The Art of the Good Cover (re-post)

Two Covers - Art of Foil Fencing You should never judge a book by it’s cover. But that’s exactly what we all do. The book stores are full of fantastic books with terrible covers that are never read. And also full of amazing covers selling terrible books that only disappoint.

Which is why you have to create the best cover you can just to draw readers to open the first page. It is the most important selling tool you have.

Earlier this year we revamped The Art of Foil Fencing with a new cover because the original was, well, terrible. Okay, the first edition cover did what it said on the, er, cover. But it was bland, uninspiring; a Plain Jane that did not entice the reader to flip that first page.

Image: The Art of Foil Fencing, coverBackground: plain white.
Image: dull
Typography: zzzz…

Frankly, the cover had been an afterthought, and a poor one at that.

What it needed was impact, drama, mystery, excitement. Not easy to pull off in a niche sports instructional. Which is why it was even more important to get right.

If you have the resources, the money or the contacts, you could just go to a graphic designer. But it better be the right one, with experience in commercial design, ideally in publishing, cross-genre, with plenty of imagination, able to work up a brief.

We know one or two graphic artists with solid skill sets who can’t devise an interesting cover to save their grandmother’s life. There are others with bold imaginations who will produce wow-inducing images of striking originality – but which don’t necessarily produce the cover to suit the work within the pages.

You need a good cover: you need a good brief.

  • Title at the top
  • Book type/genre next
  • Summarise in keywords what the book is about – not necessarily the back cover blurb.
  • Check other covers in the same genre or subject on the best seller lists – not to mimic or steal, but to spot the stand-out covers that drive a lot of impulse sales. Paste your top five titles with cover images from the best seller lists into your brief as a kind of mood board.
  • Consider the pro’s and con’s of illustration versus photography and decide which to use (consider how you might source both).
  • Decide if it will depict people or more abstract designs.
  • Consider typography for titles, tag lines and author. With the enormous variety of free fonts available, it’s easy to ‘audition’ type faces on the computer at home, playing around with sizes and styles. However…

The dangers of the DIY cover

If you’re self-publishing and tempted to do it yourself, and you’re not a trained graphic designer, beware of wandering down a blind canyon and hitting an ugly rock face. The happy amateur can spend hours, days, weeks flogging a dead-horse-ugly cover with no artistic or commercial merit before they even show it to anyone else to get a second opinion. Work up several versions and be prepared to kill your beloved best ideas in response to critical opinion. Maybe you need to start over with completely different ideas.

There are authors who will go to social media with an audition board of several cover versions and get their readers’ opinion on which to use. Peer groups of other authors, editors, publisher will often give constructive criticism (and some, not so constructive).

It’s worth mentioning at this point a really excellent resource, Derek Murphy’s Book Cover Design Secrets You Can Use to Sell More Books. Aimed primarily at genre fiction, it is both an insightful and entertaining look at what makes a good cover, with principles you can apply to any type of book.

In part two we’ll look at that cover revamp in more detail.