by Penny C. Sansevieri
Practically speaking, a book cover is just a tool to bind and protect the pages of a book. But every writer – and every consumer – knows that a book cover is so much more. Your cover is a visual ambassador for your book: it’s a marketing tool, a billboard for your brand, and sometimes even a small piece of art available to the reading public.
Having a great book cover is an essential for a successful author, so here are ten key book cover design tips that will ensure you’re getting the most out of yours.
1. Don’t use too many typefaces. Limit yourself to two. Some book covers may require a third typeface; others can shine with just one. Too many fonts cheapen your overall look and make you seem less professional.
2. Don’t overload your cover with ideas. A book cover is a visual elevator pitch—you’ve got literally milliseconds to convince a potential reader. And if you can’t boil your book down to one central concept, you’re in trouble. As a writer, you know about main ideas and supporting details. The front cover gets your main idea. A few supporting details go on the back in your book blurb.
3. Don’t skimp on an illustrator. Seek out a talented professional if your book requires a custom image – and be prepared to pay them for their services. Custom illustration isn’t cheap, but nothing kills a cover like a bad illustration.
4. Don’t rely on Photoshop for imagery. Our eyes are extremely savvy when it comes to inconsistencies in lighting and scale and will pick up details like a man who is too big for the path on which he’s walking or who is lit in a different way than the forest in which you’ve placed him. Similar images are probably available at a stock agency. If not, hire a photographer and a few models for a couple hours.
5. Use caution when depicting a character. More than any other art form, reading inspires and requires imagination. If you’re writing nonfiction, depicting a specific person on your cover curtails this possibility for any reader who isn’t that person. Some genres, like Romance, rely heavily on cover character depictions, which is all the more reason to think carefully about who you place on yours.
6. Don’t rely on trends. I heartily encourage authors to look for trends, to be fans of their own genre, and to reference the bestseller pages for inspiration on what piques buyer interest, but there’s a fine line between ensuring you’re competitive and becoming lost in the sea of options. Just because everyone else is using handwritten font or a particular color of blue doesn’t mean you need to follow suit. This is particularly important when considering the first book in a potential series because trends fade; you don’t want to be stuck with something that’s out of date when they do.
7. Don’t be afraid to break a few rules. Sometimes I’ll see a great cover that breaks one of the cardinal rules of cover design and is bolder and more intriguing for doing so. If your designer has some great out of the box ideas and you’re willing to take a risk, I’d encourage you to get feedback from your network. If you have a super fan group, give them early voting access to ideas you’re floating around. A radical cover may actually be just the ticket, but don’t make the decision to go in that direction without doing a market test.
8. Don’t get overly clever. Remember the visual elevator pitch rule: you’ve got milliseconds in front of a potential buyer If your designer resorts to “clever” font play that ultimately confuses rather than intrigues that buyer, forget about making a sale.
9. Don’t overdo it with the copy. Your front cover should not replace your book description, your reviews section on Amazon, and your resume. Non-fiction does carry the burden of proving legitimacy, but you need to decide what’s most important for making the best first impression; the rest can go on your retail page.
10. Don’t use a template. A cover template may seem like a reasonable (and affordable) solution to the difficult task of creating an effective book cover. But remember, book covers aren’t created – they’re designed. What happens when someone else publishes their book using that same cover template?
You can create the book cover of your dreams while also designing an effective marketing tool for your work – but it will take bringing others into the process. Your book is worth the investment, especially now that so many of us are shopping online, where we make judgments based on a cover the size of a thumbnail. In the long run, it’s worth it to do all you can to create a visual image that compels those shoppers to happily click "Buy Now."
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Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine.
Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon Optimization programs as well as Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of 18 books, including How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon: 2021 Amazon Ads Powerhouse Edition, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-Minute Book Marketing, and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the "leading guide to everything Internet." Her next book, From Book to Bestseller, is due out in Spring 2021.
AME has had dozens of books on top bestseller lists, including those of The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal.
To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.
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