It’s a very old and very well-known saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But this is a saying that shouldn’t be taken literally. While I urge you not to judge other things in life by their appearance (particularly people!), it’s usually a safe bet that a poorly designed book cover means a poorly executed book.
Unfair? Well, taking off my editor hat and putting on my reader hat for a minute, if I’m going to spend my (very) hard-earned cash on a book, I want to make sure I spend it wisely. And what have I got to go on when I browse the endless goodies on offer on Amazon? I have the blurb, (please authors – get this right. It is NOT a synopsis), the reviews (if I can trust them), and I have the cover. And I won’t get to the blurb or the reviews if the cover doesn’t grab me in the first place.
A good, well-thought out, attention-grabbing cover tells me that this author cares – cares about their work, cares about their book, cares about their reader. A poorly executed cover sends warning bells ringing that this author hasn’t researched the self-publishing world thoroughly, doesn’t understand what they need to do to publish successfully, and has probably rushed to publish.
So what makes a good cover, and what doesn’t? And what should you bear in mind when designing your cover?
Think thumbnails. Will your cover stand out in that tiny, tiny little space it will have in a search?
Think genre. What’s your book about? If it’s a romance, go for an image that says romance. If it’s a gritty detective story, then show that in your cover. Don’t be vague, and don’t overthink it.
Think trends. I hate to say it, but there are fashions in book covers as there are in anything else. Look at other books in your genre and see what’s popular at the moment. People know what they like and they may go for a book by an author they don’t know if the cover reminds them of a book they’ve liked (although don’t plagiarise, obviously). But do give it your own twist and be original too.
Think title. Make sure it stands out and that people can read it. Make sure the font is clear and big enough.
I’ve seen covers with dreadful hand-drawn images, cut and paste pictures that are the wrong size and perspective, and random images that have nothing to do with the book itself. There are blogs devoted to showcasing the worst of these – which, while it’s easy to laugh, it’s also heart-breaking that these authors haven’t done the research and have set themselves up for ridicule.
Self-publishing can be an expensive business – but there are some things that cannot be scrimped on. Editing, proofreading and a great book cover are worth investing in. There are some great designers out there who do a good job and don’t cost the earth (although you shouldn’t expect to pay peanuts for a professional). Research, ask for recommendations; if you see a self-published book with a great cover ask the author who designed it – most will be more than happy to give you a recommendation. If you’ve spent time crafting a wonderful novel, give it the polish and packaging it deserves.