We are often told, “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” but that’s exactly what we do. Your book cover is a retail package; your book is a product and the cover is the package that tells everyone about your book. People have short attention spans, and in today’s world we make decisions (including book buying decisions) in less and less time. In fact, you have about three seconds to attract a reader’s attention, and for buyers to judge whether or not there is something in that book for them.
Traditional publishers know this, and will have a professional designer create the book cover because they want a book cover that appeals to potential readers, not that appeals to the author. The publisher won’t care so much what the author wants or that the author is very attached to a particular photo or font or book title. The publisher will care what the reader wants, and so should you. Their designers will do a lot of research into a book’s genre, look at the covers of best sellers in that market, and determine what will best answer the reader’s question: “What’s in it for me?”
This is the approach you must take as well, because when you self-publish your book, you are the publisher. For this reason, we are starting to use the language “indie” or “independent” publishers to describe authors who self-publish. There comes a time when every author must take off their writer’s hat and put on their indie publisher hat.
Many authors don’t recognize that they are also independent publishers, and so they tend to make questionable business decisions that are usually driven by budget, lack of knowledge, and a firm commitment to creating the book they want, and not the book their readers will want.
Many authors also fail to understand that they are in the entertainment business, and overlook what they are really selling, such as romance, intrigue, or adventure—or in the case of a nonfiction book, a promise of expanded knowledge.
Because books are entertainment, not only should covers address what the reader wants, they shouldn’t be boring, tacky, or poorly designed. One of the greatest forms of entertainment today continues to be movies. Think about a movie poster; it’s the cover or packaging for the movie. Can you imagine if the movie company didn’t consult designers when it created the move poster? If the poster was designed by the director and included his favorite, I dunno, BIRD photo when the movie was really about dogs? Or if it was an adventure movie starring Bruce Willis and used Comic Sans for the title font?
Your book cover is the movie poster, and it makes a promise to the reader of entertainment or increased knowledge, and hints at what the reader will gain from your book, such as romance, intrigue or adventure.
Take a look at your book cover. What does it promise?