hi! It’s Alexis Alvarez here, and we’re going to get under the covers…the romance book covers, that is! “A picture is worth a thousands words” never meant more, especially when you have about three seconds to capture a reader’s attention on Amazon.
I’ve surveyed multiple authors and designers, and here are three key rules for book covers:
- Know Your Audience
- Sell the Genre
- Grab Attention / Awesome Image
At the same time, you should also obey these guidelines:
- Catchy Title
- Set The Mood With Effective Colors
- Use Easy-To-Read But Sophisticated Fonts
- Show Quality With a Cohesive Design
- Less is More – Remember You’re a Thumbnail
If you can manage all of that (!), you will have a well-designed power cover which can enhance your sales.
Know your Audience & Sell the Genre
The most important piece of advice is to target your audience. You need the reader to know — in those critical three seconds — that your book is what they like. And you have to make them want to read the blurb. Saavy authors know this, and they keep it in mind when they design covers or hire artists to do it for them.
Author Cara Bristol explains, “A reader sees your book cover and decides from that cover whether to read the blurb. From the blurb (and maybe reviews), she’ll decide to whether to buy your book. If a cover doesn’t grab her attention or if something on the cover turns her off, she won’t read your book no matter how wonderful it is.”
Author Megan Michaels says, “As a reader, and definitely as a writer, I will routinely go to book review/book promo sites on Facebook and I will scroll with my finger as fast as I can. Whatever cover makes me stop and scroll back, I save it to my phone. You’d be amazed at what grabs your attention. After a few hours of that, I have a dozen or so book covers and I look at the similarities and differences, determining what made me stop.”
Author Natasha Knight puts it this way: “When I first see a cover, it’s usually a thumbnail so I can’t see a lot of it. It absolutely has to have an image I want to click on. Something super sexy and not like every other cover – but also not completely out there for the genre I’m searching.”
Indie cover designer Melody Simmons at Ebook Indie book Covers says, “The genre dictates the cover to a large extent. I cannot emphasise enough that especially new authors should browse the bestselling books and new releases and typical book covers in their particular genre.” And Melody shares this caution with new indie authors: “I have heard from authors who tried to be different and “stand out from the crowd” that this approach did not work, and once they changed to a more genre-appropriate cover, their book actually started selling.”
Many designers agree with my experts: You want to be unique and grab attention, but you need to do it within the general boundaries of your genre, so you don’t lose readers who expect to see something more genre-typical. Why is this? Chalk it up to human nature, perhaps. If a reader is going fishing for romance books, they are going to click on books that say “romance” to them, especially ones that look similar to books they’ve enjoyed in the past. They will appreciate a new and creative twist, especially if it’s artistic or beautiful, but if the cover is too exotic or appears too far removed from their target genre, they may not even bother to click on it.
Extremely artsy covers that don’t hint at the book inside can sell well for famous authors, because their name is their calling card, and people are going to buy their book regardless of the cover. On the other end of the spectrum, most indie authors need to let their cover explain the work. Since their name is still an unknown, and their fan base is not yet large, they — more than anyone — need a really catchy, punchy cover to entice brand new readers to give them a try. The more popular an author, the more leeway they may have to break all the rules. Of course, there are always breakout authors that rise from obscurity to best-seller-dom on the first book, regardless of the cover. For the vast majority of authors, though, a combination of creativity + “tried and true” seems to be the best bet.
What else does a cover need? In addition to clearly stating the genre and catching the reader’s eye with a fantastic image, the cover also needs to look professional, have easy to read but sophisticated type, and have a cohesive feel. There are design rules that can be used at a designer’s discretion to make the image pop or draw the viewer’s eye to the cover (Rule of Thirds, Visual Triangle, Corresponding Colors, Contrast, Focal Point, Focus on Faces,etc.) In addition, many cover experts say that including some small-point font on your cover is a good idea, even if nobody can read it (not for the title or author’s name, but for something like a little blurb or tagline); it makes the cover look more professional. It hints at something important that can only be seen if the book is clicked.
I decided to deconstruct a romance cover to show you what my very first impressions were when I looked at it. Try it yourself, with books from other authors and your own books. What can you learn from the cover? Does it say what it’s supposed to say?
If doing all the design work sounds daunting to you as a DIY author, you’re in luck, because there are many talented cover artists you can hire. They know all the design rules, are familiar with what sells well, and they usually have paid for stock photo and font rights, so you don’t need to worry about purchasing them or running afoul of copyright laws. They will even match the font to your photo.
