Book Cover Basics

Song of the Day: The Best by Tina Turner

How important is a book cover? The short answer – very.

Whether traditionally published or digital, the cover is the first thing a potential reader sees. The cover is the precursor to the story. The images should convey the overall essence of the book, genre, and emotion. If the author has an opportunity to offer input or create their own cover, there are a few things to consider.

Gracing the cover can be a hero, heroine, an object, scenery, action, or any combination of these.

Photo by Ken Centauri

Character body language and facial expressions on the cover are tell-tale signs marking the book’s theme. Individuals may be in defensive positions, embracing, smiling seductively, fleeing, brooding, scared, etc. Are the individuals holding an object? A weapon, rose, horse reins, lipstick, key, can of Pringles. These things clue the reader in on the type of story they are about to discover.  What are the characters wearing? Leather corset, army fatigues, gothic eye makeup, cowboy boots, school uniform, birthday suit, leg warmers, you get the idea.

What about  backgrounds? Many times a background is not necessary. An object, facial demeanor, or clever title may be all that is needed.  But if there is a background, what does it show? A jungle, cockpit, English garden, mausoleum, or wildebeest, distant focal points can be simple or complex. Keep in mind these images should say something about the book. You would probably mislead a reader if your cover’s background consisted of a NASCAR race track but the story featured zombie-hunting astronauts.

The font should compliment the book, too. Block letters of various shapes and styles can be applied to almost any genre fiction. Cursive might denote whimsy, elegance, historical, or all things girlie.  Sharp or dripping lettering might suggest dark plots or the paranormal. There are thousands of fonts to choose from to fit any theme.

Color is important, not just in the font, but in the picture as a whole. Just as black and white can mean good vs. evil, light and dark can be manipulated to match the core of the story. Red signifies death or blood. Blue represents suspense and chills. Orange suggests action and purple, passion. Softer hues might mean fun, inspiring, or sweet story overtones, whereas, darker hues indicate grit, thrills, or steamy plots. Of course, these are simply my interpretations. How the colors are used with images and fonts determines the mood.

Details speak volumes. It’s all subliminal. With a cover like this, you know you want to buy me.

Let’s be honest. How many of you picked out a book because the cover caught your attention? It’s a step toward selling your book.

I was aware of all this when I began to envision the cover for my own debut book. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted. Turning to e-publishing gave me the opportunity to create my dream cover. I spent countless hours searching for the perfect images. Thank you Jimmy Thomas (whistling to His Hotness).  Through the magic fingers and know-how of a special young lady, she put my images together exactly how I had asked, making me one happy writer.

I showed my brand spanking new cover to a few friends like a proud peacock. Amid the oohs and ahhs, there were a few “suggestions”. Suddenly, my tail feathers drooped. My dream cover had flaws.

The font might not be the best choice. (hmm…) The font color makes the title difficult to see in a thumbnail. (grumble, grumble) The title is misleading. Could you change that, too? (mouth falls agape)

Soul searching, I did a lot of soul searching on that last one. But I needed to hear these honest opinions. They are, after all, helpful in the grand scheme of things. I must love my cover, but I also must be reasonable and practical. And so, my cover is undergoing a nip and tuck. Once I have the finalized version, I’ll share it here on MuseTracks.

Ultimately, it comes down to marketing. The cover, every facet of it, must intrigue potential readers to want to learn more. It is a window meant to entice peering through. It is a piece of art that sparks the imagination.

Tell me about your covers. What do you like and dislike?  Let me hear from you.

13 Responses to Book Cover Basics

  1. Sylvia says:

    My third book, Kensington used a cover they had previously used on an Amanda Quick novel. The cover was ugly to begin with, but when I found out it was recycled, I was devastated. This story had been one of my favorites and it was given a recycled cover.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Oh, Sylvia! I had not heard of that happening before. You would think a publisher as large as Kensington could do better than recycling a book cover. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’d be devastated, too. And feel cheated.

      I suppose once you getyour rights back, you can create a cover your story deserves, breathe new life into it, and love it.

      Thank you for stopping in.


  2. Tess says:

    I used to buy books based solely on the cute covers! And I never wanted people on the covers. But I did research and learned people can relate more to people on the covers…so while I don’t really want to give them a picture of the characters (because I would rather have my own image of the characters when I read a book) I did put people on my covers. And I do like the peeps on my covers!


    • jbrayweber says:

      Sometimes the images of the people on the cover are not at all what the reader or writer envisions. And sometimes it’s just better to let imaginations reign. I’m guessing that’s one reason why we see so many covers where the people’s faces are cut out or obscured.
      For me, the people on my cover are close (and I use the term loosely) to the overall appearance of the characters in the story. I’m happy with them, but naturally I wish I could have the real deal.
      Thanks for popping in. 🙂


  3. Kristen says:

    People spend years going to school to be designers. Others just as long to go into marketing. Just because we spend an eternity writing a book, doesn’t mean we are the best judge of how to attract attention and market it.

    I hate most historical romance covers. Mostly because I feel like a dork walking around with 1/2 naked people making out on the cover. But that’s what sells. And, to be perfectly honest, the few HR’s I’ve seen with modern, stylistic covers had me less than confident the author was writing a true historical.

    I thik Emily Giffin’s covers (Something Borrowed)are terrific for a contemporary. But then again, they’re in the spendy $14 oversized range.

