Posted On May 1, 2017 by Print This Post

Veronica Scott: The Importance of Cover Design

RU Contributor Veronica Scott starts the week off with an in-depth discussion on book covers.

Welcome back, Veronica!

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” said George Eliot in The Mill on the Floss. Maybe that was a valid thought in 1860, when her book first appeared, but nowadays the quality and eye appeal of your cover may be the deciding factor when a prospective reader takes a moment to consider one clicking. Or at least whether they want to go on and read the blurb and maybe the reviews.

Data Guy said in the Author Earnings report he presented to the Romance Writers of America that over 200 million romance ebooks were sold in 2016. (Lots of thought provoking data in that report, not surprisingly.) I don’t know about you, but I’d love a generous slice of all those sales. I regard the book’s cover as a critical tool for attracting a reader’s attention and hopefully enticing them to buy.

I’m in a number of author groups on Facebook and at least once a week (and probably more often) someone posts two versions of a book cover and asks whether we like A or B better. A related occurrence is the author posting about being unhappy with their lagging sales and when other people helpfully go look at the book’s listing, they report back that the cover is a big part of the problem. Many times the author doesn’t want to hear this advice!

The real question at hand is not whether green-tinged cover A is better than blue-tinged cover B. The key question: is either cover design right for the genre you’re targeting? Close on the heels of that question comes the issue of whether the cover looks professionally done or did the author do it themselves and the art screams DIY?

Why would an author be seeking input for a cover design? Maybe they’re getting ready to issue a new book, sales of an existing book may be less than great or they might have just gotten the rights back from a previous publisher. Publishers revert the rights to the book itself but usually not to the original cover art. Sometimes an author wants to refresh or rebrand the entire series and orders up new covers for all the books. So if your favorite indie author just put new covers on his or her ebooks, please don’t automatically assume the old covers were a problem.

With that caveat, let’s go forward. The cover is a really important piece of persuading the reader to spend their hard earned money on a book. With so much competition out there today, an author can’t afford to miss this key opportunity to engage the potential buyer’s interest. I’m not a cover artist or a graphic designer myself. I’ve had two wonderful people who are wildly talented and genre-knowledgeable design all my covers for the scifi romance and ancient Egyptian romances respectively – Fiona Jayde and Frauke Spanuth.

I have, however, been a keen observer of discussions on covers over the past few years. I also compose a new releases post for my blog on a weekly basis, covering three genres, and I see the full gamut of covers in that process, from the slick traditional pub to high quality indies to the “oh bless her heart, this person drew her own cover art” efforts. I know which ones sell better!

Two major things to keep in mind:

(1) The cover doesn’t have to tell the entire story of the book in one crowded set of images.

The cover doesn’t have to depict any of the actual story in fact. It should suggest the genre and entice the reader to stop browsing, click on the blurb and learn more. But unless you’re in that rarefied level of authors who can commission their own photo shoots, you’ll have to use the same stock photo sites everyone else does and your Duke or governess will have to be as close to the person you describe in your book as you can manage. Strive for ‘genre friendly’.

I’m not giving actual examples in this post by the way, because it’s not my intent to embarrass anyone. But as a hypothetical example of trying to do too much on the cover, based on a few I’ve seen over the years, if your book features a lake scene, a city scene and Stonehenge, and maybe a big musical instrument that the heroine plays plus a fabulous piece of jewelry…yeah, talk to your cover artist, pick the one image that speaks most to your genre and go with that. Too much happening on the cover confuses the eye and muddles the message. The reader moves on.

As a side note, don’t take photos of your relatives or friends in rented costumes and use those images, ok? You’d be surprised how skillful professional models are at portraying heroes and heroines in an unself-conscious manner, and conveying the ‘romance look’ readers expect to see on their covers. So unless your family members pose for photos as their day job, don’t go there.

And while we’re on the topic, do NOT grab a photo of a celebrity (or anyone else) off the internet and use it. The rights to their images belong to them and the rights to that specific photo belong to the photographer or the site which commissioned it. Takedown notices and lawsuits probably aren’t what any author was hoping to attract when they wrote a book.

The cover does have to look professional because if the art is clearly amateurish, the reader may worry that the writing is equally poor quality and pass.

 

(2) The cover should tell the reader this book is in the genre they’re looking for.

