e-Book Cover Design Awards: Do We Need Them?

by Joel Friedlander on August 23, 2011 · 63 comments

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Book award shows abound in the publishing world, and every year in the fall you can expect to see lots of email, flyers, mailings and solicitations to enter your books into one contest or another.

This subject needs a fuller examination, and I’m busy putting together for you a big list of indie book awards that I should have ready next week.

The thing with contests is you have to know why you’re entering them.

  • Some of these book competitions are prestigious, and it’s a real boost to win a prize. Winning an award can make a big difference to your book marketing, because you’ll feel more energized and have something to talk about, write press releases about, and link to. That’s all good.

  • Some of them only sound prestigious, and are nothing more than another way to make money from authors. Fees for these contests can run very high, and then the category possibilities kick in. You might think you can multiply your chances to win by entering in multiple categories, but you’ll also be multiplying your entry fee, which can quickly run into hundreds of dollars.

  • And some “contests” are contests in name only. What I mean is that most every book that enters will win something, and you can then announce the fact you won on your book cover or in your promotion.

But What About e-Books?

I’ve been thinking for a while about the problem with e-book covers. The problem is not enough people are paying attention to them. Almost every e-book cover you see in the Kindle store is a mini version of the print book cover. That’s just not good enough.

It’s up to us to come up with ways to positively influence how that revolution will turn out.

Especially when you realize e-books aren’t really books in the traditional sense. We are at the beginning of a revolution, and it’s up to us to come up with ways to positively influence how that revolution will turn out.

And I’ve even had readers suggest the same thing.

So here’s what I’m thinking, and where I could use your feedback.

I’d like to start a regular feature on e-book covers to highlight the really good ones and look for examples that are clearly setting a new standard for this new type of text.

It seems like we could do this monthly without a problem, with a culminating annual award(s).

It also seems like it would work best if readers would help supply the entries. It doesn’t matter where they come from, but readers here surf many of the book sites online, and certainly see lots of great covers I don’t get to.

How about helping out by crowdsourcing the entries in this attempt to raise the bar for the covers that will define the new life of the book?

If you’ll send in the entries, I’ll take care of the rest. We can set up a few categories and a place to submit them. I think it would be really helpful for lots of authors to be able to see what other indie publishers are doing with their e-book covers.

If you’re in, I’m in. Let me know what you think.

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    { 32 comments… read them below or add one }

    Phil Steer November 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Joel,

    Whilst I certainly appreciate your e-Book Cover Design Awards, I must admit that (in my ignorance) I am not entirely convinced that there is really that much difference in the requirements for print and e-Book covers.

    Given that a significant proportion (majority?) of print books are now sold online, any design requirement for e-Book covers to look good as small images must surely apply also to print covers?

    Conversely, e-Book covers are displayed not only as small images, but also at full (print) size on e-Book readers. Consequently, e-Book covers should look as good at that scale as print covers.

    Hence (it seems to me) both print and e-Book covers share the same design requirements – to look good both as small scale images and as full (print) sized covers.

    Reply

    john Amy February 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Yes Phil,
    It seems to be going that way. Kindle now require covers to be virtually print resolution too. The only people who can get away with covers which look weak at small sizes are successful writers… doesn’t matter what they do as people buy there books whatever. I’m glad about this as I love the subtle designs of some print books. Walking into a bookstore and seeing hundreds of covers shouting at you would be sad.

    Reply

    Carl Sinclair October 29, 2012 at 5:56 am
    DIGITALspin February 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Hey Joel, here are some really great Book Cover examples to feature!
    http://digitalspin.deviantart.com
    http://bookcoverartist.blogspot.com/

    “You can’t judge a book by its cover, but amazing covers sell more books”

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    DIGITALspin,

    Check out this post and see if you want to enter our monthly contest:

    Monthly eBook Cover Design Awards

    Reply

    john Amy November 28, 2011 at 6:21 am

    Ebook covers come in all shapes and sizes. Yes Dave, they have to APPEAR sharp and clean at a small size. I don’t think readability is that important necessarily. Remember there’s usually lots of other information around it describing the book etc including the title. I find careful kerning of text (space between individual letters) is very important.

