The Secret to a Great Cover Design

Hopefully you’ve realized that a book cover is a valuable asset to your book and can help determine the success of your book. Therefore, you decide you’d like the best cover ever. So, you start doing research and what you find are famous books by famous authors who’s covers are creative and sometimes very unique. However, these authors (or better yet publishers) can do this because their name is what is going to sell the book, not the cover. If they literally just want to put their name and title on the cover, they could and they’d still sell their book to all of their fans – but they might be missing out on potential new fans. The larger your established reader base is, the more risky designs you can try.

What self-publishing authors don’t typically realize is that the best cover might not be the most beautiful, unique, or innovative design. It’s the cover that is going to catch the attention of a target reader, communicate the genre, setting, and tone, and give them a general idea of the emotional investment they’re about to make all within 3-5 seconds. This is the first step to selling your book because if your cover is intriguing enough, they will click on your book and read the description. If your cover doesn’t convey the necessary ideas to the reader in those 3-5 seconds (aka an unprofessional cover), then it doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing book description ever written – because they’re never going to read it.

What you should do as a self-publishing author

First, determine your genre. You would think this would be straightforward, and for some people it is, but you’d be amazed how many times I’ve received the response of either “What is a genre?”, “I’m not sure”, or “I think it’s ___”. If you don’t know your genre, then you have to figure it out because if you don’t know it, how are your readers going to? And if they don’t know, why would they buy your book?

Second, determine your target audience. This is so very important I’m going to repeat it. Second, determine your target audience. And don’t tell me men and women ages 18-65. No, I’m sorry, you need to be more specific. That’s a great general audience, but who is your target audience. For example, if your book is a romance, who’s going to relate best to your characters? Women 21-30; women 40-50; women who prefer a clean romance; women who read erotica? Determine what famous authors are the most similar to your plot and look at their target audience. This will give you a better understanding of yours. If you cross genres, you need to pick which genre is more prominent as that will determine the target audience and your cover design.

Third, do your own research. Watch the top 100 on Amazon in your genre. Get a feel for the types of cover designs, the images and colors used. You are going to be competing with those books. You want your cover to make a reader go “oh, that looks like such and such book, I wonder if it’s just as good”. You don’t want to copy or look identical to other covers, but you want to give the reader the same feeling they get from the bestselling books. This will increase your chances of selling.

Fourth, understand that not all designers are created equal. If you only want to spend $100 on a cover, you’re going to get what you pay for. Even if the designer does good work they probably don’t understand the market. On the flip side, a designer for a large publisher who costs $3000 might not be the best choice either because they design for large authors whose books are going to sell regardless – therefore they may produce beautiful covers but that doesn’t mean they’re effective for a self-publishing author. Your best bet is to find a designer who understands the market, is in your budget, and is someone you can trust. Remember, when you’re hiring a book cover designer you’re hiring them for their knowledge just as much as you are for their skill. 

Fifth, if you have ideas for your cover, share them, but let your designer recommend their ideas as well. If you hired a designer who knows the market, they want to design you a cover that is going to sell your book first, and a cover you love second. However, more often then not, designers have to give in to what the author wants compromising what could’ve been a very effective cover design. Remember, you are designing the cover for your readers, not for yourself so be sure to take your designers’ recommendations seriously.

Sixth, don’t be clever, be clear. Sometimes, symbolism can work well as long as it’s paired with a straightforward title, or other imagery that conveys the appropriate information. However, most of the time authors choose symbolism when it will make no sense to the readers at all. Or they decide to do a very detailed scene from their book on the cover which just looks muddled when small. Your cover is your selling point – think of it like a billboard. How often do you see a cluttered billboard? Usually, it’s a single image, with a short phrase that gets the general idea across to you. Your covers main purpose is to attract the attention of a reader so they will read the description and reviews. That’s it. Therefore, it’s better to have a strong cover that attracts readers and sells more books even if it’s not completely accurate to your story.

So what’s the secret?

Well, if you combine all of the above, that’s the secret. You want your cover to relay the genre, setting, tone, and an emotional feeling all within 3-5 seconds to draw in readers. In order to accomplish that, you need to determine your genre and target audience, do your own research, find the best designer for you, and trust yourself and your designer to come up with a cover design that makes readers want to read your book because it reminds them of another great book they just read. It’s much better to have a straight-forward design over a clever design because the best cover is the cover that sells the most books.

Disclaimer: The book covers in the image above were not designed by me but are provided as examples for the article.


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Tweet: The Secret to a Great Cover Design via @TugboatDesign http://bit.ly/greatcover #selfpublishing #authors

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