My first book cover design failed horribly. As a rookie author, I'd fallen into a trap laid by my own misunderstandings. I had erroneously attempted to depict moments of my story through cover art, rather than focus on connecting with my genre and audience.
When I finished my first novel, The Magician's Horses, I immediately had ideas for what I wanted to see on my book's cover. I knew my way around graphics editing, so I didn't hesitate to tackle the design on my own. Armed with Gimp, a free yet powerful substitute for Photoshop, I knocked out a cover I felt captured the essence of my novel perfectly. I slapped it on an eBook and passed it around to my friends and family for their assessment. The cover drew no complaints, so I patted myself on the back.
Fortunately, before unleashing my creation to the public I found the wisdom to seek the advice of experts in the cover critiquing arena. After considerable debate and nervous hesitation, I submitted my cover image to a free critiquing web site known as CoverCritics.com.
Wow! Was I enlightened!
To paraphrase the site administrator's response, I had missed my objective so badly he likened fixing the cover's many issues to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Ouch!
For starters, I had in no way associated my book with its genre, science fiction. The cover vaguely suggested a fantasy story, while nothing about it said Sci-Fi in the slightest. To further the problem, my main cover element, a black horse, reinforced the fantasy vibe and spoke nothing of science fiction.
Heeding the expert advice, I abandoned the doomed cover and started from scratch with a completely new concept. By focusing on color scheme and font selection, I put together a replacement I felt targeted my genre and audience. I submitted the redesigned cover for critique, and to my satisfaction, I had succeeded in creating something more feasible. Certainly there was work to be done, but my redo wasn't a Titanic disaster. Whew!
With a workable cover at hand, a fresh problem arose - I hated the new cover. Yes, the new design suggested my genre, but it failed to connect emotionally to my story. Ignoring the warnings, I resuscitated my original design and went to work rearranging those deck chairs.
At that time, I still hadn't got it. I had yet to understand the sole purpose of a book cover was to catch the interest of a reader, not to visually retell the story.
When it came time to publish, I knew my cover risked capsizing the whole endeavor, so I turned to a professional for help. No, I didn't see a psychiatrist. For a few hundred well-spent dollars, I paid for a professional cover design.
What an amazing experience! Deranged Doctor Design blew me away with a cover that captured the unique elements of my story while hitting my genre bull's-eye on target. Well Done! I published not long afterward with the fantastic cover designed by DDD.
Alas, my woes didn't end there. As a prolific writer, my growing need for book covers outpaced my sales. Since going deeper into the red to pay for another professional cover simply wasn't an option, I returned to where I'd begun and reevaluated my capability to produce covers on my own.
While I continued to write, I set aside time to research the elements of an effective book cover. Slowly, I gained insights through articles and writing forums. I lurked on the CoverCritics.com web site, closely studying every critique, comparing my assessment to the panel of experts.
Finally, I got it!
Using what I had learned, I compiled a list to guide me in each new cover I attempted. Happily, I've shared these guidelines here in no particular order. All are equally important.
1) Select an artistic style consistent with your genre.
- Research as many covers as possible and take note of artistic trends by genre: photorealistic, cartoonish, deviant, etc.
2) Select one to two fonts that will reflect your genre.
- More than two fonts per cover can be font overload.
- FontSquirrel.com is a great resource for free and/or inexpensive fonts.
3) Select interesting cover elements that evoke the tension in your story.
- Don't sweat every detail. It isn't critical that Johnny's hair is long on the cover but short in the book. It is important that Johnny's picture reflect the stakes: action, danger, romance, etc.
4) Select only elements that make sense at a glance.
- If a potential buyer needs to read the story to understand the purpose of an element on the cover, it doesn't belong there.
5) Select a color scheme consistent with your genre.
6) Select only images you're legally permitted to distribute.
- Flickr.com is a great source of free Creative Commons images; however, be certain to adhere strictly to the documented guidelines and acknowledge accordingly.
- There are many stock image libraries with minimal licensing fees: Shutterstock.com, dreamstime.com, istockphoto.com
- DeviantArt.com is a great source of fantasy artwork. But be prepared to spend a hefty price.
- Tumblr.com is a great source for finding commissioned artists at a reasonable price.
7) Review your cover as if it were written in a foreign language.
- Could you guess what the story is about without comprehending the words?
8) If the cover is a disaster, hire a professional designer.
- Know your limitations. There's no shame in asking for help.