Danger Ahead: Your Book Cover Is ALWAYS Your Business

Danger Ahead: Your Book Cover Is ALWAYS Your Business 1024 576 Reader Views

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers

We all know that book covers are an important sales device for books. It’s not just about art or even graphics. It’s also about marketing. There is danger in not knowing enough about them, even for an author who will be traditionally published by the biggest and best.

Some authors still insist on doing their own covers—or interfering with the professional judgment of the cover designer assigned to them by their publisher. You may have been told that the latter is a no-no, but that advice is only partially right. It’s important for do-it-yourselfers to have some knowledge of the what constitutes a good book cover, but all authors should have a handle on it so they can better partner with the pros—one assigned by a publisher or hired by the author. There is a difference between a partnership and a demanding author who knows only what she likes and little or nothing about book design. 

For this article I’ve included some essentials for any great book cover and some additional tips for e-book book covers.

Some of what makes a great cover for a paper or hardback book are the same for online sales, but some are different. I always suggest that those who can afford a great cover designer might find that money spent on a cover gives an author or self-publisher the most bang for her budgeted buck. At least it’s right up there with a hiring a great editor. Anyone who knows some of the covers of the earlier editions of HowToDoItFrugally books will be able to see the difference a great cover can make. Chaz DeSimone http://chazdesimone.com did the covers for my How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career and The Frugal Editor which can both still be seen on Amazon. He specially designed the font with coins and it’s a standout.

Note: There is a possibility that you will have two artists working on your cover because your cover designer may not be the artist whose fine art is incorporated into the graphic design. This is especially true for books of fiction.

Whether you are planning to use Amazon’s free cover feature to make your own cover, hire an expert cover designer, or work with one hired by your publisher, you need—at the very least—to be a partner in that endeavor. Here are some specifics for you to consider and question or make suggestions if you sense something is not quite right.

  • The font must be easy to read. The color shouldn’t blend into the background of the cover. It also shouldn’t be in a style that shouts a cut-and-paste sensibility. Any text on the cover should be large enough to read when the image is reduced to fit onto an online bookstore’s buy page.
  • All covers benefit if the title is big. Look at the books in the window at Hudson bookstore in airports when you travel. Those huge titles are that way for a reason.
  • The name of the author should also be big. You may think “I’m not famous enough for my name to be up in lights.” Don’t you believe it. If the name is big, many readers assume you’re an author to reckon with. Take another look at those books in Hudson’s window.
  • Use a subtitle. It’s your second chance after the title and the author’s name to sell the book. Your book of fiction might benefit from a subtitle, too, especially if it isn’t immediately recognizable as a fiction title rather than a nonfiction title. And creative writers of fiction might be able to come up with something better than “A Novel.”
  • Use a killer second subtitle on the back of the book. It’s your third chance to sell your book after your title and first subtitle and the words in it might appear in Amazon’s keyword list for your book which may increase buyer interest in your book. Don’t let the second one go to waste on your online bookstore pages. Use it in your synopsis.
  • Authors are often concerned about the artwork, and they should be. But not at the expense of that title and author name. Picture a book that’s mostly art with a thin little title at the top and a thin author’s name at the bottom or tucked into the corner of the artwork. That cover might be pretty but it is probably not much of a sales tool.
  • In addition to graphics, some book covers need eye-catching photos or illustrations, especially genres like children’s books. This may be an additional expense because even the best illustrators may not have the instincts or training of a cover designer.
  • Think about the back of the book. Think about it a lot. You’ll find ways to make sales tools like endorsements, blurbs, bios, QR codes, etc. work better for you in The Frugal Book Promoterhttp://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromo.
  • If you are hiring a cover artist, consider her or his marketing skills. DeSimone (mentioned above) had several market-smart suggestions for the original mockup I submitted to him for earlier editions of The Frugal Editor which will soon be published by Modern History Press in its third iteration. He also had suggestions to make the endorsements I gave to him for the back cover more effective. And when Modern History Press began publishing the entire HowToDoItFrugally Series, they—along with cover designer Doug West of ZAC Design—recommended my image be used as part of the branding effort they had planned for the series.

I mentioned the importance of considering how a cover will appear online above. Many millions more people will see your book online than in bookstores, even if your book becomes a New York Times bestseller. The e-book edition of your book will have an identical cover for marketing (branding) purposes, too. That means the cover for your paperback generally must do double duty for online sales even if you have not yet begun to consider offering it as e-book. Or maybe you are considering releasing your book as an e-book first. Here are a few more considerations for you: 

  • Your online book sales will get a real boost from those subtitles I mentioned above.  if they include keywords that help prospective readers find you. You’ve probably noticed that subtitles are getting longer and longer. Find all the keywords in The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or partnering with your publisher. Even that “how to” part of the subtitle is a keyword.
  • Your book’s branding benefits if the same design can be used for both the paperback and the e-book so you may have to balance the importance of branding against a busy design. One compromise to consider but not advised: Use an image of the hardcover design on the e-book design to tie the two together.
  • Your online book cover may be very tiny, as small as ¾ of an inch wide. Test the cover for your paper or hardback by photo shopping it to a thumbnail. Look at it critically. Will it sell your book online?
  • And do know that occasionally you can’t have it both ways. When Chaz and I were working on his cover for The Frugal Book Promoter, I wanted him to try dark green (the color of all that money the book will save authors). It would have popped against Amazon’s white background better, too. But by darkening the background of the cover, that great coin-font didn’t show up. It was a catch-22. No matter which we used, we both gained and lost something. So I went with his original design knowing the original font that he developed would be the eye-catching element of the cover, rather than the contrast of cover against the online bookstore’s white pages.
  • As you design your cover, keep in mind that e-book readers will not see the back cover on Amazon’s page. That makes it even more important that some of your best cover-sales techniques be included on the front cover. More prestigious publishers are using an endorsement (blurb) as part of the front-cover design.

Many self-publishers are now using templates offered free by printing services like Amazon’s. They can help you do a reasonably good job on your own, but give yourself enough trial-and-error time. And know that the pros out there will most likely be able to tell you used a template. That means your book may be judged less than professional by reviewers, contest judges, feature editors, and others. I think templates can work well enough, though, especially for books that aren’t intended for wide commercial distribution. My poetry coauthor Magdalena Ball and I used them for our Celebration Series of poetry chapbooks. You can see them all in one place at http://howtodoitfrugally.com/poetry_books.htm.

About the Author

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the classes she has taught for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The flagship book of the HowToDoItFrugally series, The Frugal Book Promoter, was named USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book,” won the coveted Irwin Award, was a USA Book News award winner, and received nods from Dan Poynter’s Global E-book Awards and Military Writers Society of America. Her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success is her winningest with honors from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award and others, and her marketing campaign for that book won the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

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