Book Cover Basics

May 11, 2011

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.