The Art of a Good Cover

We’re told never to judge a book by its cover – but of course that’s a metaphor for life. People are not what they seem. Situations are not what they seem. But books? Honestly, I like my book cover to relate to the book content. I like being able to judge a book by its cover.

I support indie writers and that means I’ll often download a “hey my first book is free this weekend” book even if the cover is solid blue with white text in a plain font. I’ll download it with a poorly hand drawn picture. I’ll download it with a poorly photoshopped picture. So why does the cover matter?

Because, when I’m browsing at a book store, or online at Amazon or Kobo, it’s the cover that first catches my eye. The title is important, but you can have a mystery called “Runaway”, a thriller called “Runaway”, a teen angst drama called “Runaway”, and a book of poetry called “Runaway.” Looking at the title tells me nothing. Of course I usually browse by genre so that clears up some confusion.

The cover can tell the reader many things. If it’s a fantasy novel the cover might reveal if it’s contemporary fantasy or medieval fantasy, if it has wizards, dragons, or vampires, etc. It won’t reveal everything about the book, but it will help set the tone. A cover tells the reader if it’s a light fluffy book or a dark twisty book. The cover sets mood and tone.

I want to take a moment and make a few things clear. I support indie writers. I read just about every genre (INCLUDING erotic romances). I’ve written in many genres (INCLUDING erotic romance). I understand that romance goes from inspirational (all love no sex) to steamy (love and sex but tastefully and modestly done) to erotic (love and graphic sex) and yes I’ve read and written all three.

I recently joined several Facebook groups aimed at promoting books by indie writers. They’re basically places where you can post a link or pic or promo for your book. The idea being that you should check out what else is being posted from time to time. Since I’m editing my book right now I wanted to start supporting others, commenting on their posts, generally getting my name out there as someone who’s involved in the community. I’ve stumbled across a few books that made it to my wishlist. Overall it’s been a good experience.

Then today I’m scrolling through Facebook on my tablet and I get a full screen image of a guy, dress shirt unbuttoned and pulled back, nothing else on but a pair of white gitch (and not even boxers, we’re talking tighty-whiteys here). He’s sitting on a chair or bench or something, and it’s just chest, arms, and crotch with a dirty caption.

This is not what I want to see. This doesn’t get me interested in the book. Neither does pictures of girls stripping or people making out, half dressed (or less), or people basically in the act of having sex.

Like I said, I read the genre, I write the genre, but these images are such a turn off.

Anyway, rant aside, what does make a good cover?

Besides being an offense to my slightly prudish tastes (considering how raunchy I can write that’s meant to be a joke) that cover was professionally done. It was neat, no obvious photoshop masking lines, obviously semi-professional model, at least. It’s a well made cover. And I’m betting it suits the book.

A good cover needs to suit the book, if it portrays a character that portrayal needs to be accurate (the covers for the edition of the Black Jewel novels I have bug me because the MC is in her early to late twenties in book 2 and 3 but looks older on the covers), the font needs to suit the tone of the book, and be readable (in print, on screen, in thumbnails, etc).

Better quality will always attract more readers, such is the way of the world, so cutting out a pic of your friend posing in a period dress and pasting it over an image of a castle and typing your title on it might not catch everyone’s attention. It screams “mediocre” and “rough draft” and people will think that your text will be the same. It’s not fair, but it’s truth.

I feel that sometimes this is a hot topic for writers. It can cost a lot of money for a professional cover, money we may never make back. I’ve discussed the costs of art before so I won’t do it here.

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