One of the most exciting things about being a writer is seeing your story transform into a physical book with a stunning front cover. But the process of getting the right cover for your book is often tricky.
Front cover design is an art in itself. Every book will be competing for space in a bookshop and the cover design could be the decisive factor in persuading a shop to stock your book in the first place. Each books also competes for readers. Without a great design, a reader won’t even bother to pick up a book, let alone read the blurb or hand over their money!
What’s needed is an impressive graphic that will grab the attention of the browser from across the shop floor. The design should reflect the genre of the book, offering readers subtle clues as to whether it’s their kind of read or not. It’s a good idea to look at other books the same genre and to go for a similar look and feel. Romance novels often have a curly cursive font and pastel-coloured illustrations. Crime novels often use dark or monochrome backgrounds with an aggressive splash of colour and block lettering for the title.
Strong, simple colours will make an impact as long as they don’t detract from the title. For example, my first two novels fall into the ‘contemporary commercial fiction’ genre. Both have elements of mystery with a hint of romance, and my second book, The Key of All Unknown, was a whodunit with a twist. Both covers have an unfussy colour scheme of black, white, red and blue.
It’s said that it takes about eight seconds for someone to make a judgement about a book. In that time, they answer three questions:
Who’s it by?
Have I already read it?
Is it my sort of book?
So as well as being visually arresting, a book cover must convey essential information about the author, the title and the genre. In our internet age, these three pieces of information must display clearly on a thumbnail on a computer screen or mobile phone as well as in a bookshop. The choice of typography should complement the design. If the text is too small or elaborate, it might be off-putting or difficult to read.
A second function of typography is to establish a consistent, instantly recognisable, ‘author brand’. For example, my books use Times Roman for the title font and a sans serif font for my name. Once you have developed a brand, this should be rolled out consistently across all your author activities (blog, website, promotional material) so your readers get used to associating it with your writing.
A book will generally spend most of its life on a shelf, so don’t forget that the look of the spine is just as important as the look of the cover. It should simplify the style and overall design of the cover with the the title, author name and publisher very clearly visible.
Getting it right, can be quite a process. Having read the synopsis of my third novel, The Gardener;s Daughter, the design team at Instant Apostle came up with an initial idea that dovetailed well with my author brand.
However, I didn’t think the black, white and red colour scheme worked for this book. It made it look like a crime thriller, whereas it’s a story about an orphan heart trying to find a home. I wanted the cover to be softer and more organic, whilst still retaining some elements of the branding from my first two books. The image of the cut flower is clever – it symbolises my heroine, Ava, who runs away from home to search for her biological father when she discovers she’s adopted – but the pool of blood was a little over the top and didn’t really link to the plot.
I asked if the colour scheme could be softened. I also sent the team pictures of book covers that I really liked and felt reflected the tone of The Gardener’s Daughter, suggesting the use of a caravan image, as Ava ends up squatting in a derelict caravan in a creepy forest. I received three great cover ideas back from the designer.
The publisher was still very keen on the cut flower idea, but my reservations had grown stronger. I didn’t understand why the cut flower was green and the others were black, when logically it should be the other way round. Plus, with ‘gardener’ in the title and a picture of secateurs, was there too much gardening in the cover, when it’s not actually a gardening book? Would it appeal to my Young Adult readership or did it look a little ‘old lady’?
I thought this cover was too dark and it lost the branding link with my first two books. Also the design interferes with the clarity of the lettering. However, I liked the menacing shape of the tree very much because it fitted well with the sense of peril in the story.
This was my favourite design. It retained the branding of my first two books. The text was clear, and the picture was well grounded. The trees were a little too neat and tidy for my liking and didn’t convey the emotion in the story. Also, the camper van needed to be changed to a caravan, but I felt we were moving in the right direction.
So, here’s the final version.
I’m so grateful to Instant Apostle for allowing me to have input into the process. I know that some publishers hand cover design over to a marketing department and the author has to accept whatever is provided. That’s one of the great things about working with a small independent publisher that values the input of the author. It has helped me appreciate much more the commercial side of book marketing.
For those of you who have spotted the inconsistent capital ‘G’ in the title, when my other books use lower case for the titles, you’ll have to read the book to discover the significance!
What would be the dream cover for your book?