Book Covers – Super Fun, or Make You Wanna Stab Your Eyes Out?
by Cody Wagner
Now that my novel is getting closer to completion, it’s time to start thinking about my book cover. Of course, you might be thinking, Don’t you already have a book cover?
That’s a great question, Cindy!
And the answer is, yes. However, I really dislike my cover. This is in no way meant to insult my illustrator or art director. They are hyper-talented people on their own. I just don’t like how everything came together.
So it’s time to change things and get the cover I love!
To that end, I wanted to share a few tips. See, I absolutely love book covers. In fact, I spend entire evenings scrolling through cover art on the web. And there are two tips I’ve learned, things sooooo huge that even a pleb like me can see them. So, without further ado, watch out for these issues:
Obvious Composite Images
Most writers who want a photo-realistic book cover end up using stock photography. In case you’re not familiar, stock photos are pictures available online that you can pay to use. Fortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of stock photos out there, so you can usually find something fairly unique that works for your book cover. The problem arises when your cover needs to incorporate multiple images.
Say, for example, you want a cover featuring a heroine (the female hero kind, not the drug… wait, they’re spelled differently, aren’t they? Never mind!) standing in front of an old tree, while a cloudy sky looms overhead. Chances are, you may need to find three separate images: the woman, a tree, and the sky. After selecting the perfect images, your book cover artist would then merge them into one design.
The issue occurs when those images aren’t seamless. To illustrate, let’s look at this cover I found. (NOTE: I must say that the artist who did this cover has some amazing work in her portfolio, so this isn’t a knock on her! This flawed cover could be the result of any number of factors.)
This image isn’t made up of an obscene number of composite images, but there’s one glaring problem: the dog.
Look at the light from the inside of the columns and how it correctly causes the shadows of the columns to run down the steps.
Then look at the dog. First off, the style of the dog doesn’t even match the columns. That alone is troublesome. But now check out the dog’s shadow. It doesn’t correctly run down the steps. On top of that, it’s not even going the right direction in relation to the light source.
This may not be a super obvious example, but I’m glad for that. Because even the untrained eye knows something is wrong with this cover, whether or not they can point out what it is. It’s just off. That screams amateur. And, unfortunately, people associate amateur covers with amateur writing, which ultimately affects sales.
Avoid Bad Illustration
An alternate to photography is illustration, or drawn/created imagery. When the purse strings tighten, many writers feel forced to compromise on illustrated covers. That can often lead to that ill-fated scenario where we, gulp, recruit our “talented” brother or aunt or sixteenth cousin to craft our illustrations. Unfortunately, that often leads to book covers that look like this.
Now, you might laugh at this, but I have to tell you, covers like this are WAY more common than you might think. Either budgets prevent writers from hiring professional illustrators, or authors are so tied to a design that they end up with something missing an obvious design eye.
So what’s my advice here? Well, in addition to hiring a pro, the most obvious thing is to take the tone and audience of your book into account when deciding on a cover. If I were to guess the genre from looking at this cover, I’d say it’s a children’s book. However, the title tells me that’s probably wrong.
Now, what about advice for writers with extremely tight budgets? That’s easy: go simple. I’ve seen a book cover that was solid black with a tiny white title that was FAR more compelling than the covers above. During my days in advertising, I learned the phrase “No art is better than bad art.” And that holds 100 percent true with book covers.
Fonts Are Everything
This may sound like an exaggeration, but I firmly believe that font selection is the most important part of your book cover. I think most people don’t really contemplate a font’s contribution to the cover. Instead, they think people simply need to see the name of the novel.
For example, let’s look at this wonderful cover.
Doesn’t the font just make this cover? I absolutely love the font selection. From the word “Life” alone, you can see that, unlike the title suggests, life isn’t ordinary. It’s colorful and whimsical. I love it.
Here’s another great example.
Normally, I would recommend against using so many different fonts. However, this artist knew what he/she was doing and it results in something great. Overall, the cover is pretty simple. But the fonts wonderfully hint at heaven and hell. They really say a lot, and that’s important.
Now let’s look at a bad font choice.
Again, this might seem exaggerated, but it’s a real cover. And bad font choices are way more common than you might think. So let’s look at what’s wrong with it.
First, it’s extremely difficult to read. The drop shadow behind it is WAY too far from the letters. Also, the odd shadow color (white) doesn’t work. Next, the font choice is terrible. Never use a font like Comic Sans. It’s one of those trope fonts that should be avoided.
Additionally, look at the number of font colors and treatments. We have blue-green on white and white on white. If there weren’t enough, the white font has a red outline. That’s way too busy.
Now let’s go a step further and look at the font choice in relation to the novel. If I were to look at the title and image, I’d guess the book is probably action-packed and violent. Well let me ask you: Is Comic Sans an action-packed and violent font? Not at all. The font selection here had nothing to do with the tone or genre of the book.
Whew! OK I’m shutting up now. But hopefully these high-level tips will help you when reviewing your book cover concepts or looking for a designer.
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at Wagner-Writer.com, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.