    Reply

    Dave Bricker August 26, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Joel,

    You’re familiar with my work so I won’t add yet another cover submission to your “gallery.” However, your topic is noteworthy because it suggests that a cover may have two (or more) versions and that a new and oft-overlooked criterion for cover evaluation is “how does it look as a thumbnail?” That’s a valuable design consideration rooted deeply in the fertile soil of common sense yet obscured by the vines of tradition.

    Good food for thought as usual.

    Thanks,

    Dave Bricker

    Reply

    Richard Hallows August 26, 2011 at 3:59 am

    I think this is a great idea if for no other reason that it may help to determine the factors that contribute to a great e-book cover and what makes that different from a great print cover! I have been self publishing and publishing other writers’ work for the past three years and have always looked to be able to use the same cover for both print and e-book sales – one theory being that a level of recognition for the e-cover might help print sales (sadly a theory not supported by any evidence). Another theory being that life was too short to do two covers. For what it is worth the e-book covers that got the most positive feedback from authors and readers were those with the most dramatic image (so if you look at http://www.spikethecat.co.uk this would be Someone Has To Die Volume One and Volume Four and Adventures in Time and Space Volume One.) E-books certainly open up new avenues for covers in terms of near zero production costs and also the ease and minimal cost with which an e-book can be released with a new cover – allowing experimentation perhaps. If nothing else this may enable more risk taking both by self-publishers, small publishing enterprises or even the larger organisations – so as an example, a forthcoming e-book “The Parenting Group” – cover also on the web site was designed by my seven year old daughter. Unprofessional? Maybe. Fun? Definitely. Would I have done this with a print book. No.

    Reply

    Dwight Okita August 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Hi Joel, I enjoy your blog posts very much. I had a question about ebook covers. I’m curious if you have a sense how many ebook covers are specifically designed differently than the print covers. Aren’t most the same as the print cover? My novel’s print cover had been designed, and I kept in mind the need for it to come across well in a thumbnail size as well — but to have a e cover designed separately would add to cost. Do you prefer people to not enter ebook covers that are basically the same as their print covers, or are those eligible too? I hear your point that e covers can be different. But I’d also say that when people design their print covers these days — they are also often designing their e covers that same design.

    Reply

    Roger C. Parker August 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Dear Joel:
    My initial reaction was, and still is, favorable. Anything that educates and highlights quality is a good thing.

    My only concern is that so many ebook covers are identical to the covers of printed books–which sort of dilutes the idea of highlighting the challenges and opportunities of cover design for digital publishing.

    Nevertheless, I encourage you, and others, to explore the “elements of ebook cover style” for the good of all.
    Roger

    Reply

    Bill Greene August 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Here’s the cover of my first book, just released, “The Man in the Cat-Hair Suit.”

    http://web.me.com/billgreene/images/mchs-cover.jpg

    Reply

    Steven Lyle Jordan August 24, 2011 at 8:37 am
    Heather Jensen August 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I think this is a great idea. There are a lot of brilliant covers out there, and to be able to see covers side by side would give a great comparison of what’s being done right now.

    If you don’t mind authors submitting their own book, I’d like to offer up mine. The design was done by Ronnell K. Porter, and he did an amazing job giving me a great image to market the book with, while also representing the story and the feel of the book overall. A link to the e-book is here for viewing: http://www.amazon.com/Blood-and-Guitars-ebook/dp/B00529IDZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1307660746&sr=1-1

    Reply

    Chris Fannon August 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Full disclosure: I’m going to self-promote a little too. I’m very happy with the cover I designed for Sarah Gerdes’ digital-only YA adventure novel CHAMBERS.

    Here’s the amazon page:
    http://amzn.to/pyhLwD

    but the facebook page has a better view of the cover:
    http://on.fb.me/rj09tk

    I’m going to keep my eyes open for some more good ones, so I’m not just singing my own praises.

    Reply

    James August 23, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I think there are a lot of assumptions about e-book “covers”, but almost no actual data about them. When I’m given advice about what makes a successful e-book cover, I always ask: how do you know?

    Advice like “make them bold” or “don’t use small print” has nothing to back it up–and comparing book sales to determine what makes a good cover is a bit like saying “because more people buy Hondas, blue cars are best”.

    Given all that, for now I find contests judging book covers (especially e-books) to be nearly worthless–unless someone can directly connect the award to more sales.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Hey James,

    Good point about data, there’s very little when it comes to book covers, advertising, movie posters and the like.