    In a perfect world, my HR would have a cover like DG’s Outlander. But then again, in a perfect world, I’d have sold something! heheheh

    A glass half-full for Sylvia: You never know how many of Amanda Quick’s minions of readers will pick up your book and buy it because it has familiar feel…:-) (well I tried!)


    • jbrayweber says:

      Half naked people definitely sell. 😉 I think there is a certain amount of flesh (or lack of) people expect from the genres they read. I prefer more grit, but then I prefer grit in what I read, too.

      Ah…a perfect world. What I could do with that.

      Since my cover will be one of those with a historical romance (with grit, of course), I hope you don’t hate it too much. (wink, wink)

      Thanks, Kristen!


  4. Melissa says:

    Great post, Jenn! Covers catch my eye first. Then it’s up to the blurb to sell me on the story. I love designing covers though. Maybe too much. I catch myself looking for just the right pictures and playing around with them instead of writing the story. LOL I think it’s a procrastination thing. 🙂 Can’t wait to see your final version!


    • jbrayweber says:

      You ARE a procrastinator. (tee hee)
      It is exciting when you find the perfect images that encompasses the story. I love giggling like a school girl after seeing the final product.
      Now get back to work!!!!


  5. Melissa says:

    Ouch! Yes, ma’am!! LOL


  6. Thank you for your post, Jenn. Lots of food for thought here!

    Recently I wrote and posted on The Romance Book Club blog an article on the trend toward romance cover figures with their heads cropped off:

    There are powerful arguments both for and against what I sometimes call The Invasion of the Headless Romance Heroes and Heroines. Do I sound like I hate it? Well, I do!

    As for other aspects of romance covers, one that well and truly concerns me as a cover-art fan is that in the Internet Age, often our first exposure to a particular publication is a thumbnail of the front cover.

    The picture is too small for the viewer to see details. Color fields that appear distinct and attractive in a life-size cover may be ugly blurs in thumbnails. The expressions on the models’ faces, assuming their heads are intact, are difficult if not impossible to tell.

    I’ve noticed new ways major publishers are trying to meet the demands of both book racks in brick-and-mortar venues and thumbnails on websites and blogs. One way is to use one eye-catching color with minimal variations on most of the cover.

    If the cover of a Regency romance shows a woman in a dramatic pose and facial expression wearing an elegant gown of red, the limbo-like background will also be red, in a slightly different shade so the viewer can distinguish the two fields. All this eye-catching color will both stand out on a book rack and come through on a thumbnail.

    (And if some geek with an interest in historical costume, like me, objects that a dress of so bright a red wasn’t possible during the early nineteenth century, before the invention of aniline dyes—well, so what? As long as it sells the book . . . .)

    As for whether a cover should feature a man, a woman, both, or some inanimate object or scenery—I think if a book is about a man and a woman in love, it should feature on the cover a man and a woman in love, all things being equal. But all things never are equal, and there are cases in which other types of cover art work well.

    I remember when the romance racks were invaded by the Fabulous Fabio about twenty years ago, and how ludicrous the long-haired muscleman bit quickly became. Then, partly in reaction, flower-and-jewel covers took over, and I griped about how dull they were.

    Recently I’ve seen quite a few effective covers that focus on inanimate objects and scenery, yet still connote romance. Again, what’s probably going on is the change in visual requirements of consumers, and the ability to produce them by suppliers, due to computers, software, and the Internet.

    One important point: I’ve noticed that on computer screens, often photographs and paintings don’t come across as clearly or powerfully as images created by computers specifically for software programs and the Internet. Icons are a good example. They would look like crude cartoons if rendered on paper, but they make a strong, immediate impact on a computer screen. Their simple, stylized forms and bright colors are easy to remember.

    Clip art websites are good sources for this sort of imagery. If you have Microsoft Word, its clip art galleries contain many examples.

    Among other sources of computer-centric art online, I highly recommend Tattoodle. For Facebook users it’s most easily accessible through its Facebook app:

    You might have your own favorite sources of Internet art. I believe these should provide plenty of pointers to authors who need e-book covers, and those who design them—whether amateurs or professionals.

    I could go on and on about covers, but that would make an awfully long comment. Allow me to close with a plug for a fun website dedicated to romance covers. Cover Cafe is the place to dish about romance book covers, the annual cover contest, polls, interviews with artists, authors, and commentary on book covers.

    I can’t wait to see your cover, Jenn. Keep up the good work!


    • jbrayweber says:

      Thanks for the links, Mary Anne. And great Off With Their Heads post. You brought up some interesting points and perceptive marketing strategies.

      I don’t mind covers with heads chopped off, as long as the backgrounds aren’t too busy. They do let my mind wander with imagination.

      What I don’t like is when publishers try to shovel in many different images into the cover. A posing couple on top of scenery with sort sort of action going on in the corner can be too much. Of course, this is just my opinion and not meant to offend anyone.

      As always, I enjoy your comments. 🙂


  7. Viva the publishing revolution!! As much of a headache as it is to publish your own book, ain’t it grand that you get to control the final outcome? I couldn’t believe the comment Sylvia left! I think that’s one of the saddest stories I’ve heard- talk about feeling cheated that they didn’t even put in any effort on a new cover. Shame on them!
    As writers we are asked to now be marketers, creative directors and accountants…but along with that we have the opportunity to spread our wings creatively.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Wearing many hats while controlling our own destinies can be tedious and exhausting. But, oh, the rewards. That said, I may need a massage to alleviate all this stress. 🙂


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