Cover art is probably one of the most important aspects of your book. Think about how you choose a book to read. You go on a library or ebook site and search through literally 10’s of thousands of books. You might put in some author or subject key words, but you’re still left with hundreds. You scan the cover thumbnails. When something pops out at you, *then* you look at title, synopsis, and ratings. Cover art is the first impression your book makes on the world, and unfortunately it is judged by it. Good and bad cover art will affect who reads and who doesn’t.
I always advocate working with an actual cover artist. They can take your ideas, clean them up, and make them pop. They know the difference between legally used images and pirated images. They can make sure your cover is unique and 100% legal. *For more info on legal image uses see my blog ‘The Importance of Cover Art’.* It’s also helpful to have someone to bounce ideas around with.
Most cover artists will give you what you ask for, but design is a two way street, and many people fail to listen to their artist to their own detriment. Yes, you want to see the image that is in your head made real, but it is important to take in the advice of your artist. There are reasons some images won’t work no matter how bad you may want them. If your artist is trying to talk you out of an idea, there’s a reason.
One of the very first things myself and the other artists on staff think about is how the cover will look as a thumbnail. 90% of the books out there are only seen as thumbnails because readers only scan the massive lists before them. What looks great big, or when the book is in your hands, doesn’t always look good small where it is first seen. Look at the difference in these two covers. Both happen to be my work, but The Librarian was before I went to art school. I broke many rules. the title is hard to read in smaller size. The image is too busy, and while the posterization seems like a cool idea at the time, it is an overused device to hiding blending and layering problems. Even the coloring and lighting is different for each subject in the image.
The title needs to be legible as a thumbnail. Script writing is pretty and works well with shorter titles that are a major part of the cover space. Long titles or titles taking up a smaller space will be invisible as a thumbnail. Longer titles work best when you take the most important part of the title and making it large enough to grab attention, then you can use other devices like script writing for the rest of it. Personally, I rarely look at the title listed next to the book, and some sites don’t even list that. Your title has to be seen. You can only rely on interest of the image so much. Big time authors with clout and several books out can design covers that show off their name as more important than the title, but that doesn’t work well with newer authors.
A busy cover will be lost entirely as a thumbnail. Sometimes that’s important to the book, but there are ways to get around that. Using a blocking technique, for instance. That’s where you arrange the elements into specific blocks on your cover. This can be putting a banner or plaque over top of the image to hold your title, Or having a clear top and bottom to draw the eye around. Also changing focus by leaving less important elements purposely blurred or darkened helps your reader to pay attention to the subject. Making the title glow can work in some places but often adds to the muddiness of the image and if done without proper nuance can look like a child’s drawing.
Beware of color choices. We are tempted to go monochromatic because it all matches and may even set the mood for a book, but it turns into a muddy, hard to read mess as a thumbnail, and even as a full sized book it’s hard to see the nuances. This cool design and font get lost. There needs to be enough contrast between the title and background image to be seen. You can use dark on light or light on dark, or look at your color wheel for complementary colors. Usually, when looking at a color wheel, opposite colors work together the best, or even 3 equally spaced apart, this is a tetrad. For instance blue and yellow or orange make an impact without jarring the eyes. Or orange, green and violet.
Image blending is one of the first things I see as an artist. It tells me instantly the level of skill the artist had while making that cover. When making a piece of art from several smaller pieces, you cut them out and layer them into place. The edges need to be softened and feathered, and the image needs to be adjusted for lighting, color, and opacity so they blend with the other images on the page making it look like one whole scene. Untrained viewers can also easily see this was an amateur job; they’re just not always sure how to explain it. Ill-blended edges look chunky and some parts seem too bright or too dark.
Do research on your genre. The rules change for each genre. Certain color choices or symbology attract the readers of that genre. When talking about zombies, biohazard signs bring the most attention. Having a loving couple might be important to your zombie book, but readers will see that and dismiss it instantly. Look at the covers of popular books in your genre. You want to walk the fine line of standing out, but attracting the right audience. This is hard, but is another thing professional artists have been trained to do. Both of these are good covers, but if you want a zombie story, which one are you going to read?
Take a look at some of these covers and think about which ones you want to read and why, and which ones you would just pass over. Trust your artist. Give them a chance to wow you, and ask questions before you reject an idea. The artist's name is going on these covers. Trust me, they don't want their name on bad work. It will forever haunt them.
*No commentary is made on the quality of the writing in any of these books. Some of the stories behind the bad covers will surprise you.*