's a fail (in most cases).

*This one is a particular pet peeve of mine. Where the title and authors name is placed, their relative size, and their font is a big consideration to the overall continuity of the book.

Why you shouldn't trust yourself--probably.

I may be belaboring the point here, but far too many people  seem to have a misconception about what constitutes a good book cover. I see on Facebook or through Twitter where people post covers of their books and I cringe because they are doing a disservice to their book.

To be majorly honest here, most people cannot create their own book covers and do a good job of it. The obvious exceptions to this are people who are designers themselves (and even then, they should put in the research to make their book competitive within their market).

To be fair, you may have a fantastic idea for your book, but in order to bring that idea to life, your cover designer may need to change things in order for it to look visually appealing or to fit the market. Trust them.

Again, I'm not setting myself up to be some magical guru who knows everything about cover design. I will say I can typically spot a "good cover" over a bad one. Being a member of the Bookstagram community on Instagram, I also know how majorly important a good cover is to the success of a book on that social media platform. I can't tell you how many times I have people comment on my posts for the sole purpose of saying a cover is pretty/stunning/amazing etc. And you know what they usually say next? That they need to add it to their TBR pile or that they need to purchase it.

See a recorded talk I did on this very subject: Writer Chat Book Cover | Guest Talk

What do you think? Was I too harsh? Do you see what I see? Do you have a book cover pet peeve? I'd love to know in the comments below.