Do you know what makes a good book cover?
You should…if you ever want to maintain consistent sales of your book.
Ok, so here’s the deal. What I am just about to tell you might sound controversial. It might even sound downright ridiculous.
You could even get offended.
But bear with me for a while. Just hear me out…because what I really want for you is to sell more books, and your book cover is one of the most important factors playing into that reality, even though we’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover.
The reality of publishing is…
Everyone does anyways.
Here’s what makes for a good book cover:
- Focusing on the big picture
- Strong composition
- An intriguing focal point
- Clear title and subtitles
- Simplistic book cover design
Why does a good book cover matter?
The book cover exists to serve one – and only ONE – purpose. And that purpose is to sell your book. Everything else is details.
Shocked? Offended? About to pick that nearby glass of water and smash it on my head? Just hold it for a few minutes.
I understand how we creatives hate the four-letter words starting with an S. Sell? Sale? Sold!?
But it’s true. If you haven’t read Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad yet, I urge you to get a copy and read.
Robert Kiyosaki was once being interviewed by this bright young journalist. She had a real flair for writing. She asked Robert if he had any advice for her. And guess what Robert told her. “Go take a sales course”, he said.
The young lady was shocked. She sat there silently for a few minutes, staring at Robert Kiyosaki in disbelief. And then she spoke. She told him she had spent all her life writing and studying. She held master’s degrees in literature and journalism.
And she had worked so hard all her life, so that she won’t have to “stoop so low” as learning to sell!
Robert explained how she was a far superior writer than Robert could ever hope to be, but Robert was still a best-selling author, while she wasn’t. She could write the best book ever written by a human being, but it wouldn’t matter if nobody read it.
And that is why you need to “SELL”.
Makes sense? I hope it does because as I mentioned above, your book’s cover is one of the most important pieces of becoming a successful author.
What makes for a good book cover?
I have been on that side of the fence where creatives hate the concept of selling or marketing. And I have been on that side for the longest time. But the sooner you get yourself comfortable with these words and concepts, the better.
And the best way to start is by understanding that investing in a good book cover design, and knowing what makes a good one. Knowing the basics is still really important even if you plan on hiring a professional cover designer.
And why should you even listen to me? Well, I have a bachelor’s degree in marketing. And trust me, I learned nothing at school.
After my bachelors, I spent nearly ten years convincing myself and the world that I am an artist.
And you know the funniest part? All of my creative buddies and peers were in the same situation.
And that is when I decided I needed to learn what I had shunned for the longest time. I needed to learn to sell. We founded Dastaan Online. And the first business that needed our help was our own. We started publishing a literary magazine called Dastaan World.
Writers, artists, photographers, even those who write poetry along with readers flocked to us. I decided to design covers for every story we published. And our contributors loved them!
My covers might well be beautiful, and thought-provoking and sublime and what not. But that is all secondary. They keep coming to me, because my covers help them sell their books.
Every other quality of a good book cover can be indented as a subcategory or explanation of this one point.
The book cover is there to promote your book, and ultimately sell it.
Now, the next big question is, what makes for a good book cover that achieves this goal?
#1 – Focus On the Big Picture
The book cover needs to draw the viewer into the story. Even if you are writing non-fiction. You are a writer, so you know there is always a story.
The cover needs to show what the book is about, without giving all of it away, much like the book title but with visuals.
This example from Self-Publishing School’s coach Marcy Pusey shows just how this technique works in her book, Weirdo and Willy.
The idea is to get your reader to open the book. Once they open the book, your magic as a writer will not let them put it down before reading it to the end.
But to catch in your spiderweb of literary magic, you need to use a bait. And that is what your cover needs to do for you. It needs to play on the human emotions of intrigue and curiosity.
So think about the big picture of what your book cover should represent.
Ask yourself these questions when figuring out your book cover:
- Does your idea represent your story or message?
- Does it illicit intrigue?
- Does it stand out from other books in your category?
#2 – Create a Strong Composition
This is where is start to get into the wizardry that is graphic design and illustration.
Composition is one of the most fundamental skills required of anyone working with visuals. And as with all fundamentals, the composition takes a lifetime to master, at least!
But if you have some experience and want to go for it, here are some guidelines on composition:
- Use the rule of thirds
- Symmetry is your friend
- Use texture and patterns to add non-distracting details
- Use high and low angles
- Combine several composition tips into one for full-effect (but not ALL of them)
But you can start off with a few interesting guidelines or you can simply hire a book editor who’s experienced in the field of composition.
Related: Check out “Every Arm Outstretched”, by Phil Halton. It’s a good example of image composition in book covers!
#3 – Develop a Clear Focal Point
Every composition, every piece of deliberately designed visual communication, needs a focal point. The easiest way to find your focal point is to ask yourself (or, preferably, a friend) where your eye goes first on this piece.
Whether it’s the title, your author byline, a figure in the artwork, some specific abstract shape, your focal point is what grabs your attention and catches your eye the first.
And it’s not accidental.
In this example by Self-Publishing School’s Omer Redden, you can see that the focal point of his book Life Doc is very clearly and intentionally the eye-catching title.
There’s a whole science behind this elusive art called composition. It is this magic skill that dictates where a viewer is going to look, and in what order.
You can have multiple focal points, but they should not compete with each other. They grab your viewer’s attention in the order you have designed them. Primary, secondary, tertiary and so on.
This dance of attention depends on what story you want to plant in their head. This story will make them open your book and eventually decide to buy it.
#4 – Title, Subtitle and Their Relatives
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking your cover is completely at your designer’s mercy. No. You are the writer. And you play the key role in determining how well your cover is gonna perform.
How? The book title!
When trying to come up with a book title idea, ask yourself this: Will it pull your reader from across the store? Or the webpage? It should be compelling. It should be visible and readable.
AND it should be strengthened further by any additional visual elements on your cover.
Self-Publishing School coach Scott Allan’s book Undefeated is a great example of this. Here you can see his title plays an integral role in the cover design as a whole, with a very telling message with the torn reveal of “un” in “undefeated”
Your title, and any subtitles and taglines are going to play a pivotal role in selling your book. So get your inner Don Draper out when crafting your cover copy!
#5 – Simplistic Book Cover Design
And finally, I like to keep my covers simple. And I personally tend to like covers that are simple and minimalistic.
Although, my covers may sometimes look complex because of all the digitally painted and photo-manipulated detail, the ideas and composition must remain simple. It all goes in favor of the focal point and our intention to just say enough that will compel our viewer to buy the book.
Overly complex covers usually give a very blatant impression of desperation, where the designer didn’t exactly know what to put in.
And hence, they put everything they could think of in there. Not cool. Don’t do this. Keep it simple!
So when you decide to finally lock down your book cover, remember to keep it simple stupid. Keep the big picture of your story in mind.
Make your viewers focus on the key selling points of your book.
If you feel stumped about your book cover design, you can always reach out to a professional for help. If you’re a student of Self-Publishing School, you’ll even be provided a list of cover designers whose work already checks the boxes of this list.
You can see a little preview of this below:
Just keep these guidelines in mind, whether you are designing the cover yourself, or paying someone to do it for you.
Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a comission if you click through to make a purchase.