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What Makes a Good Book Cover

Liz here.

Unlike Diana and Jen, who gave you great tips on book covers, I'm coming at this as a non-artistic person and a traditionally published author. I haven't had to create a cover or hire someone to do it for me. In other words, I look at this topic like a reader.

And whether you're creating a cover, hiring someone to do it for you, or working with a traditional publisher on a cover, you have to think like a reader. If a cover appeals to you, likely it will appeal to a reader. 

1. It should be attention grabbing. There are lots of choices out there for books, especially with the boom in self-publishing. Your book has to stand out. This cover is beautiful, and the burst of light got my attention right away. Love this one. 

  2. As Diana and Jen stated earlier this month
, it should tell the story of the book in pictures. I just finished reading The Illusionist's Apprentice  by Kristy Cambron. The cover tells you what you need to know. It's about an illusionist, it's set in the 20s (you can tell by the style of dress), and yes, roses do appear in the story (pun intended). 

 The same goes for my book, Snow on the Tulips. You can tell it's WWII by the style of dress, that it's in the Netherlands by the windmill and the tulips, and that planes play a part in the story. In the first draft of this, it had infantrymen. Though I loved that incarnation, they didn't have anything to do with the story, so I asked for that to be changed. 

3. It should set a mood. All my WWII covers are dark, because of the time period and the storylines. They aren't lighthearted, and the covers convey that. 

Karen Witemeyer writes fun, light romances. And her covers reflect that. This is her first book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. You can see the rough-looking man stepping on the well-dressed woman's hem. And by how she's holding her hand, she's none too happy about it. You know you're in for some sparks if you pick this book up.

And nobody does romantic covers better than Barbour.Matchmaker Brides is just so inviting. Have a cup of tea and enjoy a few stories. 

Second Chance Brides was a harder cover to come up with. There are a wider range of time periods in this one. In the end, we authors voted for this one. And I love it. The cover screams romance.

So tell us, what about a book cover would make you buy that book?  

Cover Design from a Pro's POV

Jen here:

Last week, Diana kicked off this month’s discussion of what makes a good cover. I am a graphic designer, and I do book covers, so I come at it from a slightly different perspective.

Covers Cost Money

A good cover will cost you money. A cover is not sticking up a stock photo, adding the title and your name, and calling it good. Editing and cover design are your two biggest expenses in creating a book, if you are an indie publisher. Whether your barter, trade, or pay cold, hard cash, expect to pay for a good cover. Once you have this mindset, you can approach cover design like an asset in your business.

Your cover is your first and biggest marketing piece. It is what people will see before they know anything about your book. It may be the thing that grabs their attention in the midst of a page of thumbnail images in your genre. It will be what graces every ad and promo piece you do. It’s worth putting in serious money on this. When I worked for a Big 5 publisher, our routine, bottom-line budget for a cover was $3,000. I’m not saying you have to pay that much; you should be able to get a good, custom cover in the $500-$1,500 range.

Finding a Designer

Ask other authors, especially those with covers that you love, who their designers are. Often, authors will credit their designers on the copyright page and/or in the acknowledgments.

You can also go to sites such as 99Designs, Fivver, and Reedsy to find designers who are willing to work on a budget.

How to Hire a Book Cover Designer

You need to prepare a creative brief. This will tell the designer the format, trim size, and genre. Additionally, it should include information like:
  •      Is it part of a series?
  •      Are you looking for branding?
  •      Do you want a back cover?
  •      Will you be including endorsements or blurb?
  •       What other uses will you have for the cover?
  •       What is the theme of the book? Is there an image in the book that represents this?
  •       What is the tone of the book? Lighthearted, serious, scary?
  •       Who is the book’s audience?

The best way to work with a designer is to show him or her images of what you are looking for. Grab covers, faces, backgrounds, colors, graphics, etc. The more info you can give your designer, the closer you will both get to understanding each other and you being happy with the final project.

Look at his or her portfolio to see if it contains work similar to what you envision. Read the reviews and feedback. Make sure you understand the contract. And it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, get a contract!

What You Need to Know About Design
While you won’t be designing the cover, you need to know some general principles of cover design so you can make an intelligent decision as a business owner.
  •    More than anything else, the cover must represent your genre. Covers that don’t follow the conventions of their genre risk being overlooked. Romance readers know what a romance book should look like. It would never be confused with a horror novel. Sci-fi and fantasy have their particular conventions. Make sure you are choosing a designer that understands the conventions of the genre and that you have made it clear to them in the creative brief.
  •   The title and genre must be immediately identifiable at thumbnail size. That means intricately detailed images will get lost. You can get some wiggle room on the title. People don’t expect to be able to read a lot at thumbnail size. But the image must be intriguing enough for them to want to click on it to learn more.
  •   Do not try to convey the whole book with the cover. All you want to do is entice them. The cover needs to sell the book, not tell the story within the book.

   Armed with this information, you should be able to hire someone to create a cover you will be proud of.


Jennifer's latest books~ Protective CustodyA cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody by signing up at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com

Rules for Book Covers

Covers -You Gotta Love them

Diana here:

Face it, the old adage a picture is worth a thousand words is true. So does your cover, or if it doesn't, it should.

If you’re in charge of your writing career knowing what makes a good cover is important.

I’m not a graphic designer, but I can use Canva.com to achieve a simple cover. With photoshop elements to come up with something that looks okay. Or, can I?

I thought I could. I’m able to put together digital scrapbooks without much trouble. Then I realized to make a cover look amazing you need to know how to blend two or three photos together, so they look like one. There are drop shadows, filters, and trying to remove the background from a model’s hair, so it looks amazing in the photo.

girl in the photo from graphic stock

I failed at this one. I spent many hours trying to get the background out of this photo.

Fortunately, Tandem Services took my ideas and produced this great cover. Notice they flipped the model? I wouldn’t have thought it would make a difference. That’s because I think like a writer, not a graphic designer.

And then there’s the font.


Font—should be easy but it’s not. Some fonts look much better on a historical than a contemporary, or what about fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction. And there are thousands of free and even more you can buy to get the right look for your genre.

Since I’m not a graphic designer, I’ll let Jennifer tell you more about design next week.

Here are a few rules everyone needs to know when it comes to a good cover.

Does it look good in black and white? Why? Because Kindle Paperwhites are grayscale (black and white for non-graphic artists) and you want your cover to sparkle on that device, especially if you do an ad with Amazon.

If you make the cover small (the size you see on the screen at the online booksellers) can you read the title and authors name?

When it’s small, is it a miniature cover, or do you have to put your nose on the screen to figure out what’s on the cover?

Print it out, stick it on a cabinet or wall, walk away about 15 feet. Can you read it?

Is the cover a rainbow of colors? It’s best to stick with 3 main colors, including the font color.

Do the colors reflect the genre of the book? You wouldn’t want a childlike painting on the cover of a thriller. Romance should have a softness about it, whereas mysteries and crime might be hard-edged and dark or gray.

Is this book part of a series? Then the covers should look similar in tone. 

Start with these ideas when making or choosing a cover. Come back next week for more about covers with Jen.

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