We’ve all done it; you’re casually browsing in a book shop (online or physical) when suddenly, BAM! You spot a book that instantly draws you in. That looks like my kind of book, you say to yourself. A read of the synopsis confirms your initial thought. Perfect. This book is exactly my cup of tea! So you buy the book (along with another five or six because you struggle to choose a favourite).
Why should I care what my book cover looks like? My writing speaks for itself.
Granted, you might think the quality of your book and writing is what sells – and of course, you aren’t wrong there. But let’s not forget – your reader has to actually read your novel in order to realise how good it is. In order for them to get as far as reading it, they must be attracted to your book in the first place.
Got a jaw-dropping and intriguing synopsis? Great! But remember, people will only scan the synopsis after they’ve been drawn to the jacket itself. This, along with the name of your book are the first things that potential readers will interact with. Only if both of these elements are appealing will they read the synopsis, and then buy the book.
Cover design can help to place your novel in a genre, thus make your book appeal to your target audience
Next time you’re in a book shop, go to the section of your favourite genre and have a look at the cover designs. Chances are, although they are not identical, they will look similar and will have particular graphic elements. For this reason, although not a hard and fast way of differentiating genres, a lot of books can be identified through their outward appearance.
For example, crime novels often have large, sans serif type, ominous photography and dark colours. Romance novels generally demonstrate pastel colours, script fonts, and images of women or a couple (see below).
How often have you picked up a novel in a book shop purely because it looks like one I’ve read before and enjoyed. By placing your novel visually into its intended category, you are more likely to appeal to those who are most likely to want to read it.
Bad cover design will make you look amateur
Self-publishing a novel is hard, hence it’s easy to finish the writing and editing stage and think you’ve reached the finish line of your journey. I mean, your book’s written (FINALLY), it’s void of spelling and grammar errors (well let’s hope so ay) and it’s ready to be exported and uploaded. But then you realise. Your book needs a cover. Oh, i’ll just whack something out on Microsoft Paint, that will do the job, you say to yourself.
So you quickly bash out a cover and publish your novel. Hooray! You sit back and wait for the millions to roll in, along with emails from hundreds of agents and publishers who want to publish your next novel. But no. Nothing happens, and you wonder where you went wrong.
Although I do not condone the mockery of other peoples book covers (it’s a bit mean) there exist countless websites dedicated to mocking bad book jacket design. Much like being on the worst dressed list as a celebrity, no writer wants to find their designs featured on these sites. It is bad publicity and can lower your credibility.
Put bluntly, even if your writing and editing is flawless, a bad cover design will make you look unprofessional. And if the cover looks amateur, people may assume that the writing and content are also below-par.
When self-publishing a novel, you will be aware of the need to market yourself and your novel. In order to do this, it might be helpful for you to brand yourself. Take the bestselling author John Green as an example. Below are a selection of his books.
Not only do they instantly highlight his writing style (humorous yet personal), they all look very similar, which may inadvertently lead to more book sales. If I’m a John green fan in a book shop and I see a book that looks like his, I’m more likely to be drawn to it, thus buy it.
If you are intending to write several self-published novels, all of a similar genre, it could be a great advantage for you to have a consistent cover design style (by using the same typefaces, layout and illustrative style). This is especially important if you intend to write a series, as you will want all of the books to hang together visually. Author branding isn’t necessarily as complicated as it sounds – it could be as simple as placing an author logo-type onto all of your e-book covers (like Karen Rose’s books below).
If you do this, with any luck, readers who have previously read your novels will recognise the style and author brand, hence automatically assume that they will enjoy reading this novel as much as they did the last.
Free advertising – mention other books by you
Again, if you’ve written or intend to write more than one novel, the cover of your new novel can be a great place to market your other works. A simple ‘Author of INSERT NOVEL NAME HERE” or “New novel from the author of NOVEL NAME” flash can direct readers to your other works, which may be of interest to them. You can even include a link to your author website or social media pages. Free advertising FTW!
People like pretty things
How often have you bought something just because you think it looks nice? Too often? Don’t worry, you aren’t on your own! Chose a notepad purely because it had a cute picture of a cloud with a smiley face on (even though it’s one of those perfect bound ones that are hard to open)? Definitely done that! Bought a cupcake just because it will look nice on Instagram? Definitely done that too!
People do the same thing with books and will often buy a novel because they think that it will look pretty on their bookshelf/nightstand/Instagram.
And some other points…
Thoughtful cover design can help reinforce themes/foreshadowing/the twist
Although not necessary, you can utilise the cover design in order to strengthen some of your underlying themes. You can even use it to foreshadow the twist.
It will look good on your author website
This point speaks for itself really – make sure your cover design is something that you would be proud to put on your author website.
Put simply, designing a cover is fun. You’ve spent days, months and years crafting your perfect story, so go for it and spend another few hours creating the perfect book cover. As a self-publisher, you are lucky – many authors who are published traditionally, don’t have any say in what they want their book jacket to look like. So embrace the freedom, challenge yourself and create something that you are well and truly happy with. You might even surprise yourself with your creativity!