I’m going to deviate a bit from actual cover design in this post, although what I have to say is very relevant to the cover’s design.
Two weeks ago, Scott discussed the importance of choosing a good title for your book. Most of us choose a title for our book fairly early on, maybe even before we begin the actual writing. I’ve certainly done that. We do this because authors don’t like having an untitled book, even if it’s just started. It’s awkward if we’re telling someone about a book we’re writing and we don’t have a title for it.
While the title we choose initially may be the one we keep—and it may well be the perfect title—we should always reevaluate that title after the book is finished to determine if it really is the best one. After all, many times the book we start out writing undergoes significant changes along the way, and the title that may have been ideal initially may not be the best one for the current incarnation of the story.
Now, let’s consider how the title and your book’s cover will fit together and reinforce one another. In today’s publishing world, with so many books out there, you need to give yours the best possible chance of being discovered. To do that, your book’s cover must work on several levels.
You want a strong title that’s unique and will stand out to attract potential buyers if your book appears in a list of others. Occasionally a title is so strong that the book’s cover becomes almost irrelevant. Nevertheless, because the title appears on the cover, it say what the rest of the cover says. For example, a hunky man and woman in a passionate embrace would probably not be the best cover for Star Wars (at least not the movie we’re all familiar with).
Some stunning covers may be able to convey what a book is about even with no title (romance and space novels novels come to mind), but we should not expect it to do all the work, either. As with a strong title, occasionally a stunning cover may do all the work of attracting buyers. But those are very rare cases. The title and cover each affect different areas of the brain, and when you have the right combination, the impact on your audience pushes to the maximum. In addition, you also want a cover that will stand out from the crowd of other covers and draw the eye.
A talented cover designer should be able to deliver a cover that complements whatever title you’ve chosen, as long as you provide your designer with the right information to guide the design (as I mentioned in an earlier part of this series). But I believe that it’s important to make sure you really do have the right title in the first place. A great cover may shore up a weak title, but it shouldn’t have to.
It’s hard enough these days to get noticed, so you want to be sure that no matter how a potential reader encounters your book, every element of it should make the best impression. And, yes, if during the design of your cover it occurs to you that your title may not be the best, then CHANGE IT!
“But, Rick,” you say, “I’ve had this title forever, and everyone I’ve told about it knows it by that title!”
Folks, let me tell you that it’s not uncommon for publishers to change the title of an author’s book if they feel another one is better. Of course, publishers don’t always get it right.
One of my author friends, Branden Johnson, has his book’s title changed at the last minute (with his consent). Originally it was The Angel’s Daughter, but when it came time to publish it, his publisher found that another book of that title had just come out, and they didn’t want there to be confusion. Although the two novels were entirely different, his title was changed to Heaven’s Forgotten. While I understand the reasoning, duplicate titles appear all the time, and in my opinion, the original title was much better. The cover should distinguish them.
When my first novel More Than Magick came out in 2004, another book of the same title and spelling had come out a year before. That book’s plot was witchcraft based, as I recall (mine was sci-fi/fantasy). Shortly after my book came out, a collection of erotic short stories appeared with the same title and spelling. But the covers of all three very clearly differentiated them.
Again, my point here is that TITLE AND COVER must work together to create a unified whole that identifies the book and calls attention to it. Never settle for a combination that doesn’t. It’s easy to change your cover if you find it doesn’t work, but changing a book’s title afterwards is much more difficult an risky. You may confuse those who have read it before into thinking it’s your new book. I don’t imagine a person would be happy with buying the same book again.
To recap: Be sure you do have that winning combination of title and cover BEFORE you publish.