In a recent post, Nate Hoffelder shared four mistakes you might be making with your book covers. Because book covers are so important, I wanted to create a companion post on how to choose the right cover and give some recommendations.
Why do we need to are about book covers? We’re writers!
Right. But if you want people to READ your words, you need to get them in the door. The book is the MAIN way to get them in the door. The blurb, cover, ads, and other things factor in, BUT the cover is the very first thing.
Did you know that humans process visual information in thirteen milliseconds? That’s less than a blink of an eye.
So, as we dive deeper into book covers, I want you to be thinking of your book cover in a blink.
Listen to Episode 190 – How to Choose the Right Book Cover
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT BOOK COVER
The genre needs to be clear at a GLANCE.
Back to that whole thirteen milliseconds thing… your book cover is sending information at a rapid rate to your potential readers. They won’t even REALIZE it. Mostly, that first look is subconscious.
Readers need to immediately and subconsciously identify with your cover for the best results. Because in a scrolling world, you want them to stop that scroll and go for the click.
Each genre has symbols and often even colors that are associated with it, even at a level you might not think about. Billionaire books have a man in a suit. (If they DON’T, that’s okay, but they may not be conveying the right thing fast enough.) A lot of paranormal romance or urban fantasy (yes, very different things, but also some blurred lines in the indie world) will have certain colors (like a turquoise or purple) and magic floaty elements. (I’m sure there’s a technical term.) Space opera likely needs a spaceship of some kind. Find out those elements and make sure they’re properly conveyed.
It should look like other INDIE books. (Usually.)
It CAN work to go by traditional publishing if you’re targeting books in a genre where it’s clear even in traditional publishing what the genre is. (Ex: Women’s fiction) Some genres (like YA or literary) don’t have enough of the same signals consistently. And they don’t NEED to as much in trad pub.
Because they have a bigger budget and different tools than we might have as indies. Trad pub doesn’t have to be as clear at a glance. They have the ad dollars and the bookstore real estate to push books that you can’t tell from a glance. We don’t have that kind of time. We have a blink, remember?
I’ve seen some indies really successfully target those traditionally published books and do really well. But, you need to consider if your books can stand up next to them in your cover, style (aka: quality of writing), blurb, price, AND ADVERTISING. You’ll for sure need ad dollars to have your books even SEEN next to those books that you’re considering as comps.
If you’re not sure that would work for your genre, then look to indie books for comps. These are the books you’re not necessarily competing against (readers often read so much that I think of this as comparable books, not competition books) but want to target in advertising. You want to signal to those readers that they’ll like your book as well. Look on the bestseller lists and check out trends and covers that are doing well in the indie space.
- Check out my post Niche It Down a Notch to find more on diving into the Amazon niches
It should convey the IDEA rather than the LITERAL story.
Overall, you’re trying to capture the readers for a genre. They’ll get the literal story inside the pages. The cover gets them in the door. Conveying the genre is more important than your specific story.
Caveat: Readers might get annoyed if you use a redhead and the person is a blonde. For romance, sometimes I’ll find the stock photos before I actually choose how they look. Don’t have the money for a custom shoot or the time for hours on Depositphotos.
Should stand out in the RIGHT way.
Authors often talk about wanting to stand out. Being DIFFERENT or CREATIVE isn’t necessarily good. You want to look like the other covers in terms of the genre (am I hitting that point hard enough??) but you can stand out by having an attractive and eye-catching cover that’s professionally designed.
That’s where you stand out. Not by being the only cover in a genre that looks like X.
Make sure it’s CURRENT.
Trends change. Even in the past few years in clean romance, I’ve seen changes in the kinds of fonts used and the kinds of images. Check to see how trends change.
Make sure you’re not using an older (but still bestselling) cover as your main comp. I’ve seen some older books with meh covers doing well. Either they’ve got lots of ad dollars or a great story or millions of superfans. Or a combo. Don’t make that the book you use as the basis for your covers.
Don’t try to squeeze too much TEXT on the cover.
