(Check out the vlog version of this post)
Your book’s cover is the most powerful marketing tool at your disposal.
Whether we like it or not, we all judge books by their covers.
In traditional publishing, professional designers are responsible for creating a book’s cover. Sometimes the publisher will ask the author for input and sometimes the publisher will present the author with several mock-ups and ask for their opinion. Most of the time, however, these decisions are made in-house.
There are seven basic elements that inform a book cover’s design. They are:
- The country it’s being published in
- Design trends
- The novel’s theme, plot and characters
- Whether it is a stand-alone or part of a series
- The target audience
- The author’s brand
Different Covers for Different Countries
Have you noticed that many popular books have different covers in different countries?
The US, UK and Australian versions of any one book often have very different styles.
This happens because the publisher’s US, UK or Australian division have tasked a ‘local’ in-house designer with creating a cover that will appeal to that specific country’s readership. What appeals to an American horror reader differs from one based in the UK or Australia … apparently.
Self-published/indie authors tend to use the same cover for every country. Though it is easier than ever to get your self-published book into bricks and mortar stores, the truth is that the bulk of sales occur online through print by demand distributors. This system makes it nearly impossible to create country-specific book covers and most indie authors would struggle to find the funds for such adventures anyway. That being said, many indie authors experience plentiful sales across multiple countries using the same cover design.
Trends have a huge impact on a cover’s design. You have already noticed that bold colours, large or hand-drawn typography and illustrations are the current trend. This handcrafted style is a push against technology and digitisation while simultaneously acknowledging the cultural rise of artesian craftsmanship such as boutique wineries, cheesemakers and rocking-horse makers, etc.
Theme, Plot or Character
The most common factors that influence a book’s cover are its themes, plot and characters. Often, the significance of these elements isn’t clear until after the book has been read. However, the cover should be striking enough to intrigue potential readers. If the protagonist has long blonde hair, a woman with a similar appearance may appear on the cover. If the plot is driven by the protagonist’s duty to protect a mysterious ancient talisman, the protagonist may be depicted as holding the talisman while looking over her shoulder. Repeated imagery, metaphors or symbols may also work their way onto the cover depending on their significance to the overall plot and aesthetic appeal.
The book’s genre will also influence its design. As you’ve no doubt noticed, romance books have very different covers to horror and science fiction books, historical novels differ from crime novels and chick-lit differs from fantasy. Non-fiction books have very different covers to literary and genre novels, because the tropes, mood and purpose of these respective categories are very different.
Non-fiction books typically seek to entertain, inspire or inform their readers. Genre books are driven by story/plot and each specific genre has its own unique tropes. Literary novels are driven by ideas; the story isn’t about the story, it’s a metaphor for something else.
Stand-alone or Part of a Series
There is a continuity between book series’ covers so that fans of that series can easily identify which books belong to the series. This is particularly important if an author has multiple series under their name. Though each series may fall under the same genre, each series will have its own distinct look.
A book’s target audience has a huge influence over a book cover’s design. The reader’s age, gender, occupation and interests are just a few of the qualities a designer may consider when creating a cover. Some of the questions a designer will consider are: Who is this book for? A mother is her mid-forties? A teenage boy? An elderly gardening enthusiast? For example, a novel aimed at male video game players in their early twenties won’t have a pastel green cover dotted in pink flowers, but one aimed at an elderly gardening enthusiast might.
The last thing to consider is the author’s brand. Author branding is not a new concept, but the rise of the internet, social media and self-publishing have certainly increased our awareness of it. An author’s brand is essentially how they present themselves to their audience.
A brand is a promise an author makes to their audience so that readers know what to expect from them and their fiction.
Branding includes the visual images that appear on an author’s website and social media pages in the form of banners, layout, photography and even typography. If the author publishes non-fiction books, then their online aesthetic may influence their book cover’s design. This is rarely the case with indie and traditionally published fiction authors. Instead, a continuity may exist across all the author’s covers so that fans can easily identify works written by that particular author.
You may have noticed that some books and series are re-branded every five to ten years. As previously mentioned, a book’s cover is the most powerful marketing tool available to both authors and publishers. Book covers are often up-dated/re-branded in response to changing trends and reader feedback. A book’s target audience doesn’t change, but the members of that audience do. Readers grow older and their interests and reading preferences shift. Publishers and indie author’s update their book covers in order to appeal to current members of the target audience.
Covers contain a lot of embedded information and they are our first impression of a book. A great book cover should make a reader feel something, and if that reader does feel something, they are far more likely to pick the book off the shelf, turn it over and read the blurb. (Or, click on the image and read the description).
A book contains many thousands of words, but a picture, as the saying goes, contains only one thousand—and that is why you must make it count.
If you like this post, consider checking out this related article by David Coen: The 100 Most Creative Book Cover Ideas