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Marketing 101: Book Cover Design

Marketing 101: Book Cover Design

Some proverbs or old sayings are eternal (like the Book of Proverbs in the Bible). Some have less longevity … like this old saying:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

That might have been true when all books were hardcovers with little more than the title and author name. But in the modern age, the book cover is valuable marketing space—the book marketing equivalent of a highway billboard.

Because we do judge books by their covers. I’m a freelance editor, so I’d like to be able to say that the most important aspect of a book is the writing and editing. But that’s not what I think.

Observing as a reader and potential buyer, I have to say that the most important aspect is …

Cover Design

Why? Bad or insufficient editing can be so annoying that readers react by not finishing the book, leaving critical reviews, or not buying your next book. Even worse, they may report the book to Amazon as being of poor quality, which leaves the author rushing to find and make sufficient changes that Amazon accepts the book again.

But all that assumes the reader has picked up the book (or downloaded the Kindle sample). And they won’t do that if they’re not attracted by the cover.

It’s Not About You.

True story:

An author posted her book cover in a Facebook group. She may or may not have been looking for feedback (the group allows book cover posts if people are looking for feedback, but not as a new book cover announcement). Anyway, the group offered her feedback on how she could improve the cover. Several people commented that the cover image didn’t look professional, and didn’t reflect the genre.

It was good feedback. But the author rejected it: her son had painted the cover image, and she loved it.

That was her mistake. Whether you like the cover isn’t important. It’s a bonus if you do (of course), but if you’re the only person who loves your cover, it’s likely you’ll be the only person who wants to by your book. Because cover design isn’t about the author.

It’s About the Reader.

Cover design is about the reader.

And not every reader. Just as no book will appeal to all readers, no cover should appeal to all readers. Your cover needs to appeal to your target reader. (You do have a target reader, right?)

So your book cover has to be designed to appeal to the kind of people who read books like yours.

More specifically, cover design is about genre.

It’s About Genre.

Your cover needs to look like the covers from the leading books in your genre. You need a cover that functions like a freeway billboard: the reader who’s skimming past will immediately know the genre and know whether it’s a book they might be interested in.

Not like a black cover with yellow writing I saw recently. It was for a young adult Christian novel based on the story of Daniel. I shows the cover to a couple of friends without telling them the genre, and they couldn’t even tell whether the book was fiction or nonfiction, let alone the genre or target reader age.

Your book needs to blend in to the Amazon shelf as a book that looks like it belongs. You don’t want to be the author of the book that stands out because it looks wrong. That’s like turning up to school in a blue dress and realising the school uniform is brown. You stand out, and not in a good way.

At the same time, you want your cover design to be unique.

You don’t want to use the stock image of the 1880s woman in the blue dress peering through the curtains out the window. Or the stock image of the woman in the white dress and hat holding a tea cup and saucer. Both are lovely images, but they’re overused.

Hint: if you’ve seen the image on a cover before, you don’t want to use that image. It’s overused. Keen readers in your genre will recognise it … and possibly ignore your book because they think they’ve already read it.

Check out the books in your genre. Know the trends. Follow the trends enough so your book fits in, but not so much that it looks like every other book in the genre. Brand your book covers, so people who see a thumbnail in passing on Twitter will stop and click, because they recognise the cover.

It’s About Brand.

Here are a couple of examples: Rayne Hall and James Scott Bell both write books about writing craft. Rayne Hall’s books on writing craft are consistently branded:

Books by Rayne Hall

James Scott Bell’s books are not:

James Scott Bell writes great content—probably better content that Rayne Hall. But the branding isn’t consistent, which makes his books harder to spot in an overcrowded online store. And even harder to spot on social media.

The same holds true for fiction covers. The best fiction cover shows the genre clearly, and is consistent across a series, or across all the author’s books.

Know the Trends

Book cover trends change. You’ll need to watch the trends and update your covers accordingly.

For example, Robin Jones Gunn’s Glenbrooke series has been through at least five cover designs since Secrets was first published in 1995:

If you want to learn more about cover design without actually becoming a designer, then you’ll need to watch the trends. I have two favourite places to watch cover design trends:


Amazon is the world’s biggest bookstore, which means it has the world’s largest selection of covers, old and new. Check out the new releases or the Top 100 books in your genre for ideas.

The Book Designer

Joel Friedlander of The Book Designer has a monthly cover design contest, showcasing submitted covers along with a brief critique about what’s good or bad.

If you’re traditionally published, then you may not get a lot of say in cover design.

But you need to know enough so that you (or your agent) can go into battle if the publisher gets it wrong. And publishers do get it wrong: the ugly black and yellow cover I mentioned above is a cover from a small traditional publisher.

If you’re self-published, then you have complete control over your cover design.

Complete control to get it right … or wrong. My advice? Make sure you find a cover designer who knows your genre (e.g. one who has designed covers for other authors in your genre), and follow your designer’s advice. If they tell you yellow on black isn’t a good look, then they’re probably right.

What cover design tips do you have?

Best of the Blogs: 25 March 2107

Best of the Blogs from Christian Editing ServicesBest of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.


Kristen Lamb is back again this week, asking: Do Some People Lack the Talent to be Authors?

Does writing take talent … or just a whole lot of practice and a willingness to learn? What do you think?


Book Descriptions

Why is it so easy to write 80,000 words, yet so difficult to condense that down into a brief book description which sells? BookBub have eight hints to help write a book description which sells. Well, it sells books for BookBub. It might not sell on Amazon, which permits longer descriptions.

Cover Design

Joel Friedlander has published his monthly cover design awards. James Egan and Damonza solidify their reputations as the cover designers to save up for.

Possible trends to note included several covers with characters turned away from the reader or in silhouette, and one which used an italic font. There were also a few covers with yellow or orange. Joel warned against this a couple of years ago, but I’m now seeing a trend for thriller or suspense novels.

As usual, it’s worth looking through the full list (100 covers) to see what works, what doesn’t, and why.


Jenny Hansen shares a fabulous post on author branding at Writers in the Storm. Read Helpful Hacks to Build a Strong Online Brand.


Andrew Pickering visits Social Media Examiner to share 7 top tips for using Twitter to Drive More Traffic to Your Blog. I’m only doing three of these. I’m sure I can add three more with only a few tweaks to my sharing routine. One might be a little more trouble—anyone want to guess which of the seven I’m least keen on?

Award Finalists!

The 2016 Grace Award finalists have been announced, and Kiwi Christian author Kara Isaac is a finalist in the Romance/Historical Romance category.

And Romance Writers of America have announced the finalists for the RITAs, the romance world equivalent of the Oscars … and Kara Isaac is a double finalist—First Novel, and Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements. Congratulations, Kara!