The Almighty Cover


When I enter a room full of books, the smell of old pressed paper with hints of almond and vanilla delights my senses. I like to stroll through each row and listen to my inner spirit that inevitably whispers, “Pick that one.” No, I’m not a book whisperer, but the first thing that captures my attention is a great cover. In fact, a survey conducted by The Book Smugglers indicated that 79% of people use the book cover to decide which book to purchase. Designing the perfect cover isn’t easy. Your goal should be to create an eye-catching, honest design that represents the content of your book.

So, what will make someone choose your book as opposed to the millions of others? Your book has to speak to your target reader, and whisper to them, “Pick this one.” I’d like to share some tips on how to accomplish that:

1. An Audience of One: Designing a cover starts way before you even write the first word of your manuscript. It begins with knowing your target reader and writing your story in a way that speaks directly to them. First, select a real or imaginary person. Ask yourself what you would say and how you would tell it if you were writing for that one person. Next, list that person’s character traits. What are their fears and aspirations? Most purchases are made from a place of emotion. Tap into those feelings. Then, use this same information when designing your book cover. Determine what will draw similar customers to your book. Then, trust that there are millions of other people just like them.

2. Location is Everything: Where does your target reader make the majority of their book purchases? This will help you design a book cover that fits the place where your reader typically shops. Do they purchase books at the grocery store, airport, bookstore, discount store, or online? These involve very different marketing approaches. Visit each of these stores and see what catches your eye.

3. The Power of Color. Did you know the color red makes people hungry? Have you noticed the logos of most fast food restaurant incorporate red? The black color screams high end. (Think the little black dress). Consequently, many makeup manufactures use black to bring a level of sophistication to their packaging. The color blue is calming, while orange elicits joy and excitement. Research the science of colors and incorporate a little psychology into your cover design.

4. A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words? Illustration, photo, graphic design, or perhaps a combination of these elements – what type do you prefer? Women who typically read for enjoyment prefer more design elements on book covers. Will your reader use their imagination to determine the appearance of your main character? Or will your reader be more drawn to a beautiful photograph? Be careful that your photo represents precisely the description of your character. Otherwise, you may lose credibility with your reader. Chose high quality, hi-resolution images for your book to ensure your book is ready for professional printing.

5. What’s in a Name? Deciding where to place the author name should not be taken lightly. In recent years, many bestselling authors like Maya Angelou and Nicolas Sparks include their names at the very top of the book in a very large font. Their name carries great value allowing their followers to identify their work quickly. Unfortunately, unless you have the same broad platform, the best approach is to place your name secondary to the title. Don’t try to trick your readers by putting your name in large font across the top like bestselling authors. You may run the risk of diminishing the trust of your reader once they find out differently. Traditionally, the author’s name should go at the bottom center of the cover. It should stand out without overpowering the title or the image.

6. There’s More: If your reader has made it to the back cover, then congratulations! It is the second most crucial part of your book, and there should be a flawless transition from the front cover to the spine and the back. Carry over the theme of the book to the back by including the same graphic elements or images used on the front. Creating a watermark of your front image and placing it on the back is one technique used to connect the entire book subtly. Also, the back of the book should contain, at a minimum, the book description and a short author bio. Adding a picture is a nice touch, but could also give your readers another reason to decide not to purchase your book. Lastly, don’t forget to leave space for the ISBN on the bottom right. It’s used to determine whom to credit the purchase of your books and how much royalty will be paid to you.

Finally, create three different versions of your cover to share with your focus group. Having a focus group that represents your target audience is crucial. Modify the color, title positioning, font, and graphic elements of your book or create two or three entirely different styles. Allow your focus group to decide which cover appeals to them the most.
Other Considerations:

  • Will this be part of a series?
  • Do I plan to pitch this to a distributor?
  • Will it look good in small and large print?
  • How will it look on digital devices?

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