I’m not shallow…But I definitely judge a book by its cover.
Shit. That makes me shallow doesn’t it?
Ah well, fuck it. At least I can admit it.
I’ve been thinking about marketing a LOT recently. Minus a total meltdown last week and a decision to bin (and subsequently re-write the last 30K of my book), I am still on track to send my book-baby to beta readers on 30th September.
Being the incessant 5 steps-a-head planner that I am, it means my mind is on marketing, book covers and that big ol’ scare-the-shitsicles-out-of-you decision: Do I run the poison, trap-infested gauntlet to a publishers door? Or drown in the overly saturated ‘Amazon’ rainforest of books as an indie? As it happens, I’ve finally made my mind up, but I’ll leave that for another post.
Book covers are without doubt, THE most important marketing decision you’ll make. Fuck it up, and you can watch your readers Foxtrot Oscar into the sunset, never to return to your bookshelf! So, I’m sharing my research and the lessons I’ve learnt in preparing to have my book cover designed.
Thing One – Genre
Know your genre. I know. Sounds like I took my stupid pull this morning cause of course you know. But seriously, think about it. You go into a bookstore and you can identify ‘your’ spot, you know the exact location your fave books will be in, just by looking at the shelves. No one read the signs anymore, we just look at the covers!
Scroll through – there are lots of covers in the gallery.
Those are some of the currently popular covers from the YA genre. You can tell a lot when you line a row of books up. I can often be found, detective specs on, snooping in a Waterstones (or #GoogleTranslate: Barnes and Noble). I actually have an album on my phone dedicated to book covers. I snoop. Take Photo. Repeat. I collect them in order to deconstruct and analyse their make up.
Even from the small selection in the slide show, you can see there are clear themes to all these YA (generally fantasy) covers:
- Most have a clear theme or symbol from their stories represented centrally in the cover
- Bold colours. Lots of blues, whites and blacks.
- More often than not with yellow or white writing.
- The book title is larger than the author’s name
- The book titles are generally less than 3 or 4 words, and more often just one word
- There’s a variety of placements of the title words from the top to the centre and even to the lower quartile of the book so placement seems more about overall fit than a formulaic style
- Of the 18 books included, only 4 have an obvious image of a person on the cover. One other has very small figures in the distance. But for this genre it doesn’t seem essential to have a figure or body part on them. Unlike say, romance.
The point is, don’t make assumptions. Markets and genres release new books constantly. Which means the tropes and themes within those genres are always evolving. When you need a cover creating, stop and analyse the top 30 books in your genre to see what the themes are.
Thing Two – Same, Same but Different
Why examine book covers in your genre when you want your cover to be different? Well, let’s pretend we’re bitchy school girls. To get in with the cool crowd you need to be the same as them but unique enough you’re valuable the Queen Bee.
If your book is on a shelf in Waterstones, you want it to be identifiable within your genre. But you also need to be different enough that it actually stands out to readers (in the milliseconds they glimpse your book).
Normally I’d tell you comparing is a plague, its second only to the plague of self-doubt. But when it comes to covers it is essential to collect and compare so you know what you’re up against, what tropes you need to follow and what you can happily avoid in order to stand out.
Simply – follow the key (reoccurring) patterns in your genre but in your own way.
Thing Three – Write Your Own DETAILED Brief
If you’re rolling your eyes, because you’re giving your cover to a designer therefore it’s not your problem, then stop rolling and listen up.
If you’re an indie author, the cover is down to you. If you’re going to pay out for a designer you might as well make sure you get what you want. The more detail you can give upfront the less iterations you will go through and the less it will cost you. Most designers have a limited number of changes they will make, which is why this is so important.
Give as much detail as you can, including:
- Target audience and genre
- Colour schemes
- Spellings (REALLY important)
- Examples of other covers you like AND importantly examples of ones you don’t like too
- If you have a preference on layout
- Any conceptual information, i.e. if you want a symbol or particular ‘image included, like a door or a key’
- Whether you want a person in the cover and if you do, whether you want it realistic or otherwise
- If you have a preference on style or type of typography /font
- Whether you want an eBook or print or both versions
- If you have a short synopsis why not send it with your brief
Thing Four – Colour MattersGetting the colour right is essential. Genres have their own theme colours – crime books tend to be darker, grittier colours. Romance,usually softer
pastels and happy summer type colours.
Study your genre, but also ask yourself what fits your story? If it’s a dark story you need dark colours and vice a versa.
On font colour, keep it simple. Opposing colours to the ‘main’ book colour work well, and as you can see in the slide show, the YA books mostly have white or yellow font. Your designer will advise you, but it helps if you go in knowing what you want so you don’t change your mind two months after you launch it.
Thing Five – Fonts
I don’t profess to be an expert on fonts, and again your designer will help with this, but if there are fonts you like in your genre, show them to your designer. You need to decide if the font is the focal part of your cover or if the image/symbol is. This determines how fontalicious you can go with your typography.
BookCoverDesigner has a great post on fonts and what are well used fonts on covers.
Thing Six – What’s Your Symbol?
Your cover needs to symbolise something – your story, obvs!
Even if you don’t have a physical symbol on your cover, like a lot of the YA books do, you need to somehow symbolise your story in the cover. Perhaps using your books central theme.
How do you do this? The same way you write. Show don’t tell. The TED talk below is all about book design and the same reasoning goes for covers as it does writing.
Readers, much to our writerly surprise, aren’t idiots. I know. I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But really, they do interpret and infer, so you can be somewhat abstract when it comes to your cover. Especially if you have a nifty title giving the reader context.
Last But Not Least – Thing Seven – Details. Details. Details
While your designer is shimmying up a book cover, think about whether you need a thumbnail image, a spine and back cover for print books. Do you need additional marketing materials?
- Business cards with book designs on them
- Physical posters and Banners
- eMaterials for Facebook or twitter or any other social media
- Merchandise with covers or symbols on them
The world is your oyster – but economies of scale apply. Once you have designs it doesn’t take much for your designer to add them to a little something-something else!
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