The fact is people DO judge a book by its cover. In my time, I have seen some great ones, creative ones, some out-of-the-box thinking ones, some I don’t get and some (quite frankly) shady or even in the abysmal category. The latter making me think, ‘what were you thinking?’ I have found all these categories both in the traditionally published books as well as self-published books. Focusing on self-published books, after speaking to many aspiring/new authors and self-publishers, the reason for some of the sub-standard or ill-thought out covers has been due to their presumptions of the costs of book cover design.
Owing to cash-flow problems, a trend amongst self-publishers or start-up publishers, many immediately rule out book cover design (which is a vital selling tool) seeing it as a luxury they cannot afford. As a result, many ‘knock up’ something in the back room and/or commission their kid sibling, who seems a whiz with the computer, to create one. In doing so, many shoot themselves in the foot and wonder later why they have not been able to sell beyond a few friends and family.
But thankfully, hiring a freelance cover designer is not so unaffordable. Many charge an hourly rate so it helps if you do your research and know exactly what you want. Others may have a flat rate but all things are negotiable, I believe. Before I approach one for a quote or to commission the work, I tend to do some research (see below) and send a specification document of what I want. This includes a synopsis about the book, market, sample covers I like (including best selling titles).
< I adopt the strategy of using the book cover as a selling tool as I realise I am competing with other titles. Book buyers make snap decisions in a few seconds and it starts with the cover and title. If convinced, they may ‘Search Inside’ and/or download a few sample chapters though some can make a decision based on the title and cover. I have had people buy my books simply based on the cover. Whilst some say it’s my smile that persuades them to part with their cash, I take the stance that having outsourced my book cover design is a huge factor in making the sale. Honestly speaking, I am a writer, not a designer!
So here is my advice regarding book cover design:
- Commission a book cover designer especially one who has experience in your book genre. Speak to a few and ask for samples or links to their work. Do you like their style, look and feel? Don’t forget to ask for their price!
- Show your draft cover to samples of your market (not just friends/family who may say they like it out of their excitement). Ask for constructive feedback and ensure you give them a brief synopsis of your book.
- Clearly communicate what you want to your cover designer all throughout the process until it works! Just keep an eye on the costs and endless revisions.
- Create a book cover strategy and be sure to take into account the following:
- Who is your target audience/market (age, sex, etc)?
- Will the cover appeal to this market?
- Does the cover idea stand up to what my competitors are doing? (you may need to take a trip to your local bookstore or check online)
- What images could you use (including a photo of you) to help you depict the message of the book? Will it help you sell your book?
- Will your book cover idea turn people off? (I have seem some covers so far out there, so cluttered, confusing that I simply didn’t get the point).
- (Most importantly) Would you be proud to show off your new book with the cover? (If it makes you cringe, it will make others cringe too).
Further Tips: Research similar titles by well known authors/publishing houses to see what they are doing. Your standards should not be any lower than theirs though you do not have to spend a fortune neither. Anything less than those standards and you short change your book from the opportunity to sell itself.