What do I mean?

Let’s talk about science fiction romance for a moment, since that’s what I write most often. Currently we have some really steamy, sexy tropes going on with cyborgs, space gladiators and well-endowed alien men seeking human brides, and these tropes are reflected in the covers with a lot of taut male six pack abs. Maybe with a planet in the background. There’s also the less steamy SFR with more emphasis on the action and the adventure, a bit more scifi content perhaps, and for that type of book an author will typically have a clothed couple, a spaceship or an alien landscape or city, and maybe a planet or starfield. (I’m sharing one of mine, designed by Fiona Jayde, as illustration.)Both types of covers tell the reader the book is going to have a science fiction element, but if they’re in the mood for a high heat level read, with lots of sexy times on the pages, they’ll gravitate more to the first set of covers. Conversely, if I put those sexy men on my covers, the reader is going to feel cheated (and maybe even leave a dreaded 1 or 2 star review) because the book didn’t deliver what the cover promised.

A cover missing all of these specific elements I’ve mentioned above, however, isn’t going to say scifi romance of any heat level. I’ve seen authors beguiled by really lovely images, all pastels and romance-y in feel, but lacking any hint of science fiction content. And then they wonder why their sales are dismal. Readers looking for science fiction romance want to see plainly on the cover that this is what they’ll be getting.

I usually advise people to go look at the Top 10 book covers on Amazon in their chosen genre to get an idea of what kind of art the best-selling authors in their category are putting on the books. Inevitably someone will proudly proclaim that their book crosses all the genres and can’t be pigeonholed. Maybe so, but you’re going to have to pick a category when you list it on the ebook sites, so you really need to narrow it down to one primary genre and incorporate the necessary key elements into the cover to help the right readers find you.

I think often an indie author feels pressure to ‘do it all’, from writing the book to formatting, including designing the cover. This is usually going to be a big mistake, unless the person has considerable skill at manipulating images, picking the right fonts, etc. There’s no extra credit awarded in publishing for trying to be master of all the trades involved in getting your book out. Covers can be really expensive, yes, but there are also pre-mades, which will often work nicely. There are artists on various sites who will work with you at a widely varying range of rates. Get into an author group on Facebook and ask for sources.

Another problem with the DIY covers can be that you’ll have a hard time getting the book featured on major blogs or platforms. I interview many authors in the course of a year as a contributor to several well-known romance blogs and there are definitely times I’d like to feature a book but the cover is so non-professional, I can’t bring myself to ask my editor to give it the prime time real estate a big platform provides.

Also, just as the fashion industry has the dreaded worst dressed lists, you don’t want to risk your cover ending up on one of those “what were they thinking” type posts.

Additional places where I’ve seen authors flail and fail is making the fonts unreadable with curlicues run wild or packing too many words onto the cover. It’s important to remember the image will be seen first as a thumbnail and so needs to have impact from the moment the reader’s glance falls on it.

I don’t put anything on my covers but the art, the book title and my author name. No ringing endorsements, no blurbs, no quotes – I think the use of those is a holdover from the old traditional publishing days when the only place to buy books was in a bookstore and the reader might indeed be swayed by the great endorsement from Big Name Author in the same genre (I used to be, for sure). I’d stand in the aisle with the actual books in my hands and peruse that information, as well as the review pull quotes and the blurb. Nowadays, you can always put those wonderful quotes and other details in the editorial comments portion of your ebook listing. They don’t have to be on the cover.

Next to professional editing, I regard investing in a good, genre-specific cover as an essential ingredient for success.

What cover problems have you seen?

***

Star Survivor – November 2016

The survivors of a terrible wreck meet again—but this time only one can survive.

The long-awaited, standalone sequel to The Wreck of the Nebula Dream

They survived an iconic spaceship wreck together. She never expected to see him again … especially not armed to kill her.

Twilka Zabour is an interstellar celebrity. She built on her notoriety as a carefree Socialite who survived the terrible wreck of the Nebula Dream, and launched a successful design house. But now the man who gave meaning to her life, then left her, is back–this time for the worst of reasons. Will he kill her … or help her survive?