Graphic artist and cover designer Jason Maxham, like many other experts, chooses font style and size carefully to match the tone and genre, in addition to carefully selecting and editing the images and colors. He takes the time to makes sure that the cover is clean, cohesive and has good visual flow. He comments that when you’re designing a cover, you find yourself judging every aspect of how it will be received.
Megan Michaels believes that you need to find a cover artist who will really listen to you, understand what you want, and make it come alive with skill and art. She works with cover designer Rachel A. Olson of No Sweat Graphics. See that first cover for Finding Submission? Megan says the cover really helped her turn that one into a top seller: “I’ve had people tell me they bought it on the cover alone. They didn’t even read the blurb. And then Mastering Inga kept with the color scheme and elegance of Finding submission.”
Author Natasha Knight also prefers to work with a professional, artist Clarise at CT Cover Creations, instead of designing her own cover from scratch. She comments, “For Deviant, it was easy. I saw the pic of this guy and he WAS Julien. I thought I might want sunglasses and knew ‘the look’ I was going for and his grin had it.
It also helped that he was super hot and just an eye-catching guy. I mean, if you saw him walking down the street, you’d totally look. I would.
The cover artist for this was amazing. This is probably the most important part about the cover – Clarise asked a lot of questions and heard what I wanted, got a feel for what I was going for then sent me the draft. She only had to do one draft.”
Jordan St. John, who also writes under the name Rollin Hand, changes his cover strategy based on his genre. When writing as Rollin Hand, he told me that cover design “is pretty simple. When writing as an indie I’m in the highly focused niche of spanking erotica. My objective is to make sure the consumer perusing titles understands this core fact. I don’t have to wow readers with a nifty, artsy cover.” However, when he publishes his romances with Stormy Night Publications, his covers are done professionally to appeal to a more diverse audience.
Author Morganna Williams, who publishes with Stormy Night Publications, is also happy with the covers provided by SNP, and adds that although she always has input into pictures, titles and details, she relies on the graphic artist to make it all come together. As a reader browsing covers to choose, she says: “I love when they resemble the characters at least a little…its kind of weird but when I read a story and the pic on the front is the wrong hair color — it really bothers me.”
Morganna’s concerns are important to many readers, and a good cover designer knows it. Melody Simmons takes everything into account when creating a new cover, including hair color, background, dress color, and even the face, and won’t stop until it’s perfect. She told me: “Designing a romance cover usually starts with an image search for suitable models. Thereafter I have to carefully extract the models from the background and add them into a new composition. Sometimes changes to the models are required. For historical romance covers often the dress colour needs to be changed. Hair colour could be changed and at times I even replace a whole face with another one. After that I work on different possible backgrounds and effects. If no further alterations are required from the author a cover can be completed in three days.”
Even for an expert, it can take a long time to design an excellent cover. Melody Simmons points out that many authors are talented in graphic design, but don’t have time to focus on cover creation. She says, “Some authors release one every month or every three months, some who write longer works release twice a year. Some who write shorter books release every two weeks. This helps them maintain their sales ranking position on Amazon. With such a hectic writing schedule it is essential to outsource cover work and editing, saving every precious moment to write more. Many authors also say you will only really start making a profit once you release your fifth or sixth book. Readers are reluctant to buy from authors who have only one or two books published. Getting a cover designer to help you will save you money in the long run as you will get to write more and also have better covers.”
Graphic designer Jason Maxham sums it up: “You can totally judge a book by the cover. Browse through Amazon books and you will see a crazy variety of covers. Most were designed to attract a certain reader. If it didn’t appeal to you, you are not the intended audience. That’s like, marketing, or something.” (Right?)
Jason’s being funny, but it’s true — the cover is really the best chance you have to grab a potential buyer’s attention. The good news is that you can always create — or commission — a new cover, if you’re not satisfied with your current one.
Please stay tuned for my next blog post, “Under the Covers – Part 2,” where I’ll interview Stormy Night Publications expert cover designer Korey Mae Johnson! She’ll let us take a peek under the engine to see how she designs her covers, and will give some tips to aspiring authors on what to look for in a good cover. And of course I’ll round up some more volunteers to let me showcase some of their beautiful books!
Book Cover Artists (Click on the graphic to visit their site)
Here are some of the books shown in this article. Click to find them on Amazon. Thanks!
Did a cover catch your eye? Follow your gut and learn more about the author. Click to visit each author’s Amazon page!
Jordan St. John
Kathryn R. Blake
Stormy Night Publications
Thanks so much for reading! Cheers!