What is the real purpose of a book cover?
With the lowering of the barrier of entrance, self-publishing books has become the norm rather than the exception. Something that was traditionally handled by big, lumbering publishing houses or by individuals with a lot of money, has now become a reality for anyone. It no longer has the stigma of vanity publishing, but has instead evolved into a perfectly viable route to market.
But the fact that it is easily possible does not mean that it is easy to do. There are countless pitfalls along the way, and for someone who has never even had tangential contact with the publishing industry there are inevitably a good number of lurking misconceptions. The number of decisions that have to be made, and the impact these decisions can have on your potential success are immense.
Let’s take a look at book covers, for example. It is so easy to get them wrong—and for all the right reasons.
For many years now I have been working with authors who self-publish their books. I have been formatting their books, as well as providing cover art for them on many occasions, and if there is one red thread that weaves itself through the nearly one-thousand book projects I have worked on, it is this: passion!
Authors spend a lot of time writing their books, massaging them to perfection, editing them, reading them again and again, proofing them, the whole spiel. It takes a lot of time and passion, naturally, and as a result authors always have a very close attachment to the project. A lot of passion. It is the essential ingredient or else the project would never have come to fruition.
However, this passion can easily become detrimental when it comes to certain aspects of the actual publishing of the project, because publishing a book requires a number of business decisions. A cool head is required to make the right choices, or you might get in the way of your own success.
Covers are one of the areas where these problems often manifest themselves very quickly, creating a dangerous slope, because covers are, perhaps, the single most important decision you will ever make regarding your book.
So, let me ask you this question… what is the purpose of the cover?
The purpose of a book cover is not to perfectly illustrate the story down to the smallest detail or to showcase every aspect and facet of the plot. If you think this way, you are too close to your project, and you are thinking about your cover too literal—especially in the digital world where books are bought primarily online and the presentation of the cover has changed from a beautiful piece of art to a small 100 pixel-wide thumbnail.
A book cover is a selling tool! Nothing more, nothing less. It serves the purpose to attract eyeballs and then get those people intrigued enough to click on the cover thumbnail and learn more about the book, which, hopefully, will then result in a sale. If visitors on Amazon do not notice a book cover because it is easily overlooked and disappears among other covers, it serves absolutely no purpose and is actually detrimental to the author because uncounted potential sales are lost right there.
Forget how much you love your friend’s illustration, or how you feel this frilly font really reflects your main character’s taste for the intricate. If people do not notice your cover or if it is muddled up, you won’t make a sale.
You always have to keep in mind that for the most part you are trying to sell books to people who are not familiar with you and who do not know the book or the story—at all. It is the cover that will hopefully draw them to it. It is the cover that will hopefully connect with them and intrigue them enough to find out more. Only then will you be able to tap into new readers. Readers who are essential for growing your customer base not only for this book, but also for your next.
I suppose it is easy to see that the impact one good cover can have are very far-reaching over the course of a writer’s career.
What makes a good cover then?
Again, with the digital revolution, software has become available to anyone with a computer that enables us to do everything by ourselves. But should we? A better tool does not necessarily mean the output is getting better. Even with a better knife you will still not be able to carve a better statue, because you lack the necessary skill set, and you really have to ask yourself whether you feel that you are qualified enough to tackle something as important as your book’s cover by yourself.
Among many things, I am a trained typesetter. I took a three-year apprenticeship to learn about fonts, their impact, their structure, the creation and design, and the subject of printed matters on the whole.
This apprenticeship taught me things that allow me to make educated decisions when it comes to the visual presentation of the written word. Which font to choose, which size to choose it in, how to properly kern it, how to adjust and tweak it for best visual impact or for best readability. The list goes on.
See, it is a very common misconception that covers are just images with a handful of words thrown on them. Nothing could be further from the truth, really. A cover needs focus. It needs to create intrigue. It needs to guide the eye. It needs to create emotions that connect the story with the person browsing the virtual bookshelf.
Do a little experiment, if you wish. Do a search on Amazon that should bring up your book, and then quickly scan the results with one glance. If your book is not the first one that jumps to your eye, your cover is missing something. How could I say something like this? Because you are so familiar with your cover that your eyes should immediately pinpoint it—with your eyes closed, almost. If they don’t, you know that something is seriously wrong, because the odds of a stranger honing in on your cover at a glance are deteriorating rapidly here.
Aside from the cover motive itself, font choice is vital. A font that is unbalanced and hard to read is useless, but what is “unbalanced” and what is “hard to read?” These are the things that typesetters and graphic designers have spent years learning and studying. A well-chosen font on a single-colored background can be extremely dramatic in the hands of the right cover designer. It can cut to the chase and deliver its message, and that is exactly what you need. That is what trained professionals are for, and access to trained and professional talent is easier and more affordable than ever.
Though custom designed covers are still quite pricey and not within everyone’s budget range, a new alternative has emerged over the past years—pre-designed covers. One of the players in the field of pre-designed covers is my most recent venture, Covertopia.com, where I team up with experienced long-time graphic designer and illustrator Lieu Pham to bring bestselling book covers to authors at affordable rates.
The concept of pre-designed covers, or premades as they are often called also, is very simple, really. The cover designer creates and hosts a catalog of covers that have been prepared ahead of time, without any particular book in mind. These covers are usually following themes and trends that reflect the current state of the market, without honing in on exact details of any one book. This way the cover can be potentially applied to a variety of books, because it illustrates more general subjects, while maintaining the high quality and professional design elements you would normally find in much higher priced custom designed covers. Reputable designers will make sure that the covers remain nonetheless unique, by selling a particular cover design only once. In these cases, after it is sold to an author, the cover design is taken off the market, and no longer available to others.
This kind of service should not be mistaken with supposed cover designs you can get on sites like Fiverr. These are usually not created by professionals, but hobbyists with extra time on their hand, and therefore often lack in real design and typography fundamentals, not to mention that many of them are using imagery without obtaining proper rights clearance, etc. A professional cover designer will always ensure that the images used will be legitimate and will not create copyright nightmares for you.
So, if you are a writer, looking for an affordable cover for your next book, while making sure it plays on a professional level and doesn’t break the bank, a pre-designed cover might just be the ticket. In addition, pre-designed covers have a very quick turn-around, because they can be finalized with your book title and handed over to you much faster than a custom job. Reputable designers will get the final cover to within a day or two. This means no delay for your project, so you can go to press anytime you’re ready!
On Covertopia.com my partner Lieu Pham, a long-time graphic designer and illustrator, and I are offering covers for a wide range of genres, in a wide range of themes and looks, all optimized for best discoverability, all making a statement and an impact, and we strive to give each pre-designed cover the same kind of feel that we afford our custom design projects. Sound interesting? It should, because getting professional covers has never been easier.