Inexperienced designers, or authors who attempt to make their own covers, tend to make these same common mistakes which make it look like an amateur design.
Trying to match all of the details perfectly
For the most part, cover designers are working with stock photography, unless you happen to find a designer who can do custom photo shoots for you. Therefore, the designer can only use what already exists. If you want a particular item/person/animal on your cover, there may be times you have to compromise the exact details in order to create an effective cover. For example if you’re putting a dog on your cover, yes you’ll want to use the same breed the dog is, but the dog might not have the same markings as what’s described in the book. Most readers aren’t going to care enough to look back at the cover to see if the dog matches the description in the book. If you’re using a silhouette of a dog, sometimes you may have to use a silhouette that looks like it could be the dog even if it happens to be a different breed.
Also keep in mind that although designers can alter images, we can’t change an angle an object is pointing, or we can’t (at least not easily) change clothing, or the position of someone’s arm or body, so using an image that’s more powerful can be more important than using something that 100% matches your story.
That said, you don’t want to be so far off that you mislead your readers, so you have to find the right balance between the truth and a cover that will sell your book.
Not focusing on emotion
How a cover makes a reader feel can be way more effective than what’s actually on the cover. You need to appeal to their heart so you need to pay attention to your color scheme and font choices. Want the reader to feel happy? Use bright yellow or a light blue with a light script font. Want the reader to feel suspenseful? Use red and black, or blue and black with a bold font. Want the reader to feel love? Use pink or red with a handwritten font. You can send a powerful message just by using certain colors and fonts, because humans are physiologically set up to react to them that way. So use that to your advantage!
On the flip side, nonfiction covers need to appeal to the mind, not the heart. You want a straightforward image so readers instantly know exactly what the book is about. Keep it simple, yet try to be creative with the image while still getting the main topic across. Easy, right?
Trying to be different or revolutionary
If your goal is to become a bestselling author, then you need to have a cover that looks like the other bestselling authors in your genre. Just like all other products out there, book covers need to follow design and genre conventions so readers know exactly what type of book yours is. Imagine if a thriller movie placed a happy couple on their movie poster making it look like a sweet romance and that’s how they advertised the movie on TV. How would you feel buying tickets and 30 minutes into the movie you realize that it’s not a sweet romance after all? You’d be upset and feel like you’ve been lied to. That’s what you’re doing to your readers if you’re not properly conveying your genre. Therefore, you need to follow the right design stereotypes for your book so readers know what to expect.
It’s great if your book wins awards, but it’s better to use text than the “sticker” provided. A solid cover design is going to be ruined by adding an award sticker to your cover, or it’s going to distract from the focal point. You want to appeal to the emotional side of the reader with the book cover, not the logical side. So it’s better to place your award information in the book description on the back cover. Or, you can put in small text on the front something along the lines of “award-winning author”.
Poorly chosen fonts and placement
A font can make or break your design along with it’s placement. If you have a basic image but excellent font and placement, that will always be more powerful than an epic image with horrible font and placement which will still look amateurish. Sometimes authors think they need their font to “stand out” so they add crazy effects, colors, or drop shadows to make the title “pop”. However, you don’t want your title and author name to look super-imposed over the image or like an after-thought, you want it to look natural, like it belonged there all along. One way to achieve this is by using natural contrast.
Something usually forgotten is the kerning, the amount of space between each letter. You rarely want to go with the default spacing, you almost always want to increase the spacing. The more space you add, the more epic/dramatic the impact. People tend to think the bigger and bolder the font, the more it will stand out, when sometimes, all it takes is a little spacing to achieve the right impact.
Your title font should communicate your genre, while the author name and other text should be a more standard serif or sans-serif font that compliments the title. It’s best to have at most 2-3 different fonts in your design. The size of your author name will depend on your genre, so again you’ll want to look at the bestsellers and see if the author name is large, medium or small. The myth floating around is “I don’t want my name large because I’m not important yet”. Hint: Readers don’t know you’re not famous yet, so do what works best for your genre and cover design.
Forgetting to establish hierarchy
If everything on the book cover is the same size – the image, the title, the author name – nothing is going to stand out because it is all completing for your attention. So you must establish hierarchy and prioritize what you want people to see first, then second, and then third etc. Most of the time, it’s either going to be the main image or title that is the focal point of the design, the first thing that someone will see.
Using incorrect colors
Don’t just grab a color willy nilly for your text, make sure it compliments or contrasts well with the design. For some designs, you can grab a color within the design to change the text color that way it compliments the design. If you want the best contrast, light text over a dark background will always be your best option and dark text over a light background. If you want a color that compliments the design, but there’s not much to choose from within the image, you can use a color wheel to find a color based off the main color of your image.
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