It’s time for our third lesson! This week is all about book covers.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of a professional, eye-catching cover. If your cover is ugly, cheap-looking or amateurish, that alone will kill your book.
I’m not exaggerating. You might’ve written the greatest book in all of human history—but if the cover is bad, nobody will read it, and all your hard work will mean nothing.
This week, I’m going to show you how to keep your book off of Lousy Book Covers.
Hiring a Designer vs. Doing It Yourself
To get you started, here are a few designers with good-looking pre-made covers:
Understanding Design Trends
Whether you’re hiring a designer or making your own cover, it’s important to have a clear idea of what your cover should look like. You may already have a very specific sort of cover in mind, but don’t marry yourself to that idea just yet. The cover of your book has to be appropriate for its market, and your current dream cover might not be the right fit.
Your cover needs to have its own unique appeal, of course, but it also needs to blend in with the traditionally-published books in its genre, and that means sticking to certain established standards.
How do you figure out the standards? Study the other books in your genre.
When I was planning the cover of my first book, Flicker, I spent a lot of time studying young adult urban fantasy novels to get a feel for what kind of covers were selling and what kind of look readers expected. (In fact, I still spend a lot of time studying YA covers—partly out of habit, maybe, but mostly because I’m a big design geek.)
Gather plenty of inspiration. Check out Amazon bestseller lists and new releases on Goodreads. Pinterest is also a great place for this kind of research, as there are countless boards dedicated to beautiful book covers. Here’s mine, for example. When you’ve got a good understanding of what’s out there, make a list of what elements might work for your cover. Should your cover feature models that represent your characters, or should the cover be based more on typography and illustrations? Should you work with dark or light colors? What kind of mood are you trying to convey?
Design trends come and go, of course. A few years ago, for instance, you almost never saw a full human face on the cover of a YA novel. Nearly all the faces were cut off at the cheekbones, so you couldn’t see anyone’s eyes. I think the idea was to leave something to the readers’ imagination. The first three Mortal Instruments novels (published between 2007 and 2009) are a good example of this trend:
These days, while it’s still not unusual to see only partial faces on YA covers, most of the covers you see that feature human figures show the entire face. Take a look at the latter half of the Mortal Instruments series (published between 2011 and 2014):
Taken as a whole, the Mortal Instruments covers are a great illustration (pun fully and enthusiastically intended) of YA cover trends. The six covers all fit together—the overall look is cohesive, and they clearly belong to the same series—but you can see how the design trends have changed over the years this series was being published. Kind of fun, huh?
Sometimes, though, trends change so drastically that an entirely new cover becomes necessary, which brings us to our next section…
Redesigning Your Cover
One of the beauties of self-publishing is the incredible flexibility that it affords authors. If something’s not working—your cover, your title, some other part of your book—you have the power to change it any time you want to. You can experiment and find what works.
I’ve taken advantage of this flexibility from the get-go. Not only did I redesign the cover of my first book, I even changed the first chapter! But that chapter change-up is another story.
Even the big New York publishers redesign their covers from time to time, for a number of reasons. Maybe the original covers don’t accurately reflect the content, tone or genre of the book. Maybe the covers just aren’t enticing enough. Maybe the publisher wants to appeal to a new set of readers. The list goes on and on.
Here are a few recent examples of traditionally-published books that have been redesigned.
The cover of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa was redesigned before the publication of the second book in the series:
My first novel, Flicker, originally had a very different cover. I liked it very much, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for it (along with a few paperback copies with the original cover), but I came to realize that it just wasn’t right. It was a good cover, but it wasn’t the best possible cover for my book—and that’s exactly what your cover has to be.
Flicker’s original cover didn’t look like the other books in its genre. When mixed in with the countless other YA fantasy titles on Amazon and Goodreads, it looked out of place. And so, a few months after I published Flicker, I decided to change the cover.
The new cover was brighter, more eye-catching and a better reflection of the fantastical nature of the book. More than that, it did wonders for my sales. If your sales are lagging, ask yourself if your cover could be the problem—and if you made your own cover, it may be time to hire a graphic designer.
Designing Your Own Cover
When I redesigned the cover of my first book, I did it myself. I know what you’re thinking: After I advocated so strongly for hiring a graphic designer, why would I ever try to create my own cover?
It’s because I made a rule for myself and I stuck to it:
Keep it simple.
That was my game plan when redesigning Flicker’s cover. A beautiful photo and striking typography would be the keys to my new cover. No muss, no fuss, just a quality cover.
I have design experience (I’m a former managing editor of a college newspaper, where I designed and laid out about half of every issue), but I’m not a true-blue graphic designer, and I know the limits of my skills. If I wanted to design the new cover myself, I had to keep it simple. Minimalist, if you will.
NEXT WEEK: Basics of marking your boo