    What I’ll be looking at is the overall legibility of the covers, how appropriate they are for their genres, the kinds of things that give an impression that the book was put together by amateurs, and how effectively it seems to make the case to the reader for the book.

    These are all, admittedly, subjective measures, and certainly people will have different opinions.

    On the other hand you could make the case that books whose covers are featured here or that “win” an award get increased exposure, which is definitely one of the things that affects sales. That’s a pretty direct connection, wouldn’t you say?

    Reply

    James August 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Okay, I’ll bite–what -are- the specific measures you’ll use to evaluate what is a great cover?

    Reply

    Sherry James August 23, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I think this is a great idea. I’m looking forward to more information on submitting!

    Reply

    Nate August 23, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Yep. Love this.

    Count me in.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Thanks, Nate. You’re in.

    Reply

    Judith August 23, 2011 at 6:34 am

    for eBooks, the little print and subtitles may have to go–they need to be big, explosive, colorful to pop. Dan Poynter has just finished the first Global eBook Awards last weekend (I’m on Advisory Board)–this might be a good fit here. Let’s talk.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Totally agree, Judith, that’s what I’m looking for too. Keep in mind this is strictly cover designs, and I won’t be judging content at all. Let’s talk!

    Reply

    Pj Kaiser August 23, 2011 at 5:55 am

    I love this idea, Joel. I don’t have any nominations at the moment but will look into it. I love reading critiques of covers& I feel the cover is so important. Count neon!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Thanks, Pj. We see these things as we’re surfing, so my thought is if you find something really good (or maybe really bad) you can just drop a link. I’ll set up a submission page in the next few days and we’ll see if it works.

    Reply

    William Mize August 23, 2011 at 3:39 am

    Heck, I’ll be immodest and submit my own covers.
    Designed them myself, and quite proud of them.
    You can take a gander at them here:

    http://www.williammize.com/angel

    http://www.williammize.com/everlasting-life

    Reply

    Christopher Wills August 23, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Sounds like a great idea but can I suggest you state that one cannot enter one’s own book covers otherwise you could be inundated with Indies thiking this is another route to self promotion?

    For my penny’s worth I think Amanda Hocking’s new covers are brilliant but I’m not sure if they are ebook covers or both ebook and print covers.

    http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/2011/08/book-covers-plus-some-other-fun-news.html

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 23, 2011 at 2:55 am

    Sorry, Christopher. Since there is no way to stop someone from using a fake name to nominate her own cover, or to prevent two people from swapping nominations, or to prevent someone from asking a friend or relative to nominate a book, I think nominations should be allowed from anyone.

    When we had class elections in third grade, we were told not to vote for ourselves. This seemed like a silly rule, since the ballots were secret, and I pointed out to the teacher that if we did not think we were the best candidates, we should not be running for office. Mrs. Solomon agreed and changed the policy.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.BookFur.com (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    http://www.RentABookReviewer.com (pre-publication book assessments)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    — Just out (but needs some corrections): “STINKERS!: America’s Worst Self-Published Books,” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0983057257

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 23, 2011 at 9:34 am

    They are very atmospheric, and a great example of series design. This also raises the question that moved me to suggest this: are they print book covers, and will the e-book covers just be “shrunk” versions? Thanks for the link, Christopher.

    On your other point, I don’t see a problem (yet) with people submitting their own covers. After all, we may use some as examples of what NOT to do, too.

    Reply

    Kit Munro February 12, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Hello Joel,

    I find the list of covers exciting and instructive, be they indie or not, and especially so with your comments.

    What bothers me is that there’s no such advice for ‘soon-to be published’ covers, because once its up there there’s little one can do. Maybe I’m concerned because I’ll be publishing in a few weeks.

    Reply

    Colin Dunbar August 23, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Hello Joel
    Grrrrrrreat! I’m in :o) This is a really neat idea, thanks.

    Reply

    Gary Mikami March 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Great idea…What are the specifications or the eBook format?

    I’ve got a ton of ideas; I’m in my last 2 design courses for my Communication Design degree…

    Gary

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 1, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Gary,

    Check out this post for info:

    Monthly eBook Cover Design Awards

    Reply

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