I can’t stress enough the importance of a professional looking book cover. It’s like a restaurant. You go for the meal, and ultimately judge the restaurant on the quality of the cooking, but you make your decision on whether or not to try that restaurant long before you taste the food.
That’s what your cover does. An effective cover gets readers to sample your story. After that, it’s up to the quality of the writing as to whether or not they’ll come back for more.
What Makes a Book Cover “Effective”
1) Grabs Attention. To do that, the images should be simple and big. Covers today, even for print books, are viewed most often as thumbnails on a computer. One or two graphic elements that are easily recognizable when viewed small work best. Here are three of my cover designs that do that.
The first is a chic-lit murder mystery on a tropical vacation, the second is a horror story about a taxidermist serial killer, the last is murder on the ski slopes.
2) Conveys Content. In the blink of an eye, without reading a word, the reader should have a feel for your story’s genre, setting, time period, and tone of the writing. This is done through image, color, and font style. Here are three contemporary novels all set in Texas, but the covers convey three completely different messages.
The first is a murder mystery/romance set on a ranch. The second is a family drama/romance about betrayal and redemption. The last is a fun, sexy romance.
3) Creates a Brand. If you have multiple books that are connected, or very similar in tone, having a consistent look is great for marketing. With Ken Casper’s covers, above, the books were not connected, and had very different settings, hence the distinctly different looks. Sharon Ihle’s books, below, are all historical western romances, not connected, but with a similar tone, so we went with a uniform look.
These covers intentionally reference a style that was popular in the 1990s, when western romances were popular, because Sharon’s target audience is readers who feel left behind by new trends in the romance genre. Those readers will see these covers and instantly know this is the type of story they want to read.
My covers are for a trilogy, so again, using a template and swapping out images and colors give them a unified look.
What Makes a Good Cover Great
Fonts! You can have a perfect image, but if the title and author name are just slapped on top of it, it screams amateurish. The right fonts in the right size and placement are what make a cover look professional.
Should You Hire a Pro?
In a word, yes! Cover design is an art form. To think anyone with some graphic software can design a professional-looking cover is like saying anyone with MS Word can write a novel. Well, maybe they can. But is it a novel anyone would want to read?
How Much Will it Cost?
For an individual author paying out of pocket anywhere from $50 to $500.
First, cross big design firms off your list. They’re far too expensive for this type of work. There are many independent designers, like me, who have professional experience but almost no overhead. You’ll get a professional cover in the range of $100 to $500.
Another option is someone just starting out who’s building their portfolio, or someone with no formal training who just happens to have a real knack for graphic design. You’re taking your chances, and the quality of the work may likely be less, but not always. Sometimes the quality is quite good. And very affordable, around $50 to $100. So if money is tight, this could be the right route for you.
You poured your heart and soul into the writing. Don’t sell your novel short by dressing it in rags. Dress it for success with a professional cover.
Julie Ortolon worked as a graphic designer doing ad layout for newspapers and magazines before selling her first romance novel to Dell Publishing in 1999. Since then, she has designed promotional material for fellow authors as her writing schedule allows. Her popular blog, JuliesJournalOnline.com is dedicated to helping other authors navigate the brave new world of publishing, ebooking backlists, and social networking. You can learn more about her and her books at JulieOrtolon.com.