5 top tips to making your cover look professional

Late last Year I published this interview over on BubbleCow:

Dear Readers,

When asked to write a guest blog post on “5 top tips to making your cover look professional” I was both thrilled and humbled to share my knowledge. Ok, truthfully I felt a bit smug. I thought, I can do this, I know this stuff. Easy-freaking-peasy. I cracked my knuckles and prepared to type up my 5 Top Tip Manifesto.

Tip One: Hire a Professional.

Tip Two… ah.

And there I got a bit stuck. I went and made a coffee. Played on Facebook and Pinterest for a while and then came back to the manifesto.

Tip Two…tip two.

You see, despite knowing in my heart Tip One trumped all other tips, I also knew that being a one-tip-wonder would not be accepted as gospel and that people would consider me biased. So I thought about my process and what I’ve learned, and I’ve broken it down into four parts:

Tip Two: Research.

Find as many books cover images as you can that: A) have been published within the last 5 years and B) are alike your novel in these aspects: genre, audience age group, audience gender.
The covers must be similar to your book so it’s no good gathering ‘How-to’ guides if you’ve written a futuristic Raymond Chandaler-esque zombie series for young adults.

Divide the images into 2 groups: Covers you love vs. Covers you hate.
Then pick out the key elements in common from each group. Some things to consider with be: colour schemes, typefaces, photo image versus illustration. What type of imagery dominates? Landscapes? Single character or groups?

At the end of this you should have a clear idea of you want and what you don’t want appearing on your cover and at the same time you’ve just analysed all the current trends in cover design. It’s not just about you after all, but what a stack of advertising professionals have devised will appeal to that particular audience. Your audience.

Tip Three: Images.

Similar to Tip One, because when it comes to using images on your cover, whether photographic or illustrated you should use a professional image library. Why? One, this avoid nasty copyright infringement, and 2, the simple truth is you will get much better quality images. Do not, do not copy and paste something you found on Flickr, unless, lean in close, I have to whisper this, that’s right, closer, closer. NO! Bad author! Bad, bad bad! How would you feel if someone plagiarised your writing?

Tip Four: Typefaces.

This is a little hard to explain if you’re not a design nerd like moi, but trust me, typefaces are important. The typeface you use for your Title should compliment the images and at the same time reflect and enforce the novel’s tone and style.

It will be helpful to understand that most people have preconceived ideas about fonts (whether they are conscious of this or not) and therefore it’s important not to muddle things up. For example, imagine a cursive script font, like old fashioned copperplate handwriting. Such a font would be suited to a Historic novel, but would be highly comically and plain old inappropriate if used on a modern novel following a jaded sports journalist who uncovers a ice-hockey scandal that goes to the heart of the---
You get the idea.

If you don’t, having completed Tip Two you should have a pretty good idea of the kind of font to use even if you don’t know the name of it, whether it’s san serif or slab serif or decorative. Give yourself a quick Google lesson in the basics san serif versus serif fonts and go from there.

Tip Five: Testing

The cover design you end up with, whether you did it yourself (bad!) or entrusted a dedicated, talented designer (*good*) to create for you, the proof is in the testing. So it’s time to round up a focus group (minimum three but more is better) of Readers. Your focus group should be avid Readers of your genre, and also the intended age and gender. Show them your proposed book cover along with a selection of those book covers you loved and get feedback on what they think. There is no point asking your 40 year brother Bob the accountant to give you his feedback if you’ve written a young adult novel sci-fi novel – even if Bob liked to read sci-fi when he was a kid.
Why? Because our life experiences influence everything. They bias everything to. Graphic Designers spend a lot of time learning to think first and foremost what their intended audience wants/needs.

So while Tips Two through Four are very important and should help you on your way, at the end of the day Tip One is the Tip to rule them all. Why? Because you get what you pay for: professional input equals professional output. This is common sense.