Self-publishing is fraught with tough decisions and money worries – especially when it comes to choosing what goes on the cover. But don’t let yourself fall into the trap of believing any of these all-too-common misconceptions about book cover design.
MYTH: It’s what’s inside that counts!
FACT: People DO judge a book by its cover…Your book may have taken months, years, or even decades to write. You’ve laboured over it, so that it grabs the reader from the very first pages and delivers them a damn good read right to the finish.
But the hard fact is that few people will ever get to find out what an amazing book you’ve written if the cover is bad. A poor cover sends the message that the book inside is unprofessional and unloved.
MYTH: I’ll get a better cover when the book’s a success!
FACT: Without a good cover, your book will struggle to find a readership…
This attitude is an understandable by-product of the DIY ethos of self-publishing. And it’s true that, if you sink too much money into a self-published book, you may struggle to even recoup your costs. So why not slap up a quick-and-dirty cover and plan to pay for a better one once the book has earned its keep?
Well, if you were opening a bar, would you furnish it with plastic furniture for the first year, until takings were high enough to splash out on wooden tables and chairs? No, of course not, because first impressions are everything. Just as the local barflies would take a pass your grungy bar, prospective readers are unlikely to give your book a chance if it has an uninspiring cover.
Sometimes the old adage is true: you gotta spend money to make money.
MYTH: My cover needs to look different from the competition!
FACT: Covers with a familiar look-and-feel help to sell books…
“Why does every thriller feature a lone figure loitering on a desolate landscape?”
“Why can’t you find a sexy romance that doesn’t have a guy showing off his six pack on the cover?”
“Why do all the book covers in my genre look so goddamn same-y?”
These are gripes you see over and over in reader circles. And, as an author, it’s easy to feel you should buck the trend. “I’ll do something different – I’ll break the mould!”
Sorry, but this is bad business. Your book cover is not the place for mould-breaking. There’s a reason those same-y book covers are all over your genre – because they sell books. Readers may gripe, but on a subconscious level, they’re drawn to the familiar. It lets them know what they’re getting.
That’s not to say a good book cover can’t be distinctive, but it has to conform to the conventions of its genre or subcategory.
MYTH: My book cover needs to feature models that look exactly like my characters!
FACT: Readers can imagine your characters; they don’t need a visual aid…
Characters are vivid in the minds of an author. And the exercise of getting a book cover designed can feel like doing a casting call for the movie of your book.It’s true that book covers featuring people are often more compelling than those that feature an object, an abstract design, or just typography. A person on the cover draws you in, makes you want to know their story…
But finding an exact physical match for your protagonist can be a fruitless search that easily tips into lunacy. This is the reason book covers featuring people turning away from the camera remain so popular. It’s also the origin of the “dude, where’s my forehead?” trend.
Your characters exist on (and off) the pages of your book. They don’t need to be rendered perfectly on your cover, too.
MYTH: My cover needs to tell the story of my book!
FACT: A good book cover is simply a tease…
As authors, our books live in our hearts and minds. Every complication and character choice feels burned into the inside of our skin. So why wouldn’t you seek to represent all of those complications on your book cover?
Your book is about a sometimes-happy/sometimes-not couple … living in a New York brownstone … who move to Missouri … and the husband opens a bar called The Bar … and the wife becomes scared for her life so she buys a gun …
Okay, so on the cover, you need to get the New York skyline in there, plus to brownstone, plus the Missouri countryside, plus a sign that says The Bar, plus a gun, plus images of the couple when they’re happy and when they’re arguing. That’s 7 elements to include, but that’s fine, because the book cover needs to tell the story of the book…
Wrong! That description is of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and its original cover contains exactly one element: a woman’s hair feathered across the text, perhaps from her sleeping form, perhaps from her dead body.
A good book cover exists simply to pique the interest of the reader. It’s the book itself that does the hard work of storytelling.
Ready to get a book cover design that’s worth a thousand words (without including a thousand elements)? Check out my Premade Book Covers and Custom Book Cover Design options.