Friday, 3 August 2012

Totally Addicted to Book Covers

****Eternal Hunger (The Complete Series) is free on Saturday, 4th August****

We all know the old saying "you can't judge a book by its cover," but is this actually true? Personally I think you can tell a great deal about a book by the way the author or publisher have chosen to package it, and I think the cover plays a huge role in sales, at least initially. It's true there are some great books out there with terrible covers. When these books start to develop a reputation the cover is not as important anymore, but for new authors the cover is absolutely crucial. It can make or break your book.

Most readers would have had the experience of being attracted to a book because of its gorgeous cover only to be let down by the story. Perhaps the saying should be rephrased as "you can't judge a book entirely by its cover," because covers do count. It's the very first impression a reader has of your book and it will determine whether they decide to go further and read the description, hopefully leading to a sale. If the cover doesn't grab the reader's attention they will simply keep looking until they find one that does.

This is Marketing 101, but it's surprising how many dull and unspiring book covers are around, from both publishing houses and indie authors. I've also seen some beautiful self-designed covers from indie authors and I wish I had the skills to create my own, but sadly I'm a bit lacking in this area. That's why I was thrilled to discover premade covers which can be quite inexpensive and give your book the quality appearance that will attract readers. I absolutely love looking through the galleries of covers available because it's a geat source of inspiration. I usually start looking for my next cover before I've even finished the first draft of a book, but I don't allow myself to actually buy it until the final draft is almost completed. It's a reward to myself for my hard work, and monitoring the site to see if someone else buys it first adds a little excitement to my life. Maybe a sign that I need to get out more? hmmmm

Obviously people have very different tastes when it comes to books and covers, but what are the fundamentals of good cover design? While I don't actually design my own covers I've done a bit of research in the area and these are the three main points I've come up with:

1. A  clear image that gives the reader an immediate idea about what sort of book it is. This doesn't mean it has to be literal.  Cover art is symbolic and you should aim for an image which captures your overall themes. (I found out the hard way about this as, according to some people, the cover for my first book in the Eternal Hunger series, Desires of the Flesh creates the impression my vampire book is erotica! I guess the title doesn't help much either, but you live and learn). If your book is mysterious or abstract, use an image that will convey this and intrigue potential buyers. These are the covers that appeal to me the most because I like books which are challenging and interesting. Don't use composite images pasted together as they are very obvious and look tacky.

In order to choose the correct image you must have a very strong idea of who you are targeting. Closely related to this is an understanding of visual literacy. For instance if the person on your cover is looking directly at the viewer this creates an immediate connection with the reader. This is a good image to use when you want your reader to relate to the character. People who are looking away from the viewer come across as preoccupied or untrustworthy. It's very important that the image can be seen when it is reduced on Amazon and other book selling sites, and this is why simple images work best.

2. An eye-catching colour scheme that creates the right tone for your book.  Thrillers and horror novels often make use of dark colours, which work well if there is at least one bright colour to lift it. Many romances use pinks and pastels, which are effective in capturing the interest of the target reader. The advice from designers is never use more than three colours.

3. Balance: All the elements on the cover must balance so the cover has symmetry. This is a tricky one to master, as you can have different sizes and style of fonts on a cover, and yet still achieve balance. It's hard to define, but we know it when we see it. Don't feel you have to fill ever bit of space on the cover, as this comes across as too "busy," and doesn't look good in thumbnail. The human eye is attracted to symmetry and by ensuring you cover is harmonious, you will give your book a head start.

The KISS principle is very relevant when it comes to designing or finding the right cover for your book, and will help you to avoid the most common mistakes made by new authors.

My favourite of my own covers is Prude & Prejudice because I think it captures the tone of the book perfectly. The bright, happy colours create let the reader know it is a romantic comedy, while the butterfly symbolizes the journey my character is on. She also happens to run her own organic farm, and because the novella is based loosely on P&P I wanted to conjure up images of the English countryside. This cover was ideal for all these purposes.

Below is the cover for The Marriage Pact by MJ Pullen which demonstrates the KISS principle in action. From memory I think this book reached no. 1 on the free kindle list in romance, showing that it grabbed people's attention. The image is simple but the impact is powerful. The ring obviously symbolizes the union of marriage, which the main character is violating by having an affair with a married man. She also made a pact with her friend to get married to each other if neither had found someone by the time they turned 30. The use of pink writing against the dark background lets the reader know this is chick-lit, lightening the tone. The cover would be bleak without this splash of colour, creating the impression the book is more serious than it is.

Here's the cover for my current WIP, which actually breaks some of the rules I've just written about, including my own for not buying the cover till the book is nearly finished (oops!). The cover implies that this book is chick-lit, and although it's about a group of women, it falls into the genre of women's fiction rather than chick-lit (there are no men or romance in the book at all). The cover itself plays a part in the story, but you will have to wait till it comes out to discover how. I'll be very interested to see how the book is received because I think many people download books based on the cover alone and don't bother to read descriptions. I might have a few irate readers who are expecting something completely different!

Check out the 10 worst book covers in the history of literature here.


  1. Book covers are very important. I hate to admit it, but I do judge a book by it's cover. If the cover is dull and boring, I am going to assume the book is the same. Self-published authors are guilty of not always choosing the best cover. I don't think some people realize just how important it is.

  2. So true Mary Ellen, I think a lot of authors really underestimate the role covers play for readers when choosing books.

  3. Thanks, Francene, for the kind mention. For those who love The Marriage Pact cover as much as I do, please feel free to visit my designer's website at:

    She's AMAZING, and does simple elegance like nobody's business!

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  5. Simple elegance is a very apt description for your cover, MJ. Good to see the sequel to The Marriage Pact is now avaiable!