Let’s talk book covers

Last year, James River Writers had the privilege of having graphic designer Chip Kidd speaker at our 11th annual conference. His work is iconic in the world of publishing. Okay, just plain iconic.  Click here and tell me you haven’t seen at least one of these covers and gone speechless. (click here for his TED talk)

Now that I’ve indulged in my fan geek-out moment…

All stories need to have a face, a form to the content. The cover that represents your book needs to compel a reader to select YOUR story out of the sea of words they are adrift in.

Here is my cover for Hot Flashes. 


Let me break this down.  First thing you see is a pendant of a dragon. This was a two-fer.  Two elements important to the story – the pendant and the dragon. To finish it off, the background is filled with energy flashing against the darkness or the unknown.

This morning, I was reading through Feedly and came across this book cover in a blog post.

Let’s talk about what the cover says.  It probably is a romance.  BUT, let me make a couple of observations.  The woman on the cover has had some serious work done and looks like an illustration. Her partner, a photograph of a man in a really bad wig. The disparity between the two images are enough to annoy me and could allude to some sort of break in reality between the characters. It seems I might be reading too much into the cover, but I’m not. There are too many disparate elements.

Because you think you can design a cover doesn’t mean you should (check out this website). Good cover designers exist that won’t break the bank. FIND ONE!

As an author, that means you, you should have a decent idea of what you want your cover to say.  Next, you need to go to your genre in the book store and see kind of covers your peers have representing their books.  You have a choice, you can use those covers as a reference or you can go your own way.  Urban Fantasy tends to have young, ripped men and voluptuous women on the covers, all in provocative poses. I realized that wouldn’t suit the needs of my story. After all, my readers would cry foul when they saw a twenty-something on the cover and realized my character was firmly entrenched in middle-age. Putting a slightly dowdy, middle-age woman on the cover would do nothing for my sales.

Back to design.

If you choose to publish with a one-stop shop, look at the kind of cover designs and the prices that they offer. These kind of outfits will have standard templates that are generic and will cost a pretty penny for a unique design.  If you choose to go à la carte, then you need to look through the galleries the cover designer has of completed projects. If their aesthetic pleases you, collaborate and come up with a first draft of the cover.  Then show it to your critique group or random people at work to get their reaction.  Listen to their feedback, it will allow you to go back to the designer and find fixes.

A book cover is your calling card. It says ‘I’m Here!’  Don’t sell yourself short by not dressing your manuscript appropriately for the ball. A good book that languishes on the shelf is the sign that the cover design is off.

The good news? In the self-publishing world, you can fix this in the electronic and hard copy format. For e? Simple upload the new file. For Print on Demand, do the same.

Don’t let your book fall victim to a bad first impression.



  • Ooo, I love Chip Kidd’s TED Talk. I don’t have any visual arts training so he pointed out so many things that would have eluded me.

    Another point to consider is how your book cover will look as a thumbnail on the internet. Most self-publishing writers are distributing their work electronically, so overly cluttered covers probably won’t perform as well as the tidy cover you shared.

    • Kidd is awe inspiring. You’re right, the thumbnail needs to be view-able. Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. Thanks for stopping by! Btw, love your short story idea. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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