Originally published in June 2013.
Since launching Damonza.com 18 months ago, I have designed well over 400 covers, researched many successful books and their covers in all genres, and generally kept up with trends in book cover design worldwide. Through the knowledge, book cover design inspiration and experience I have gained over this time, I have realized that MANY indie authors are going about their covers the wrong way, and ultimately this is hurting their book sales.
Unfortunately, this is partly my fault.
The reason that I am (partly) to blame is that, as a paid service provider to my client (the author), I’ve been guilty of trying to give them what they ask for, instead of giving them what they need. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, and I probably should have come to this realization earlier, but however amazing the author’s literary talents are, there’s a reason why they are writers and not designers. The skills involved in transforming words and sentences into story and imagination are formidable, skills I certainly don’t possess. But they don’t translate into creating a single image that will convince a potential reader to pick up your book or click on your cover.
It’s obvious how important an effective book cover is. It can literally make-or-break your book sales. According to Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, a good cover is “…the visual embodiment of everything your book represents. Great covers, through their imagery alone, can communicate genre, topic, mood and setting. A great cover image makes a promise to the reader. It helps them recognize your book as one they’ll enjoy reading.” In his free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (terrible cover!), Coker describes how one author went from sales of five or six per day to over a hundred per day only through a change in her book cover. It was also a good book, but without a strong, convincing cover, nobody would ever know.
After designing hundreds of covers, in many different genres, I know what looks good, I know what works and I know what sells. Which leads me to express my plea to authors: You decide what goes on inside your book. Let me decide what goes on the cover.
One of the most common requests I get from clients is to depict a particular scene from the book on the cover. It happens all the time, and is a good example of what doesn’t work on a book cover. The potential reader is glancing at your cover for maybe two seconds. TWO SECONDS! There could be an incredibly detailed scene on your cover that shows the protagonist running down the road after her lover in the rain of a downtown Chicago neighborhood, conveying a real sense of lost love, hope and anguish. But in TWO SECONDS nobody is going to see that. What they’re going to see is a tiny thumbnail smudge and a typical indie author mistake of trying to put too much information on the cover. That will turn potential readers away far more often than it will convince them to click on that image.
Unfortunately, there is still a perception that traditionally published authors write better books than self-published authors. Whether or not that is true isn’t relevant. Books that are perceived to be by indie authors don’t sell as well as those perceived to be by traditionally published authors. And the first indicator a potential reader gets on which camp this author falls into is through that thumbnail cover image. Traditional publishing houses will pay $3000-$5000 dollars for a book cover. And it shows in the cover – not through the complexity of the cover, but the simplicity of it. The key to a great cover is NOT through creating a key scene from the book, but through evoking an emotion or telling a story in the simplest way possible, so the reader can see it, understand it and act on it in those crucial two seconds.
Viewing my portfolio, you will see many covers that have scenes created on the cover. Those were designed based on the brief from the author. However, moving forward, I will be strongly recommending that authors do not have covers containing scenes from their book. I realize that may disappoint more than a few authors, and I’m pretty sure I will lose out on work because of this, but if I want my work to represent the best of cover design and ultimately translate into higher sales for the author, then it’s a decision I choose to stand by.
What makes an effective cover design?
Keep it simple. Always. Remember that a potential reader is looking at that cover for only two seconds before deciding to click on it or not. Whatever the cover has to say needs to be conveyed in less time than that. A sign of an amateur cover (and by association, an amateur author) is a cover that is too busy.
Far more important than any image on the cover is legibility of the title. If you can’t read what it says at the smallest thumbnail size, it won’t get clicked on. In short, if the image interferes with the title, change the image.
The genre of the book needs to be conveyed in those same two seconds that the potential reader is viewing the image and reading the title. Certain genres are automatically represented by certain images, colors, fonts or styles. Stick with what works. A good cover designer will already know this.
This is the key ingredient for a great cover design that sells. This is what will convince a potential reader to click for more. The cover needs to convey an emotion quickly and simply, whether that emotion is love, lust, suspense, fear, etc.
Many cover designers will continue to create over-complicated covers that try to cram in too much, and this will cost the authors sales as they will be perceived as “amateur”. That is the unfortunate nature of a competitive marketplace, and unlikely to be remedied anytime soon. This will also continue to separate the self-published authors from the traditionally published authors, in terms of quality and sales.
Professional quality covers don’t have to cost thousands of dollars, but until authors let professional cover designers do what they do best, their decisions may cost them dearly in the long run.