Readers will be seeing a thumbnail. If possible, make sure they can read the title and author name. If they can’t, the kind of font should at least convey the genre in a small size. Most of the time, taglines and subtitles and series titles aren’t visible.
A note about subtitles and Amazon’s metadata guidelines: There is some debate about whether your subtitles need to be on your cover. I had a print book issue where the rep from Amazon told me it was being rejected for that. Then they sent me the guidlelines, which said the subtitle does NOT need to be on the cover. But if you USE a subtitle somewhere (like the title page), it needs to match what you enter as you upload the book in your metadata.
As an extra side side note: I personally like subtitles that make the genre more clear can help the reader experience, that is, if they aren’t too crazy with like 500 keywords jammed in there. Amazon DOES say on the print version that they don’t want genre descriptors in the metadata, so use at your own risk. On the ebook terms of service, however, they say that “a subtitle is a subordinate title that contains additional information about the content of your book.” Uh, okay. Super clear. Some things are more blatant in terms of violation, like using twenty keywords or advertising type phrases like “the best romcom of 2020!” Use these at your own risk.
TIPS FOR ASKING FOR FEEDBACK
Big groups, especially where it’s mixed genres, are not the best place to ask.
You’ll get varying opinions, some from people who aren’t authors and don’t know your genre. It’s hard to tell who people are, what they’ve published, and whether they have any real KNOWLEDGE of your genre.
Try to find a smaller, genre specific group. That’s MORE helpful, but you still also might be getting advice from someone who is struggling to sell their books or never written a book or who has NO idea.
- I’ve got a smaller critique group that IS mixed genre, but have more specifics about what you need to post with your cover or blurb, AND how you should frame responses so people know who to listen to. (Hopefully.) Join Create If Critiques!
Your readers are NOT always the best.
They’re already your superfans. Often, they’ll buy whatever you write. They will not usually be super helpful with their responses to your book covers.
It CAN be great to have readers join in if you’re debating between a few that would both work well. Then they have some ownership. But overall? Not the best help.
TIPS TO FIND DESIGNERS
Ask friends writing in the same genre who they use. Look at bestselling books on Amazon, then check the look inside and see if they thank their designer on the title page.
I also lurk in cover design groups with lots of designers sharing premades. You’ll see the various styles of different designers.
Even if you don’t buy a premade, you can know who to hire for custom covers based on the work the designers share. I personally love getting a premade and then hiring them to do a series in that same style. It works really well!
The first in this series was a premade, and I asked the designer (Evelyne from Carpe Librum) if she could make it a series. DID SHE EVER!
Here are some of my favorite designers and FB groups to find designers:
- The Book Cover Gallery (a mix of different designers sharing covers, lots of urban fantasy and romance)
- Alt 19 Creative (mostly romance)
- Carpe Librum (mostly romance and women’s fiction)
- Red Leaf Designs (illustrated and non-illustrated romance and women’s fiction with some YA)
- Wynter Designs (romance, fantasy, urban fantasy)
- Bargain Book Covers (mostly romance and urban fantasy)
- Tugboat Designs (mostly women’s fiction and romance)
- Book Cover Bug (mostly romcom)
THE FINAL WORD ON CHOOSING A BOOK COVER
Overall, go with what will SELL over what you LIKE. This isn’t an art competition. (Though I do LOVE a gorgeous cover…) Don’t base this on emotion if you want to sell books. Base your choice on what will sell more books.
Here’s a glance at the original and the updated versions of my books with E.C. Farrell, the Supernatural Reform School Series. Before… I liked them. (And they were like $30 each.)
But the new versions are SO MUCH MORE SUITED TO THE GENRE AND EVEN THE NICHE OF ACADEMY BOOKS. They were still reasonable at like $150 for print and ebook. But so much more on target. They immediately picked up in sales.
The new ones were done by T.M. Franklin of Bargain Book Covers. Amazing. I’ve gotten a few others from her that I love!
- Check out my post for more on that series : how we wrote and launched a book in 30 days
So… you got this? Hook them with your book cover in a blink.