Whether you like it or not, your cover is the face of your book, and you will be judged by it. You’ve put a great deal of work and thought into your book, and your cover should reflect that effort. After all of your planning, plotting, and editing is done, the last thing you want to do is to send your book out into the world with a bad cover to die a slow, unnoticed death.
Still, creating a book cover is a difficult, even perplexing job. Even seasoned book designers can make missteps with difficult texts. Here are some tips to help you along:
1. Know Your Genre
There are a lot of genres: cozy mystery, hardboiled mystery, space opera, epic fantasy, literary fiction. Each has its own demands. It’s good to start by looking at other books that are roughly similar to yours and ask yourself a few questions. Does your book cover have a similar feel? Will it attract the right audience? Does it fit within the genre without getting lost?
2. Let Your Type Lead the Way
Typefaces tell readers a great deal about a book, often more than they realize. The right font can make a cover, just as the wrong one can break it. Is the title set in 60-point Trajan or Trade Gothic? Chances are it’s a thriller or a detective mystery. Both title and author name are set in letter-spaced 18-point Gotham? It’s probably a literary novel — or maybe a biography. Papyrus? Unless you’ve written a cozy mystery set in a card shop, avoid Papyrus at all costs.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out
Whether your work is literary or hews close to the rules of a specific genre, you know your book is unique. With genre fiction in particular, the urge to stick to templated designs can be strong, and that approach isn’t wholly without merit: It lets readers know exactly what to expect from the text. But such covers risk getting lost in a sea of similar-looking titles. Readers who feel passionately about a specific genre may pick up your book on whim, but it’s unlikely to find a broader audience.
If your book is as unique as you feel it is, have faith that readers will find it even without a bare-chested model depicting your hero and a Photoshopped dragon representing his magical companion. By foregoing clichés, you may find a wider readership than you expected.
4. Sometimes Less Is More
A cover that’s overly busy or has too many design elements can overwhelm a potential reader, but a single iconic image can in some cases convey the idea behind your book, and communicating that idea may be more telling than merely depicting a character or setting.
5. But Sometimes Less Is Just Less
A strong, singular image can carry the right kind of book to glory, but without the right context or a clever title to play against, that photograph of a colander or a burning match will only leave readers scratching their heads. So before you commit to a cover featuring just the type and a pair of cufflinks, take a moment to decide whether such minimalist imagery suits your text.
6. Invest in Art
When it comes to cover art, you get what you pay for. Fonts and stock images can cost money, but the money you spend on licensing fonts and photography serves to make your book more polished and professional. Commissioning custom illustration or lettering is an excellent, if expensive, way to achieve a cover that stands out.
Low-end, royalty-free art of the sort sold by Shutterstock or iStock is meant primarily for advertising and made to be adapted to as many purposes as possible, which means it can also come across as generic or even dull. For a bit more money, the right solution for your cover may be found at a site that specializes in photographs for book covers, like Trevillion or Arcangel. If you’re looking for something classier, try a site that specializes in fine art photography, like Gallery Stock. And of course…
7. When in Doubt, Hire a Professional
It may just be that in addition to being an excellent writer you are also a talented designer. Or perhaps your babysitter is an extraordinary artist at home in all media. That, however, is rarely the case. Becoming a great graphic designer takes years of experience, and moreover, book cover design is its own specialization. The kid down the street who made your website may have no clue when it comes to creating a book. The best way to guarantee that your book is represented properly is to rely on someone who knows what works visually in the marketplace and has the ability and experience to create the right cover. Start by looking for names on the backs of books in the same genre as yours whose covers you admire. Once you’ve collected a few names, Google the designers and have a look at their portfolios.
A professionally designed book cover can cost upwards of $1,500 (in addition to licenses for any stock art featured in the design). That may sound steep, but it’s small change compared to the time and energy you’ve surely committed to creating your text. A couple thousand dollars can be a small price to pay to assure that your hard work doesn’t immediately fade into oblivion.