Writers Helping Writers: Books Are Judged by Their Cover

Growing up, I was always told never to judge a book by its cover, meaning not to judge people by how they look. While that’s a great trait to have and a wonderful practice to do as you go through life, it is sadly not how the world really works, at least not here in contemporary America. How someone or something appears generates a judgement from us humans.

Example, an elderly lady (let’s call her Gloria), in a cardigan and modest flowered dress sits at a bus stop. She has carefully curled gray hair underneath a silk kerchief and spectacles perched on the bridge of her nose. She has a large carpet bag next to her. A typical initial reaction; someone’s grandma with her knitting is waiting for public transportation, right? Gloria is probably on her way to visit her friends at the nursing home.

Wrong. Gloria never had children and in that giant carpet bag she’s toting is her glock and extra rounds because she’s on her way to the indoor shooting range to practice her aim. Underneath her silk handkerchief are small headphones blasting her favorite Slayer album.

How you decide to act on the initial assessment of a person or thing is between you and whatever higher power you believe in, but that immediate assumption based on appearance will always happen.

It’s the same for books. That’s why if you really want to sell your book, you have to not only take great care in what the content is, but also how it looks. That means putting a lot of thought into the cover. The front cover will be the thing that catches your reader’s eye. It has to give an idea of what your story is about in a single glance, which means there are some questions you need to ask yourself when you are getting ready to design your cover.

1.       What do other books in my genre have on their covers? Take a stroll down to your neighborhood library and check out the other books in your genre. Notice the similarities. Notice what is not on those covers. A lot of book genres will have similar looking covers to earmark what kind of story they are telling. Example: Shirtless men on the covers of romance novels. You don’t have to follow the path they are laying out, but it is a good idea to understand the boundaries of your genres cover art so that your sci-fi action adventure is not misinterpreted as a romance murder mystery.

2.       What would grab your attention in a book cover? As you are walking down the aisle of your library, when you see a particularly striking cover, stop and analyze why this one is grabbing your attention. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? What was that initial “Oh!” moment. Consider how you can depict that sort of concept with your own story in mind.  **Important** do not simply copy another person’s book cover concept. Make it your own. Incorporate your own tastes into it and make it relevant to your story.

3.       Consider who or how you will go about generating your cover. There are several options before you; you can make it yourself, you can get a pre-made one from the internet, you can pay an artist to commission one for you. They all have their ups and downs. Ultimately, you need to do what best fits your story and your budget. If you are collaborating with someone, it’s important to listen to the artist’s input on your cover. They have an amazing eye for design and remember, this cover art is their work too.

4.       Pay attention to the things that are on every book of all genres. I am talking about the title, the author tag, the bar code, the back cover blurb (more about this later), and how the spine is arranged. These elements need to be included in your print cover as well.

5.       Consider the size of your print book. Will it be a large tome or a small trade paperback size? This will also impact how much space you have for your graphics/ art.

These decisions and the research involved are daunting. However, it is vital if you want your book to be presentable. I promise that if you take your time with it and thoroughly think it through, your cover will be amazing.