People say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover, because that’s exactly what we all do. We judge books by their covers. Your story might be amazing, but if your cover doesn’t grab a reader’s attention, that reader will pick another book over yours.
That’s why you should try to make your cover the best that it can be, and unless you're a professional designer, that means hiring one.
When you’re sick, you go to a doctor.
When you have legal problems, you call a lawyer.
Yet, it’s amazing how many indie publishers choose to design their own covers.
It’s true that you can. You can also diagnose and treat your own illnesses, and you can be that proverbial idiot who has himself for a lawyer. People do things that aren’t in their own best interests all the time. Sometimes they do it to save money, but more often than not they do it because they think they can.
Our mothers told us, “You can be anything you want to be.” And that’s true.
But to be as good as those who have more knowledge and experience than you, you have to work for it.
You can’t tell yourself, “I want to be a doctor,” put on scrubs, and then start operating on people. You can’t tell yourself, “I want to be a lawyer,” put on a suit, and then start representing clients in a courtroom. You have to learn the profession first. And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be a doctor’s first patient or a lawyer’s first client. I would want a doctor or a lawyer with experience.
Smart writers know what they can and cannot do, and they hire people to do the things they can’t. J.A. Konrath and John Locke hire cover designers, and it shows. Their books look good, and so do their sales.
Shot of Tequila by J.A. Konrath
The Love You Crave by John Locke
What do these covers have that many other covers of books put out by indie publishers don’t?
• Clear, legible text--You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but I've seen so many covers with titles that couldn't be read once they were shrunk down to the postage-stamp size they appear in the Kindle store. It's not enough that the title of your book is legible on your book's page. The title also has to be legible when the cover of your book is shown super tiny alongside the covers of other books on Amazon search page.
• The simplicity of the design--Each cover contains just one element that pulls focus. With Konrath's book, it's the glass of tequila. With Locke's book, it's the girl's body and legs. You know right away what you're supposed to be looking at. There's only one text type in Konrath's cover, while Locke's has two (although it probably would have been better with just one).
• Everything fits the book’s title--The book entitled Shot of Tequila shows a shot of tequila. Look closely at the glass, and you see two guns. Clearly "shot" has two meanings here. The red of the cover makes you think of something hot and spicy, maybe even dangerous. The only fault I can find with Locke's cover is the font selection. The title appears to be in Comic Sans, which is one of the most overused fonts, and it isn't very sexy. But there's no denying that cover is saying this book is about the love you crave, a beautiful, sexy, red-hot kind of love.
• Emotional response--Both books use red to imply something hot. Konrath's cover conveys something exciting. There are guns in it, and the word "shot." Someone is going to get shot. Don't you want to know who, how, and why? Locke's cover screams craving for hot romance.
• Color balance--these covers use very few colors--just reds, yellows, and darker and lighter variations of those two colors-- which makes it much easier to achieve harmony, balance, and a unified message. Too many colors create what is known in the newspaper business as the "Carmen Miranda" affect, after the singer known for her colorful fruit-covered hats. Yet too many indie publishers think the more colors a cover has, the better. You also don't want to go too far in the opposite direction. Black-and-white is fine for interior pages, but you should put some color on your cover. Just one element of color can be very powerful. Like the red apple on the almost black-and-white cover of Twilight. That single element of color really pops. (The Twilight cover works for other reasons, which I hope to cover in a future article.)
• Flow--Flow is all about where your eye is drawn and where it goes from there. See the way the curve on J.A. Konrath's name mimics the curve of the rim of the glass? See the way it acts like the bottom of the glass or maybe light shining through it? That really makes you pay extra attention to the glass, which is important, because that makes you notice the two hidden guns. And look how everything in John Locke's cover is pointing to... You get the picture.
I've designed close to 100 magazine and newspaper covers, but I wouldn't have been given that first job if I didn't have the education and hadn't proven that I knew what I was doing in that newsweekly's layout department and as its illustrator. My editor wouldn't have let me design the most important page of his magazine if I was just some person who woke up that morning and said, “I want to be a magazine cover designer.”
So unless you have a design background yourself, hire a professional who does.
In a future article, I plan to explain how to choose and work with a book cover designer. Stay tuned.
BOTTOM LINE: Smart indie publishers know what they can and can’t do, and they know they need to hire people to handle the things they can’t, like designing their own cover.
What about you? Which books have covers that you think really stand out? What made them stand out? What do you think of the covers of indie book in general?