Your book cover design is the single most important marketing tool in your arsenal.
As Business of Illustration tells us, your book cover is a sales tool. It draws the reader to your book, catching their eye and intriguing them enough to pick it up or click through to the product page. It tells them what the story is about. It tells them who the audience is. It makes a promise of the genre you’re writing in.
All books are a product. You’re the company making a product for consumers. The book cover is the product packaging, and it has a lot of work to do. As an indie author, you wear many hats. The important thing to remember when you’re working on a book cover is not to be emotional about it. It’s best if you split your mind between marketing and creating.
Promise of the genre
One of the big things a book cover design has to do is tell what the genre is, so readers can easily identify it. If we were looking at Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (and forgetting that he’s a household name) utilizing a rose on a cover of his book could easily misconstrue it as a romance, when it’s more along the lines of epic fantasy. Likewise, if you were writing romance, you wouldn’t want to feature images on your book cover that could misconstrue it as another genre.
But, the great thing about the internet is you have all the research material you need right at your fingertips. Head on over to Amazon and start checking book covers for your genre and see what speaks to you as well as common elements in the top 100 in that genre. This is showing you what the readers are expecting your covers to look like.
Be sure you’re hitting common elements. For fantasy, illustrated covers are common. There may be a touch of magic, but there’s almost always a central figure who is also the central action of the cover. The covers aren’t muddled with a lot of distraction. While there are other elements in the book cover, most of the setting and everything else is often vague and not distracting from the main conflict: the character. It’s also interesting to note that fantasy covers are very similar for adult and young adult audiences. The one difference is in color choice: Adult fantasy is often more somber, while young adult is more colorful.
It represents your story
The book cover design must tell something about your story. This is a bit more difficult because, as a writer, you may not be as versed in portraying a story with a single, static image. Lighting, character positioning, and ambiance are great tools to portray the feeling of your story. An uplifting story would likely have more light and happier elements in it than a murder mystery, which would be somber and feature images that promise your genre.
Sometimes your cover may be an image from one of the scenes in your book, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The cover should show action or tension. This doesn’t mean you have to show an epic battle, but having your character positioned in a way that shows tension or action will intrigue your readers. If you think of most romance covers, you get an idea. Showing a couple embracing tells you this is romance; it portrays action and the tension of that heated embrace, and it often elicits emotions within you that are targeted by that genre.
This part is a bit trickier because it dips into your creative mind and cuts close to what your story is about. This often brings a romanticized sense in writers about their story. The important thing here is representing your story in a way that would sell the book. When writing up the description for your cover, imagine it, and ask yourself if you’d pick it up if it were sitting alongside a ton of really awesome covers.
Stay on target! Until you make a name for yourself, follow the example of the bestsellers. Make your cover resemble theirs as much as possible (while keeping it true to yourself and your brand). These covers are showing you what is selling. Until you have a larger following and can knock out a lot of sales with your books, it’s a bad idea to try something completely different than the tried and true method represented on the lists.
Don’t cut corners (and other don’ts)
Really, if you do, you’re shooting yourself in the foot and setting your book up for failure. Don’t cut corners with your book cover unless you’re really good at digital art. Don’t muddle it with a lot of different fonts. Don’t choose an awesome font that’s hard to read in a thumbnail (or hard to read no matter the size). Don’t muddle it with a ton of action and figures. Don’t make it so it’s hard to see when in thumbnail size.
Another big no-no is not finalizing your book cover design right away. When the artist returns the cover to you, it’s normally a time of euphoria. You love this book cover. Nothing has ever looked so fantastic! You want to marry the artist and settle down and make a big family because they’re an artistic genius! (Okay, that last part may be a stretch.)
The point is, it’s really freaking exciting to see a new book cover (even if it’s your fiftieth cover). Take some time to look it over. Get the excitement out of the way and look at it through the eyes of a marketing agent. Be sure to shrink it down to see if the elements work right when the image is smaller (as it will appear on sales pages). Preview it next to covers in your genre and see if it fits well with them. Scrutinize the crap out of your book cover design and ask for whatever changes you think need to be made to make that cover really pop.
The main takeaway of this article is not to be emotionally attached to your cover. You’ve written an epic story, now you need a book cover design that moves a boatload of copies. The issue arises when you make the face of your work so abstract or so muddled that it confuses readers. The story is what you should be attached to, the book cover is a tool to sell your book. Make it earn its keep! And remember, the book cover gets them in the door. Don’t let bad editing chase them off!