Decoding Covers

Your cover is often the first impression people get of you and your work. It's the best place to spend the first bit of money towards your book, guaranteed. A cover is separated into three sections. The front, the back, and the spine. These are broken down further slightly, and each part is chosen with care.

The Front Cover

The front cover is the first view people get of your book. It has a few different sections. The artwork, the title, the author name, and the cover quote. Pick your covers with care. You want them to match the feel and genre of the book. An urban fantasy cover, for example, would be wholly out of place for a historical book. A romance cover would be a bad fit for a horror or thriller novel. Most cover artists will work with you to create a cover that fits well based on your ideas. If you’re buying pre-made, keep your audience and story in mind. Your cover should accentuate your words, not overwhelm them. It definitely shouldn’t be the exact opposite of them.

When picking a book title, we suggest checking Amazon first. Look up your idea for a title. Are there 800 books already out there with that title? As much as you love it, toss it. You want to find something more unique, something that hasn’t been overdone to death. Try a few different wordings, a new order of the words. Look for what can set you apart.

The cover quote is solicited from another author. They read your novel, and provide you with a cover quote that can be displayed on the front cover. “A witty, engaging read!”. “Couldn’t put this one down!” “One for the keeper shelf!” Things like this draw the eye, showing that other authors have put an “approved” stamp on your work. It isn’t necessary, but it looks nice and sets off the other components of the cover.

For the author name, make sure to select something in a font that blends well with the rest of the cover, and doesn’t detract from the image. Too often people want to see their name in “big print”. It doesn’t look nice. It should always be smaller than the title.

If you have a cover artist, they are professionals. They will adjust the fonts and layers of the cover to make it stand out. This isn’t a job for someone to work up on a free image program with basic fonts. Cover artists charge for their work because they know the industry. They know how to make covers blend well, they know what layers and tools to use. This experience is what you are paying for.

The Spine

Depending on the length of your book, you may be able to have a spine added. This is fairly straightforward. The title goes up top, your name at the bottom. If you have a series logo or a publisher’s logo that you want added, if the spine is wide enough, most cover artists can get it there.

The Back Cover

The back cover consists of a few different parts, depending on the book. You have your blurb, your barcode, and a short bio and photo if you’d like. Some artists add a copyright on them, others don’t. Some add the title of the book again, some don’t.

Blurb writing is the hardest thing for most authors to do. Taking our work of art and shortening it into two snappy paragraphs that draw people in is rough. Start with a longer synopsis, then edit out as needed until it’s short and to the point. If you can’t do this, ask a friend to help. Sometimes they can see issues that we don’t, and can help strengthen the blurb. If no one can sort it, you can hire professional blurb writers for help. Either way, you want it to shine, as most readers check the blurb to know what the book is about to figure out if they’re interested in it. Don’t let them click away if you can help it.

The bar code is put on by your printer, with your ISBN that you provide. All cover artists will leave a small space in the lower right hand corner of the back cover in order to accommodate this. If they don’t, remember that anything in that lower right hand corner will be obscured by the barcode that’s added once your printer finalizes your cover file. You do not need to format your own barcode or add it to the cover, this is all automated. It’s one less thing to worry about!

If you choose to add a short bio and photo of yourself, your cover artist should be able to accommodate that. If you want another image of your title on the back cover, they should be able to do that as well. When in doubt, ask. They’re working to help make your book shine, so they’re always open to seeing what ideas you have first.

Tips & Tricks

Don’t select the first cover that catches your eye, unless it’s a sale or limited edition kind of thing. Check out a few, follow a few cover artists. Search for one that you feel does good work that you’d consider purchasing if you saw it on the shelves. Work with them.

Don’t try to create your own because you know GIMP or PicMonkey. You are setting yourself up for failure. Readers can tell a handmade cover from a professional one almost every time. The professionals have been at this a long time, and have tricks to make their work sparkle. We can’t compete with what can be sometimes decades of experience, and we shouldn’t have to. We’re writers, so let’s write and leave the cover designing to the artists.

If you are writing a series, ask ahead of time if they can create matching covers for the design you’ve chosen. If not, it isn’t your design. Series work best when the covers all have a matching theme or design, so that readers can immediately tell that they go together. Some photos don’t have a matching set, so they simply won’t work for you. Trust your artist if they tell you they can’t find matching images.

If you are selling both a print and an Ebook copy of your book, you will be looking for both styles of covers. Some list them as full wrap, print wrap, or print cover, but they all mean the same thing… the three parts to a full book cover. For Ebooks, they just use the front cover.

Don’t be so literal. Book covers are not meant to showcase your entire story. You get a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention to turn them into a potential buyer. You don’t need all your elements showcased on the cover. Pick two or three items that are important to you, and let the cover artist design the rest around those elements.

When choosing an image, try to go for one that tugs at the heart of the matter. It doesn’t need to be matched to a scene in your book, as long as it evokes the theme and feel that you were going for. When it comes to covers, simplicity rules, simply because it shows off your book as fast as possible to people that can just as easily move to the next.

Remember, your cover artist can’t begin working on your cover until they have all the pieces/information for it. You can work with them to start the general idea, but the final cover copy has to be made once they have everything for the cover as well as the final page numbers of the novel, in order to size the spine.

Book cover design is an inexact science. What sells and what flops are still so un-intuitive that a lay-person will have no idea what goes into the process of creating a fantastic cover. They take time, artistry, and collaboration between you and your artist to find that “sweet spot” where the cover fits you and your vision, but also what the designer knows will sell. Trusting your designer’s input is key. Don’t undersell them, and you’ll end up with a cover you can be proud of.

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