Almost every publishing professional advising self-publishers says the same thing: focus on editing and cover design. Those are the two most important elements of your book, the ones that will make the biggest difference in how your book is received and how it will sell.
We’ve already discussed how working with a good editor can help make or break your book, so now let’s take a look at the importance of good design, both inside and out.
Why are covers so important in book publishing?
The most important reason is that the cover will establish the brand of your book. The design will capture the essence of the book and highlight its appeal to potential readers.
In addition, you may end up using your cover design, graphics, and colors on your website, in social media, and on collateral material like posters, bookmarks, postcards, and flyers.
But a book cover has more work to do. Here are five goals every good book cover should aim to achieve:
- Announce the genre. Clearly, many book buyers search for books by category, niche, or genre, so this instant identification of where your book belongs is critical. If it looks like historical fiction, but it’s actually a vampire romance, many potential readers may miss your book completely.
- Telegraph the tone. Although subtler, it’s also important that the cover suggest the tone of a work, especially with fiction. Is it a brash, over-the-top page-turner, or an understated character study?
- Explain the scope. Especially with nonfiction, readers need to know what’s included in your book and what’s not—what’s the subject matter, time period, setting, and skill level of the author or contributors?
- Generate excitement. Effective book covers have a “hook,” something that intrigues, grabs you by the throat, makes a promise—something that will attract and hold a reader’s attention and make them want to know more.
- Establish a market position. Your book cover can help browsers by letting them know where your book fits in with other, similar books they are already familiar with. Is it encyclopedic, filled with vampires, based on new groundbreaking research, loaded with resources?
Professional cover designers
For almost all authors, getting a cover for your book that touches all these bases; is attractive to the readers in your niche, category, or genre; and really helps sell your book is going to mean hiring a professional designer.
And you want a professional book cover designer, not just a good graphic artist, your nephew who just took an art class in college, or your friend who loves to paint and draw. Book cover design is a specialty, and even skilled graphic designers who haven’t worked in book publishing aren’t a good choice for this crucial task.
There are some important points to consider when you start looking for a cover designer for your book. Here are some tips on finding and working with a professional book cover designer.
Many designers have a submission form for you to fill out. It will collect the information the designer feels is most important. Whether or not they have such a form, you should be prepared with:
- Your manuscript, even if it isn’t finished
- The final title and subtitle for your book
- Your name as you’d like it to appear on the cover
- Your publishing company logo, if you have one
- Some idea of who the audience is for your book
- Samples or links to examples of book covers in your category that you like, as well as ones you don’t like
Also keep in mind that designers vary in the work they perform. Some only do book covers, some only do interiors, some do both, and some, particularly designers with a studio and a staff, may also be able to create an author website, handle your printing, and supply you with other graphics for your publishing company or book promotion.
If you find a designer who can “do it all” for you, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble coordinating the work of several people.
11 Tips for working with your cover designer
- Check the designer’s portfolio to make sure she understands and has worked in your genre, category, or niche.
- Make sure the designer’s fee is within your budget.
- If you need to have the work completed by a specific date, make sure this is communicated to the designer at the outset, and that he agrees to your schedule.
- Review the designer’s contract or agreement under which the work will be done.
- Let your designer know exactly what you’ll need besides the basic front cover.
- Review the formats you’d like to receive your cover in when it’s done: PDF for uploading to print on demand, a JPG of the front cover for your e-book, a high-resolution file, etc.
- Supply the designer with necessary background material (see the list above).
- Give the designer photos or drawings that you think will be useful as background or visual inspirations.
- Don’t dictate that the designer must use those elements, but leave it up to her—that’s why you hired a pro!
- Talk over the various approaches to your cover in the sample designs she will provide you with.
- Remember that you and your designer are collaborators trying to reach the best approach to packaging your book for sale.
About contracts and agreements
Although many indie authors skip this step, it’s wise to have a written agreement with your designer that addresses the exact work to be done, what it will cost, how payments will be made, how either person can cancel the contract if they wish, and the ownership of the artwork used to create the cover as well as the files the designer creates to produce your reproduction-quality PDF for printing or your JPG for your e-book.
This may seem embarrassing at first, but it can save a lot of heartache and expense later if your project doesn’t turn out the way you expect. This also applies to interior designers, formatters, photographers, models, and illustrators—in other words, you need a contract or a letter of agreement with anyone who is creating something to be used in the publication of your book.
Beyond the book
Keep in mind that you may want to extend the branding established on your cover beyond the book itself. For instance, some designers will be happy to also provide:
- Graphics for your website
- Social media graphics like Facebook headers and Twitter cards
- Email newsletter templates
Each of these is an opportunity to extend your brand and reach more potential readers.
Interior designers and formatters
The interior of a book is the complete opposite of its cover, from a design perspective. While you want your cover to stop people, compel them to have a closer look, and generate excitement for the story within, you want the opposite from your interior. And while cover design changes with the seasons, reflecting current tastes in design “fashion,” in some ways book interiors have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
Many books do not need a “custom” interior because our requirements for books can be reduced to three essentials:
- The book needs to be easily readable
- The design should not get between the author and reader
- The interior needs to conform to industry standards
These could be said to be your book design objectives. Let’s look at each:
Book interiors are long-form documents that need to be easy to read, and that’s what should inform most of your decisions. When your designer chooses fonts, establishes page margins, and creates navigational aids like contents and running heads, she will at all times be keeping the reading experience in mind.
Staying out of the way
While design flourishes such as illustrated chapter openings, ornamental text breaks, and other devices can help establish an appropriate tone for your book, none of these elements should intrude on the reader to the point that the reading experience is compromised.
Sure signs of a book that’s been produced by an amateur author can usually be traced to an ignorance of or disregard for standards. For instance, a book whose pages are numbered with the odd pages on the left will be a “red flag” to any book professional who examines the book, and that may not be the effect you’re trying to create.
What book professionals? People like bookstore buyers, book reviewers, authors you have asked for a testimonial, media bookers, and others. We rely on these people to help us bring our books to market and spread our message. Don’t create a book that looks “off” or amateurish to them.
Creating the cover and interior for your book should be an enjoyable part of your book publishing process, so take a deep breath and realize you’ll only go through this once—for each book!
It is available as a print book and as an ebook, in which the 850+ resource links are all live links. This essay is an example of the 30+ articles exclusive to this book, written by industry professionals for the purpose of educating authors who want to publish their own books. For purchase information, click the book cover or here: The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide.