Book Cover Design: Simplicity is Key

Writers are great at, well, writing. No matter how talented the author’s literary skills are, most are writers and not designers. As a writer, you’re focused on details, whereas designers need to focus on a simplistic image that will capture a reader’s attention and convince them to pick up, or click on a book.

Some authors may not realize, especially new authors, that a book cover can make or break your book sales. You have roughly 3 seconds to capture a readers attention – if a cover is too detailed/busy/etc. readers are just going to scroll on by because they are looking for something interesting. When most people think of the word ‘interesting’ they think that to be interesting you have to include a variety of things, because there’s no way just one or two images can be interesting. Right?

Wrong. Look at some of the bestsellers in the past few years.

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Not only does The Husband’s Secret have one simplistic cover, it has THREE. If there was going to be a redesign, they could have easily made it more detailed, but they chose to make each one simple. Why? Simple sells. The colors, the title, and the way it makes you feel is what sparks your curiosity to want to know more about it.

It’s also a good idea to let go of the thought that simplicity = cheap. Just because the cover is simple, people think that there wasn’t much time or energy put into the design. Usually that’s the opposite, at least from my experience. It’s harder to come with with a simplistic idea to represent a book, because you have to brainstorm concepts that can represent the book through symbolism and other semiotics. Sometimes a designer has to think outside of the literal visual of a story.

Take Twilight for example: the apple represents the ‘forbidden fruit’. Stephanie Meyer notes on her website

“I used the scripture from Genesis (located just after the table of contents) because I loved the phrase “the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.” Isn’t this exactly what Bella ends up with? A working knowledge of what good is, and what evil is. The nice thing about the apple is it has so many symbolic roots. You’ve got the apple in Snow White, one bite and you’re frozen forever in a state of not-quite-death… Then you have Paris and the golden apple in Greek mythology—look how much trouble that started. Apples are quite the versatile fruit. In the end, I love the beautiful simplicity of the picture. To me it says: choice.”

If your designer hands you a cover that looks simple, take some time to absorb the idea before jumping to the conclusion that they didn’t spend enough time on it and that it’s too simple thus it won’t work. Simplicity can work in your favor if it’s done correctly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with a handful of authors who can find that simplistic idea that works well for their cover design. But the majority of authors do not have a designer’s eye, and that is perfectly okay. If you are one of those authors, you just have to make sure that you hire a professional designer that you can trust.


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