Your Cover is Killing Your Book

by August Wainwright on January 31, 2013

The cover of a book is its’ face to the world. And, yes, your cover is killing your book.

The main purpose of a book cover is to immediately grab the attention of a passing reader. But when the attention you’re grabbing is entirely negative, you’re dooming yourself before you’ve ever had a chance.

See the Lousy Book Covers Tumblr site.

What NOT to do with your cover


What Your Book Cover Should Do

1. Be readable

This seems like the most basic rule, one that nobody would screw around with, but you’d be blown away at how many titles are on Amazon right now that are completely impossible to read.

Listen: red fonts on black backgrounds DON’T work. Sure, there are exceptions but your cover probably isn’t one.

Have at least the title of your book and the author name be readable. This leads me to the second thing your cover must be.

2. Be readable as a thumbnail and in grayscale

Unless you’re living under a very large rock, you’ll know there are these things called ereaders that readers use to consume copious amounts of ebooks. No matter where they download your book from, they will more than likely see it on a digital bookshelf among hundreds of others.

And it’s almost guaranteed that the first thing any new reader will see of yours is a thumbnail of the cover of your book. So before uploading to Amazon or B&N or Kobo, scale your cover down and see how it looks as a thumbnail. Is it readable?

You’d also be well served to preview your cover in grayscale, since many versions of ereaders don’t utilize color screens. If your cover looks good in color but is a monochromatic mess in black and white, then you need to change some things around.

3. Convey the genre and theme of your book in the cover

Most “experts” would say that your book needs to instantly be recognizable as a mystery novel, or a thriller, or erotica, or a cookbook; I tend to believe that you have a little more wiggle room than most, but looking at least genre-relevant would be a smart move.

What I mean here is that just because your book is erotica, doesn’t mean you have to stick to the hulking muscle man cover that literally every other book in the genre will have. But don’t upload a cover that makes your erotica seem like a guide to french cooking either.

Be genre-relevant. But also be unique.

4. Push the boundaries to stand out

Like I said, be unique. This is about standing out; elicit an emotion. Entice a skimming reader to at least look deeper into what you are selling. And you’ll never do that by copying what everyone else is doing.

E.L. James and her Fifty Shades series did a good job of this when the books hit the market.

Most erotic books still followed the supermarket mommy-porn formula of big muscle dude on the cover.

The simple, cold covers of Fifty Shades presented a stark contrast to everything else that was out there.

Now go look at erotica, half are still the muscle and skin covers of old, but the other half are now reproductions of Fifty Shades, with a simple item on a simple, usually dark, background.

So to stand out in erotica now, you’ll need to do something new… again.

Lets take a look at another cover.

If you went over to the Children’s Fiction category on Amazon, you’d see a book(currently sitting at #16) called Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

This is a perfect example of a cover that is both simple and yet screams for attention.

The bright blue color makes me feel happy but the weird oddly shaped face makes me a little uneasy. The playful font paired with the slightly disturbing image literally makes me wonder.

Why choose that image? Why does he only have one eye?

I want to know more about the book, simply because of the cover. That’s what a successful cover does.

Another important aspect of cover design to remember is that 9 times out of 10, simple designs win out. Go look at the cover designs for the Hunger Games series, or the books by Abbi Glines or Gillian Flynn. All are strikingly simple. All are in the Top 100 Paid list. Learn from this.

All this leads me to my last point:

Being a writer is a business.

If you make the best cupcakes in the world, then you open a cupcake shop. But I guarantee you that the person who makes the best cupcakes in the world doesn’t try to also install her kitchen equipment or put on a new roof if it leaks.

So what makes you think that, as a writer, you are also qualified to design the cover?

Hire a designer who designs for a living.

If you want readers to take you seriously and pay for your books, then you need to take your business seriously too.

To stay updated, sign up with your email address to be added to the mailing list because we will be going into greater detail about book covers in future posts.

So what are your thoughts? What’s your favorite book cover? Have questions about your book’s cover? Post a comment below.

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