Top 5 Goals for your Book or eBook Cover

by Joel Friedlander on November 9, 2012 · 19 comments

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Book covers—you can’t escape them if you publish books, and why would you want to? They bring a book to life for consumers, help to communicate with us about what’s inside.

Every month, of course, we get to see dozens and dozens of ebook cover designs in the monthly competition here.

After studying thousands of book covers over the years, the errors in communication become pretty obvious. These errors are always a failure to get across one or another of the important things we need to let readers know about the book.

I just finished putting together a presentation for the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA)on this subject, called How to Create Book Covers that Work.

As part of this presentation, I wanted to show these ideas in action, with real book covers. For instance, one of the things I look for are the 5 goals that your book cover should be addressing.

  1. Announce its genre—This is very important for genre fiction, but it’s equally important for any book to be clear right away about exactly what kind of book it is. This seems to me to be the first concern of the cover designer.
  2. Telegraph its tone—Particularly important for fiction and literary fiction, where the whole effect of the book rests on the skill of the writer. A cover can give you an idea of the writer’s voice in many subtle ways.
  3. Explain its scope—Mostly for nonfiction. Understanding the extent of the book’s subject helps to define its target market.
  4. Generate excitement (the “hook”)—Let’s face it, book covers are a subspecies of advertising design, and they can be powerful sales tools. But if nothing about the cover stops people, or evokes instant interest, fascination or curiosity, it can’t accomplish its aims.
  5. Establish a market position—This is almost the sum of all the other goals listed here. Taken together, they establish the exact space we see the book occupying amongst all the other books that address the same topic or which are in the same genre.

Here’s one of the slides from the presentation:

How to Create Book Covers that Work

See what I mean about announcing your genre?

(Ed: You probably noticed the branding on this slide is from the Self-Publishing Roadmap, the comprehensive video training program for authors. People in the Roadmap course just keep getting more benefits from their participation, including webinars like this one. The Roadmap program is going to open very soon for registration. If you’d like to know more, get on the notification list here.)

If you’re in the San Francisco area, come and join us for this presentation. It’s in downtown San Rafael, about 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate bridge, and it starts at 9:00 a.m. for general Q & A. My presentation will start around 11:00 a.m.

For more information:

BAIPA: How to Create Book Covers that Work

See you there!

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    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) December 2, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Have you already written here about hiring an artist (or photographer/designer) and/or how to factor that cost into book production/prep?

    I (imagine) I know just the cover I want, but I’m not capable of producing it, so now I have to create/find further relationships that I am strong enough to interpret (are they capable of delivering what I want) and strong enough to reject (they aren’t delivering, so I’ll cut my losses and move on). These are places I’m as reluctant to explore as any, so the prospect is intimidating.

    Have you addressed that element?


    Joel Friedlander December 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Amy Jane,

    Yes, I’ve written often about self-publishers understanding how to find, vet and hire freelance talent like editors, proofreaders and designers. You might want to have a look at the monthly ebook cover design awards posts, where every designer is credited and you can find people whose work appeals to you. A list of the posts is here: eBook Cover Design Awards


    Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) December 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks, I’ll check that out.


    Tracy R. Atkins November 9, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I think it’s important for people to realize that it’s never too late to re-design your cover. Even if your book has been out for a year and gets little attention, a new cover can be a powerful way to revive it. Dusting off a title and giving it a fresh coat of paint can pay dividends on your investment too. If your book isn’t selling like it should, a new cover might just be the thing that pulls it to a new audience.

    I would actually like to see how updating covers annually for novels effect sales for back-catalog titles too. A cover that didn’t catch an eye last year, might get a second, selling glance with the right artwork. People do judge and impulse buy on the cover. It’s just a fact.


    Joel Friedlander November 9, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Good point, Tracy, and something that trade publishers have been doing for a very long time. A new cover can also use the feedback you’ve received from the market and correct any positioning problems with the original cover.

    You might be interested in this post that addresses the same question:

    How to Reinvent a Book with a New Book Cover


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