Books are products. They’re a highly creative part of the author, but sales and readership still determine their success. As consumer goods, they need to be attractive in order to compete in the market and cover design plays an integral part in this. Fortunately, tips are an easy thing to come by.
Illustration, font, layout, blurb, every part of the cover can elicit a particular response from a potential buyer. And well-read customers are the hardest to impress. All potential authors should know how different parts of a cover affect a book’s reception. Those intending to self-publish are especially advised to take great care with their work’s presentation.
One of the first things to draw a customer’s eye is the artwork. Its theme, colours, structure and quality all contribute to the overall effect of the cover design. Even authors on a budget should make sure the illustration, at the very least, reflects their work. It should also make it stand out on a bookstore’s crowded shelves.
From eye-catching (the bronze and black curves of Madeline Miller’s Circe) to simple and clever (Sally Rooney’s Normal People in a sardine can), the illustration on the cover of even established authors serves as a book’s first selling point. A good one makes the customer pick up the book. A bad or stereotypical one may be completely overlooked.
Text & Font
The second feature to hook a potential buyer is the cover’s text. Is the author famous? Is the book endorsed and by whom? Why does the font look like that other bestseller’s? These kinds of questions will flit through the customer’s mind as soon as they pick up the book to examine it.
How the text is styled – big, bold, cursive, varied – can indicate the nature of the contained narrative. It can also fit the book in a particular genre, like crime fiction. The font can even associate the work with another. Think back to Philippa Gregory’s book series, including The White Queen that got its own TV show, and the string of mimics that designed their books exactly like hers. A clever marketing strategy to attract the readership of historical fiction. The risk? It can easily backfire, earning the scorn of misled readers.
The text on the back of a book is one of the hardest things to write. It has to summarise and sell the story in a few lines. This task is made harder still without nice reviews filling the empty spaces. Something important to remember is that, unless we’re talking about an ebook, customers aren’t going to stand around for more than a minute or two holding a novel to read the blurb. For that very reason, it needs to be concise but striking in order to ‘entice a purchase’, as Alison Baverstock explains on Writers & Artists Yearbook.
This small section of writing is there to sell a specific book as a product, not the author’s philosophies or life story. So the best advice is, firstly, to pinpoint the narrative’s key attractions. And, secondly, describe them in a way that also conveys what the reader will get out of the literary experience and, of course, their purchase.
How the illustration and text is arranged on the front, back and spine of the book is important to its appearance and the reader’s convenience. Eyesores are not ideal – garish colours and contrast, poor sizing and alignment of the different features. Unless you’re already proficient in publishing software like Adobe InDesign, the safest route is to hire a reliable cover design professional.
Explore the services available online, especially the appeal of their displayed covers, and make an informed choice based on your standard and budget. 99Designs, for example, has two systems: hire a cover designer whose work you admire for around £189-£769 or start a contest between dozens of professionals starting at £239. It’s helpful and time-saving to already have an idea, as precise as possible, of what you want the book to look like. Keep an eye out for covers with details or whole designs that match that dream. Then be patient as the back-and-forth process gradually makes it a reality.
It sounds like a lot of work, but designing your book’s cover can be a very special experience, as long as you make a careful plan and don’t let the ins and outs of the business overwhelm you. Knowing the industry and the intended publication as well as possible can ensure that its packaging turns out as striking and marketable as it deserves.
Explore other books with great covers…