Hard Lesson 10: How to Make your Book Covers Awesome

July 1, 2016

The most important part in the sale of any book is the cover. That’s why people pay hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for a known cover artist to do their covers.

That’s crazy of course. You should never pay somebody thousands of dollars for a cover, but it is the most important part in selling your book. 


Because it’s what makes people give your book a chance. It’s what tells people what the book is about. It’s what stops them in their tracks as they flip through books in their local store or walk through vendor space at a convention. A cover is what convinces somebody to open your book.

Now what you do once they’re inside is incredibly important too, but if they don’t pick up your book they won’t buy it. If they don’t think your book is interesting from the cover alone, they won’t give it a chance.

And yet I see thousands of covers at every show that just…well they suck. There’s no better way to say it. They are uninspired and often tacky. They definitely don’t make me want to pick up your book. So how do you make your covers awesome?

Tell me what’s going on in the book from the title.

I’m not a mind reader. There are millions of books published every year and I don’t have time to decipher what a random word means. That may have been possible when publishers only put out a handful of books at a time, but not self-publishing means that every title has to mean something. Usually, that means more than one word on the title, but there are really good titles with one-word titles: Bound, Ransom, and Payback are three titles that convey exact what a book means in a single word. The problem is you will most likely not be the first person to use your one-word title.

Now, if you have a huge marketing budget you might be able to skirt this title issue. For instance, Firefly has a cult following even though the name doesn’t tell me anything about what the show is about. They had Fox behind them with a massive budget for marketing. You don’t have that.

Additionally, when you already have an existing brand, you don’t need much else. You can make Star Trek the name of every book in a series and still sell gazillions of copies. You are not Star Trek. You have no brand and no money, so you need to title your book so that your audience will know what it’s about.

Give me a hero image that speaks to me.

Even if you have a cool title, usually the image accompanying has nothing to do with the book interiors. Most comics especially suffer from superhero syndrome, which is the tendency to have the main character on a cover standing still, brooding off into space, without any context. This works for Spider-Man, but it doesn’t work for random book #78,215.

Another huge culprit of this is romance novels. They usually have one or two people on the cover with barely any clothing staring at each other or looking longingly off into space. This really tells me nothing except that there will me some nekkid people in that book. Of course with romance novels that’s often all you need. Fabio proved that.

But at least romance novels speak to the intended reader. You know that is a romance novel from the moment you pick up the book. You probably know the main character and its tone. I can’t tell you how many romance books get sold just on how hot the cover is alone.

But that’s my point. You have to have a hero image that speaks to the reader. For instance, Firefly’s main image was of the ship silhouetted against a planet. Now that’s a cool image. Even if the title didn’t make sense to me I would want to learn more because I like futuristic space stuff.

Figure out your audience and make your cover for them.

Is your book a cozy mystery? Psychological horror? Epic Fantasy? Then you should be studying dozens of other covers in that exact genre to figure out what readers want. It’s really not hard to do competitive analysis anymore. All it takes is a bag of Funions, a computer, and 30 minutes.

Your cover is intended to lure in your perfect reader. That’s the beauty of a cover. You know that saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” That’s hogwash. You should be able to judge a book by its cover if you’ve done a good job. That way, your reader will know exactly what to expect.

Don’t go to a cover mill.

Please don’t go to a cover mill. If you buy your cover online from an already done template I promise at least a dozens others have done the same thing. Make your cover original. It might cost you a little more now, but it will lead to tons more sales in the future.

At the end of the day, your cover is a way to show your awesome book off to the perfect reader. It tells people you’ve taken your time and thought about what you want to convey. A good cover shows you are professional and makes people believe in your work. A good cover leads to sales because people stop and look.

A good cover doesn’t have to cost a million dollars. It just has to have some forethought and planning.

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