No, Designers Don’t Just “Slap Together” a Cover

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1106 Design

February 07, 2011

Advice abounds in the independent publishing community that training and experience are not necessary to produce an acceptable book cover. “I made my own cover for just $10,” trumpets a blogger. Or, “Buy our software for $37 and make book covers that are just as good as a designer’s” promises an ad. Both suggest that all one has to do is pick a royalty-free photo and add a title. A book cover can be “designed” in just 10 minutes.

Such words sound encouraging to new publishers venturing into an unfamiliar world. The problem is, this advice is dead wrong. Authors who follow it and display the results generally include a picture of a book cover that industry experts would only describe as hideous. Here are a few examples. The top row contains homemade covers. The bottom row, bestselling covers. See the difference?

At left, the top cover is a jumble. The title is unreadable because it’s placed on top of the image. This inexperienced author made a very common mistake: including every element of the title in pictorial form. We have a brain, a tack, and a bowl of scrambled eggs. We see nothing, because our eye wanders all over the place and has nowhere to rest. We’re confused. Contrast the cover at bottom left: The title is immediately visible, and the circular photo functions like a bull’s-eye, keeping our focus right there until we choose to wander down to the author’s name. The title fades into the black background, which tells us this book is a mystery. The picture tells us the story has something to do with a young girl. Our curiosity has been piqued. We want to know more.

Now look at the covers in the center: The top cover has almost no visual contrast. A dark title and subtitle are placed on a dark image, so it’s difficult to read in this small size, which is how it will most often be viewed online. The author’s name is nearly invisible. Compare this to the cover beneath: The title is immediately visible,  as is the author’s name. The sound “tick-tock” is usually very quiet, but on this cover, the huge type size and red color build suspense and a sense of danger. Can you feel your gut tighten as you slowly walk through a dark, cavernous room, where the softly ticking clock sounds as loud as an avalanche? We can’t wait to find out what will happen next.

Finally, see the covers on the right: The dinosaur on the top cover makes us look, but what does a dinosaur have to do with a blue flame? This cover misses the mark entirely because the cover illustration and the title tell two different stories. We have no idea what this book is about. On the bottom right cover, we can’t miss the title. The designer chose an easily-readable typeface, and then elongated and sharpened the letter P so it points to a pool of blood. Wow, this must be one strange sculptor! We don’t know what this book is about either, but we sure want to know more.

Perhaps it’s natural for authors to judge their own first attempt at book cover design favorably. After all, they began the process not knowing they could create a cover at all. While they deserve credit for the attempt, the problem is this judgment is usually made in isolation. If authors would take their homemade book cover to the nearest bookstore, I’m sure their self-evaluation would be quite different.

Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity, but your book must never LOOK self-published. Buyers are smart, and they want value for their money. A book cover tells them, in just a few seconds, one of two things: that the book is a good one, or that it is not. Which message do you want to send?

1106 Design works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards. Top-quality cover design, beautifully designed and typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert advice. All available from one convenient source. All offered with our most important service, hand-holding. Attractive pricing choices to fit almost any budget. Prompt, personalized service. Satisfaction guaranteed. We’ll take better care of you and your book than any “self-publishing company.” How may we help you? Post your comment here or email us using the Contact Us page.

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