What is good cover design?
by April Duffy, Executive Editor at Read Owl
Whether it’s for your online story, self-published e-book, or traditionally published paper book, if you’re an author publishing a piece of writing you’re probably considering what covering image you should use to gain the attention of potential readers.
Of course, not every book needs a great cover. If your book’s working title is Essay Essentials: with Readings and Samples or Operating a Backhoe, your title is enough to convince potential readers your book is of interest to them. In these cases, the quality of your information, ideas, and writing is what will sell your book to more readers, not the cover.
However your book called Making the Cut will need a cover that not only intrigues a potential reader to click or pick it up, but one that clearly identifies it as a weight loss guide by a TV personality, or a sports novel, or a mental health book about self-harm, or one of any number of topics the title could be alluding to.
Good cover design, in the most general terms, directly expresses what the book is about, without giving too much away. In other words a good cover is both general as to the content of the book but very specific about the subject.
Consider what you see while browsing the fiction section of your local bookstore; there’s a reason romance novels usually feature a couple on the cover in some sort of embrace, just as there is a reason mystery novels most often don’t show a person on the cover.
The romance novel is about the romance between two characters. Further, one of those characters might be royalty for example, and for many books in the genre that is a salient feature and so the cover should reflect that. Specific scenes or incidents from the story should not be put on the cover however as they don’t reveal any more about the character of the book and, even worse, might hold the potential reader’s attention too long, taking too many of the precious moments a potential reader gives a book, which would be better spent reading a blurb or synopsis.
Though it’s common in genres such as romance, you should be wary of putting images of people or places on your cover. A reader imagines a story in their mind’s eye as they read it. When this imagination is allowed to run free it will choose the perfect images to match the descriptions the author provides. Once you tell the reader what one or more of the characters look like, or what the setting looks like, the reader’s ability to imagine something that resonates with them is lost. Even if the image you choose is the exact image you perceived in your own mind’s eye when writing it, it will not be the perfect image for every ideal reader. In a genre like mystery, the motives of the heroes and victims are often unclear and usually the identity of characters or hiding places must be hidden from the reader for suspense, and so a person or place on the cover is just bad design.
What information does your reader need to know about the subject of your book? What image and text can best get that message across quickly and without giving too much away? Answering those questions is the first and most important step to great cover design.
ReadOwl is a network of book editors, designers, journalists and marketing professionals who love books and are excited by the potential they see in the current shift toward democratized publishing. ReadOwl assists authors in publishing their book, their way. Find out more at ReadOwl.com.