Judging a Book by its Cover

Authors are passionate about words. We’ll agonize over a comma or spend hours on a single sentence. And that’s the way it should be. If we didn’t care so much about words, we probably wouldn’t be authors.

Unfortunately, our hyper-focus on words often means that book design takes a back seat. In a perfect world, our stories would be judged on their merit alone, but that’s just not how things work. If your book is released through a traditional publishing house, cover design probably isn’t something you have to worry about. I’m speaking mostly to the self-pub/small press crowd here when I say that it’s time to shove cover design into the spotlight.

Browse the vast selection of Kindle books on Amazon, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s almost too easy to pick out the self-published works. While there are certainly some top-notch covers, the rest fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Stock Covers – Sure, Amazon’s free stock covers might seem like the ideal solution. But wait: why would you do this to yourself? Essentially, you’re telling your readers, “My book isn’t even worth a unique cover.” Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true.
  2. Slap-Dash Covers. These are the covers designed by someone who is not a professional designer. Maybe your uncle/cousin/brother/nephew has Photoshop, and they threw a cover together for you. Maybe you tried your hand at design. Either way, these covers are typically unattractive, unprofessional, and a big turn-off. They may be unique, but a shoddy cover is no better than a stock cover. It still communicates a lack of care to your readers. If you don’t care enough to invest in a decent cover, why should anyone care enough about your book to read it?

Why is Cover Design So Important?

Nearly 1,000,000 books are published each year. Most don’t even break even. If you want to succeed, you have to stand out. Unless your cover really grabs people’s attention, it’s going to be very hard to make sales. Browse your local bookstore and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of books – and that’s just a small sampling! While you can’t sell a book without a great story, I’d suggest that you can’t sell a book without a great cover either.

Secondly, a professional cover indicates value. As I said earlier, who is going to care about your book if you don’t? I’m sure you care about it – you wouldn’t have bothered writing it otherwise – but do you care enough to invest in it? If you’re serious about getting your work out there, show people what it’s worth by giving your book a stand-out, professional cover.

Finally, realize that you are going to have to break through the self-pub/small press stigma. While self-publishing issloooooowly gaining respect, there’s still a lot of stigma attached. And for good reason, in many cases. Take a look at the vast majority of self-published books, and you’ll see that most are poorly designed, poorly edited, and just shoddily put together.

Please understand that I’m not knocking anyone’s efforts here. Writing a book is hard work. It takes real guts to put your work out there for the world to read, and it can be very discouraging when you see less than stellar sales. I am suggesting, however, that you can give yourself a serious leg-up by investing just a bit in a quality cover for your book. You’ll instantly improve your credibility as an author, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of being noticed by readers.

Hire a Designer

Your book cover – whether it’s a dust jacket or a digital image – is a billboard for your book. I could inundate you with “tips” on what makes a good cover; but I’ve learned that authors rarely succeed as their own designers. Instead, I’m going to give you one piece of advice: hire a professional designer.

There are thousands of brilliant, creative folks out there who will do the job at an affordable rate. These people are as passionate about design as you are about words, and they’ll go all-out to deliver a high-quality cover. While it might be cheaper and easier to slap your title over a stock photo, you’ll be doing yourself and your work a serious disservice.

If I can leave any aspiring author with one thought, it’s this: care as much for your cover as you do for your content and you’ll be well on your way to success.

This post was originally published as a guest post on ebookreviewgal.com.

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