About a year ago I talked about the importance of decent book cover design and I think it’s time to revisit the subject. There is a wide range of styles and approaches to book cover design and being a graphic designer myself, I find some are more successful than others. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that the cover is not important.
A well designed cover is vital. There are millions of authors and seemingly billions of books all competing for the consumer’s hard earned cash. Your cover is your first impression, your initial pitch, that buyers are going to rely on to make a snap decision. Will they pick it up or pass it by? Does it deserve a gander on the inside or will it stay there on the shelf. The principle is generally the same in a bricks-and-mortar store or a virtual one with maybe one exception that I will address later.
There is a trend today towards illustrations or the use of photography to mimic the painterly feel that predominates a majority of cover designs. Take a look at Lee Child’s, James Patterson’s, David Baldacci’s or John Grisham’s catalog of titles. If I were able to remove the title and author’s name from all of those covers I would put money on it that you would be unable to tell one book from another.
There is a lot of black, red, and green out there. A central subject (a silhouetted figure or a US flag for instance) is generally spotlighted against a deep red or dark green background that gradates to black shadows towards the edges. The author’s name is emblazoned in 144 point condensed type face across the top or bottom third of the book in embossed gold foil and the title gets similar treatment filling another third of the cover leaving very little room for the cover illustration to peek through from behind all that lettering.
The job of a good cover is to make your title to stand out from the sea of other books screaming, “Pick me up! Buy me!” A unique and well conceived design can mean the difference between “a good buy” and a “good bye.” I have to admit that I am little conflicted on which direction to urge you in. On one hand if you have written a high-octane thriller or a steamy romance novel your audience probably expects to see a certain type of cover. This would explain why the dozen covers above all look so similar. Publishers must think that that sort of design helps to sell books.
In some cases you may be able to straddle that line of fitting in or standing out. Take for instance the cover for Thomas Mullen’s The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers. I haven’t read it nor do I know what it is about but I would assume from the cover art (and bullet holes) that it is a gangster story (for I do believe that a cover should give a clue about what lies beneath it). Many of the same elements can be found on this cover that were used in the Baldacci, Child, Grisham covers: silhouetted figure, red and black color scheme, fade to black. But it is done in such a way that it serves as a contrast. Take a look. I replaced one of the 12 books with the Firefly Brothers. Does it stand out a little more stylistically, yet still look comfortable among books of a similar genre? I think this is a comfortable compromise that you might strive for.
The designer in me is always drawn in by a unique cover and I don’t think I am alone in that respect. A bold graphic approach will always catch my eye. I don’t buy a book based on a cover but I do stop and inspect it based on a cover design. If a publisher or author was bold enough to stand up for a design that breaks with convention then I might be able to expect the same on the inside. Getting a book into the hands of a prospective buyer is half the battle and an arresting cover design can help make that happen. The rest is up to how well the author did his or her job. Below are a couple of cover designs that I happened across. I have not read any of them and cannot speak to the content but I would definitely stop and pick up any of these:
At the top of this post I stated that design considerations are pretty much the same for traditionally printed books and e-books. There is one thing that you need to be aware of as you (or your designer) are creating covers for e-books. The market place for e-books is the web and instead of tables or shelves filled with books that you can pick up and inspect, the e-book is at a little bit of a disadvantage in that the cover is in almost all circumstances displayed as a small thumbnail. You might be able to click on it and look at an enlarged image of the cover but the first experience a shopper has of e-books is of a postage stamp sized cover. Keep that in mind as you design. A cover can look great at the 6 x 9 inch size but when it is reduced down to an inch high it may become absolutely indecipherable. So do just that, reduce it down and gang it up with bunch of other cover images from the same genre, like I have done above. How does your design hold up? is your eye drawn to it? If not, send it back to your designer.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. That may very well be true but you can sell a book by its cover if you do a good job.
Question: what are your thoughts on Cover Design? Is it better to fit in with the rest of the crowd or do you feel it is important to be different from the pack?