D’nvannae Brother Khevan survived the Nebula Dream in the company of a lovely, warm woman, only to be pulled away from her, back into his solitary life in the service of the Red Lady. Now Twilka’s within his reach again–for all the wrong reasons. Khevan will do everything within his power to discover why Twilka has been targeted for assassination, and to save her.

But Khevan is not Twilka’s only pursuer. Will allies Nick and Mara Jameson arrive in time to aid the couple, or will Khevan and Twilka’s ingenuity be all that stands between them and death?

***

Bio: Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.

Connect with Veronica via her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

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12 Responses to “Veronica Scott: The Importance of Cover Design”

  1. Great post, and really good tips.

    One thing that struck me: I don’t think indies think they have to do it all; I think sometimes they just don’t have the money for a great cover and thorough editing. And sadly, more often than not, it shows.

    I wish we were a society where the content mattered more than the packaging, but you’re right. Books are judged by their covers these days.

    I also like your point about pull quotes no longer being an effective sales tool on the cover. I like a clean cover, too, and would prefer to see that information in the editorial content online.

    Two of my series are traditionally published, and the publisher does allow me a say (although not final say) in my covers. I’ve heard horror stories of authors who aren’t allowed any input, though. Have you heard the same? Do you find that professionally-designed artistic sales material can help an author overcome a bad cover by a publisher? (Or if not overcome it, at least help a bit?)

    Posted by Staci Troilo | May 1, 2017, 9:20 am
    • You have it so right. The cover is one place I scraped and saved for even though everything else I worked around and around with. We live in that kind of world. Packaging matters but what strikes me is that so often the packaging contains weak content.Can we ever win?

      Posted by Barbara | May 3, 2017, 2:05 am
    • Sorry to be so late in replying! I do hear what you’re saying about the expense of purchasing cover art (although there are places to get good premades, and also artists on sites such as Fiverr). I just hate to have an author with a good book, whose cover is so DIY that it prevents them from getting sales, or being featured on major blogs etc. I’ve heard some authors say in effect well, I’ll put the book out there for now with the cover I made and fix it later and I’m dubious about that idea. A book is only ‘new’ once. Has anyone had a good experience to share, having tried that?

      Posted by Veronica Scott | May 19, 2017, 5:35 pm
  2. Hi Veronica,

    Interesting point about publishers retaining rights to cover art. Although I’ve seen some pretty terrifying cover designs on self-published books, I can say some are truly phenomenal. The biggest mistake with covers is what I refer to as ‘kitchen sink’ syndrome where there are too many story elements on the cover.

    Good cover design isn’t cheap, but I agree that it’s money well spent.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 1, 2017, 7:54 pm
    • “Kitchen sink” – exactly! I had to be talked out of that on my first book or two by my wonderful cover artists. It’s so tempting to try to lay out the entire story on the cover! Or to get hung up on some tiny point that seems key to the author but really isn’t important to the actual cover. (I did that too LOL.)

      Posted by Veronica Scott | May 19, 2017, 5:37 pm
  3. Hi Veronica – I’d say that I’ve NOT purchased a book because of its cover more than I’ve been tempted to buy a book because of its eye-catching cover. But, as you mentioned, sometimes an interested cover can lure me to pick up the book and read the back cover blurb, or maybe the first few pages.

    Thanks so much for this thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 1, 2017, 11:56 pm
  4. Morning Veronica….

    Book cover design is a tough one, because the affordability of a quality design versus a debut author. I think a lot of authors start with a cheaper design, then slowly move up as their sales pick up. Unfortunately sometimes sales don’t pick up if you don’t have a good design.

    One of the biggest problems I have with designing covers is that they want everything on the cover at once, and at the small size amazon uses for a thumbnail that just isn’t possible. Or finding a couple who look EXACTLY like they picture in their head, dressed in this particular outfit in this particular pose. Sigh. There’s only so much to be done with stock photography!

    So be prepared to bend a bit on the couple you want on your cover, or find the photo of the couple you want first, then write the story.

    Your book designer will thank you. =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | May 2, 2017, 9:26 am
    • Yes, so much this re trying to tell the story on the cover OR demanding the stock photos exactly match the characters. I was trying to say that in the post, although you put it much succinctly so thanks for chiming in!

      Posted by Veronica Scott | May 19, 2017, 5:39 pm
  5. Good post, thank you.

    Posted by Barbara | May 3, 2017, 2:06 am

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