You can sell a book by its cover. The Authors Collection

James R. Callan
James R. Callan

I know most contracts give the publisher the right to select the cover. So, that’s that?

Maybe not. Many times the publisher is willing to accept some input from the author. You should always ask for that. Why? The cover is a reflection of your book, and you as well. And it’s your career. So, let’s talk just a little about covers. In such a short post, I cannot cover this subject in depth, but perhaps I can get you to think more about your cover designs.

The conventional wisdom is, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” While that is true, it is also true that, “You can sell a book by its cover.” The cover is the first thing a prospective reader sees. If it doesn’t generate some interest, most likely that person will move on to another book. It is also the first impression the reader gets of you, the author. You know what they say about first impressions. The cover is the first impression the reader gets of your book and of you. Make it not just a good cover; make it a compelling one.

How do you make a striking cover? It should reflect something about the book, but you have a lot of leeway. Select some part of the book that lends itself to a striking cover. Remember, your cover is competing for attention with others, perhaps hundreds or thousands of other covers. Scatter several books on a table and see which one jumps out at you. Decide why. Try this several times with many different books. What grabs your attention? Do those have something in common? Remember, the first task is to get the prospect to pick up your book.

cover-Cleansed_by_FireUsually, this should be a clear, single image. Except in unusual cases, which will require a superior cover designer, stick with a single idea. This is a key place where you would like to have input to the cover designer. He likely will not have read the book. You need to guide him to some key idea, scene, theme, message, etc. that you’d like reflected. But don’t forget “striking.”

What about fonts? Avoid the standard fonts we generally use. While the text might look great in New Times Roman or Cambria, just raising up the point size will not make it a good cover font. Consider more unusual fonts. If this is a dark book, there are fonts that can convey that feeling. If it’s a romance, there are fonts that look more … okay, maybe they don’t look romantic, but look, well, more like Valentine ’s Day.

Certainly pick one that is very easy to read. Don’t pick one that is too flowery. You do not want the reader to either misread the title, or just give up. There are lots of other books. Why waste five seconds on a title difficult to read. Certainly, this applies to the author’s name as well. Make it very readable. You’d like the prospect to remember not only the title but your name. If it’s hard to read, your name doesn’t get into her memory at all.

Consider all caps. Put the author’s name in a different typeface. Again, not Times Roman. Not Helvetica. Easy, clear, memorable. Your name should be imprinted on the browser’s mind, whether she knows it or not.

cover-MACThe entire cover for the mystery Cleansed by Fire was filled with raging flames consuming a church. It was striking. The cover for the mystery Murder a Cappella had drops of blood dripping from a crown on to a sheet of music.  Eye catching. Each reflected the theme of the book.

To sum up, ask for some input on the cover. Strive for a striking cover. Use only two fonts, one for the title, one for your name. Avoid standard fonts in favor of a font that reinforces the feeling of your book. And most of all, remember the importance of the cover. You’ve spent months on the book.

The thing that the prospect makes her first decision on is not the book, but the cover.

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  • Great post, Jim. The cover today is more important than ever before. It has to look good and be easily read in a little postage stamp size on Amazon and the other eRetailers. The cover has to pack a big punch in a little package.

  • Jim, this is really good and valuable info for authors. I know I saw a dramatic increase in sales on one of my books when I changed covers.

  • Darlene Jones – Author

    Cover design is so tricky. Covers are such a personal; thing is terms of readers’ reactions to them. Thanks for the tips. I particularly like the idea of spreading out several books and seeing which one pops out. That’s an experiment I’m going to try.

  • Rob Wylie

    Very valuable insight! Thanks for sharing!

  • Cora Ramos

    I absolutely think the cover is important. I was not satisfied with the covers my publisher was offering and had one made. Publisher happy, I’m happy, book designer happy–now to see if the reader/purchaser will be happy.

  • Dac Crossley

    Good post. I sure do agree with the suggestions about the author’s name. My name isn’t prominent on the covers I’ve used. If the book was by Clive Cussler the cover would say CLiVE CUSSLER in big type across the top – that’s what i want next time! (Dac Crossley, not Clive Cussler…)

  • Chris Swinney

    I’m anxiously waiting to see what the publisher comes up with as a cover for my first book. I hope they read this blog to get some great ideas. I’m hoping to lure people to my books with the cover and book them with my writing! Great blog!


  • Donn Taylor

    Excellent post, Jim. Good advice all around. I had no input on the cover for Rhapsody in Red, but the publisher did a good job. Had input on concept for the Deadly Additive cover, and the publisher did a fantastic job.

  • Mary Hamilton

    This comes at the perfect time for me. Great information and suggestions. Thanks!

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