Three Tips to Ensure a Winning Book Cover

Book cover design by George Salter
Book cover design by George Salter (Photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College)
Independent authors are often accused of unprofessional book covers...As an indie, how can you make sure your book covers look professional? That's important because the cover is a first, fast visual signal to your readers that you have produced a high quality book. 

A good cover says "trust me, this is a good read!"

Indies do not have the advantage of published authors. That's one of the strong points for going traditional and getting your book published by one of the Big Six - though many trad-pubbed authors complain that they are presented with book covers that "suck" and that there's nothing they can do to change them...

What are the options? Get a good designer to do your cover of course. If in addition to being a writer you're also a visual artist (like me, I'm a painter too), the temptation is strong to do your own cover. Until you get really good with photo shop and fonts, resist it! Typography is a world unto its own and you can't learn it overnight. Consider the simple act of positioning titles on the cover: it's an art and that means you can't learn it overnight either.

Book cover designed by Cliff Roberts
Book cover designed by Cliff Roberts (Photo credit: Crossett Library Bennington College)
But don't despair! It's possible to develop some criteria to decide whether a book cover is good or not. After all, the designer you paid for may have produced a rotten cover and you need to be able to see that and fire him!

There are several points to keep in mind, considering though that, bottom line, it's inevitably a matter of personal taste. On my Pinterest site, I've collected a number of book covers that I happen to think are very successful but maybe you won't (as I said, tastes vary, de gustibus non disputandum...). You'll see, there are classics and also new titles from major authors coming out this fall -  all traditionally published. Take a look, here's the link, and come back, I'm waiting for you with my tips for a winning book cover.

TIP # 1: Don't clutter it! It has to be visually "easy to read", both the book title and your author name.

This is especially important in our digital age: Amazon (and other e-platforms) present book covers in stamp size, so the design has to shine through even in a minute size and in black and white (a lot of people are still reading on old-fashioned electronic ink e-readers like the Kindle - yes, it's become old fashioned!)

TIP #2: Pick a striking image related to what your book is about. This is by far the trickest part, and much depends on (1) your own taste, and (2) the book's genre. Steamy sex will be fine with suggestive parts of entwined naked bodies, chick lit or MG won't. Make sure your cover is in line with the market for your book, you don't want to disappoint your readers, much less mislead them! In short, the cover has to be in line with both the tone and content of your book.

If you can, go for the symbolic. That seems to be very much in fashion these days, go take another look at my Pinterest site: see how geometric and simple lines and primary colors (a lot of red, a lot of yellow) are used to great effect? Yet, they are not random lines or colors chosen because they're striking (though they are that to be sure).The point is they all contribute to build up a message which hints at what's coming in the book.

TIP #3: Make sure your image is unexpected and engages the reader. Obviously it has to be appealing, attractive. This is by far the hardest to come up with. However I must insist on the term "unexpected". That's crucial. A title may evoke an obvious symbolic image, but better stay away from the obvious. Try and think of something that is closely related but not so obvious. That will attract attention (the obvious is blah...)

Yes, I know, easier said than done!

I certainly found myself struggling to come up with good covers. For my FEAR OF THE PAST, I thought a lion head would be a nice symbol of the book's content: after all it's a family saga set in Sicily - the collapse of a once powerful family. Lions, as everyone knows, are the Kings of the Jungle. Plus I picked a Sicilian lion head, nicely hieratic the way they used to do them in Sicilian coat-of-arms and palaces. Yes, but...the trouble is, that's not really the main point of the book at all! It's all about how the last descendant, a brilliant American video game engineer, manages to revive the family fortunes. It's a story of collapse and revival - nothing to do with a lion! So that's a cover that would need redoing, no question about it and I'm working on it. Actually the whole book really needs a new title as well and I'm working on that too! And once the title is changed, the whole book needs to be revised - am working on that as well, wow! I will keep you posted as soon as I've solved my problems on this one!

Then, for the cover of my forthcoming novel A HOOK IN THE SKY, I ran into the difficulty of picking an image for the book cover that was both unexpected and engaging. The expected would be to put a big hook in a blue sky among white clouds. Something like this (ok, this is not blue but romantic seppia):

Easy and nicely symbolic but blah...Since the protagonist (who's a retiree), in his attempts to build a second life for himself, has a few memorable sexual adventures, I thought that a naked woman would be a good idea for the cover and that I could use one of my own paintings. Here it is:

I asked a friend who happens to be a hugely talented designer to come up with a cover (the name of her firm: ASBV). First she cropped the image and took away the dripping red line. Then she picked highly visual block lettering and put the red color back in. This is the result:

How do you like it? Please tell me what you think. I believe it's a very effective cover but is it too steamy? Please note the book is NOT erotica, it's contemporary fiction focused one how one Baby Boomer, upon retiring, tries to juggle his new life as his 20-year marriage collapses and (of course) he has some sexual adventures, including one very sexy young girl...

Now you may well ask, where's the hook in all this? She's a hooker? Yes, in a way, she is. She also happens to be crouching, her body's in the shape of a hook. Is that enough to entice readers or will it mislead them?

Please let me know what you think! I value your opinions...

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