Book cover design

Designing a book cover–PART 4

From Rick:

Last time, I listed several design mistakes and offered some suggestions for selecting a cover design. In this installment, I’m going to give you some further thoughts to help you zero in on your cover design.

I’ll give some advice on how to determine if you have an effective cover. Although I said last time that I would discuss refinements this time, I realized that we’re not at that stage yet. We’re still deciding on the basic design.

Answer the following questions about your novel:

(1) What is the novel about, its core story? Write it down in a few sentences, 2-3 if possible, but no more than 5 or 6. (This helps you focus on basic ideas for the cover.)

(2) What is the genre of the novel (in broad terms if you can’t be specific yet)?

(3) What is the mood of your novel? Pick a few words to describe its overall tone such as light, dark, calm, violent, mysterious, romantic, etc. (This helps determine colors and color depth of the cover.)

(4) What is your main character’s goal, if appropriate, or what situation does the character find himself/herself in?

(5) Is there a key setting in the novel that is recognizable (or not) but would grab a person’s attention? (Only if it’s should you consider it as a possible background image.)

(6) Is your main character distinctive in some way such that he/she would grab a person’s attention? (This helps determine whether he/she should appear on the cover.)

(7) Is there some element, object, or symbol important in the novel that would grab a person’s interest or attention? (Again, this helps determine specific elements for the cover.)

(8) How strong is your title? Is it strong enough that it elicits interest on its own? If not, you might want to rethink your title. (Ideally, your title and cover image should work together, one reinforcing the other, to pull in prospective readers.)

The answers will give you guidance on selecting a cover image. The key point of these seven questions is find something to grab the viewer’s attention. Every element of the cover, including images, colors, typeface—even the location of the title and author’s name—will determine its effectiveness.

Graphic designers will talk about the important of drawing the viewer’s eye and creating a central focus. While I can’t argue with this prime advice, before you can worry about those aspects, you first must have a cover worthy of fine-tuning.

Here’s a good article to digest on the importance of a good cover for e-books especially.


NOTE: I find it amusing that the author of this article makes the similar comments to the ones I made about the Twilight cover, comments which I made before I read this article.

Even if you will be using a cover designer, you still need to answer the questions above. Why? Unless the designer is a personal friend willing to spend the time reading the book, you’ll need to guide the designer. The cover, ultimately, will only be as good as the input you provide to the designer. Bad input may still produce a good cover, but not one that properly represents your book. The result could be the failure to attract the right audience.

Therefore, think carefully about each of these questions as objectively as possible and constantly remind yourself that you’re not trying to design a pretty cover, but one that will suck readers in.

Here’s another article with good advice to employ after you think you have a good cover design.


Note one of the key opening sentences in this article: “Whether you do your own art or use a designer, you have to know your book’s market and what will grab the right readers.” It’s not the job of cover designers to know the markets. They are graphic designers, not marketing people. Their job is to craft a cover that attracts attention. It’s your job, or the job of a marketing person, to ensure that it attracts the attention of the right people.

It may not seem as if I’ve covered much in this post, but I have covered a lot. I’ve given you concrete points to help you formulate your cover and a way to test our your design. In future posts (probably not until April), I’ll start delving into the refinements and give some specific examples of my own designs and where I went wrong.

In case you’re not at the cover design stage yourself, I’ve provided two untitled story ideas that you can use to test your design skills on. The first is a possible opening for a story, and the second is a story premise. Let your imagination run wild. If these were real stories and you were looking at only a cover that represented these (no blurb or synopsis), what cover design would be so compelling that you would want to investigate them further?

It doesn’t matter if these are stories you would read or write. Put yourself in the mindset of a designer (not an author) who knows nothing of the story except what he is told and these are all you have to go on to craft a cover from. Could you craft a compelling cover from just this information? If so, then there’s hope for you as a designer. If you can’t, then you may need to consider help from a professional designer for your own cover.

These are not real stories (at least nothing I’ve written), just ideas purely for your own use. I’m not going to mention these again, but if you want to write stories from these, feel free. They are story ideas I came up with on my own. I have no intention of developing them, and I claim no copyright on them.

(1) The morning had the velvet, resistant feel of new leather, but the hazy, humid sauerkraut fragrance of processed sewage. Alden Rutherford IV tried to focus on last night and the woman currently sharing his bed. Not everything had gone according to his grand plan. He had sought pleasure with no commitments and no unpleasant now or in the future, and he had taken the necessary precautions. Or so he’d thought. The two needle-points of soreness on his neck had changed all that. Forever.

(2) A thief has the ability to make the object he’s attempting to steal (jewels, art objects) turn invisible and seem to vanish (and himself as well), even though they are still there. After the apparent theft, the alarms are deactivated and the case containing his target is opened, the invisible thief grabs the invisible treasure and calmly walks away, unseen and undetected.


(Just a reminder, for the next few weeks, we’re posting on the blog every other week.)

(Have you purchased a copy of More Than Magick yet?)

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