Thursday, May 9, 2019

Designing a Book Cover

One of my mother’s favorite bromides was “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” As personal philosophy, the words have a strong moral base. As a marketing tool, they are worse than useless. Everyone judges books by their covers, even those who say they don’t.

It used to be that most people browsed bookstores and/or libraries to find their next read. How to choose? An author you know and like is always a good bet, but what if you are looking for something new? A trustworthy friend’s recommendation can get you to check out a new author. Or a review in the paper (my 95-year-old mother still reads them). For many people, the first thing that catches their attention is the cover.

Today, that cover is likely to be an electronic representation of the physical cover. Maybe it’s viewed on a computer, but it could be a tablet or smart phone, which I understand more and more people use to shop. If I search for a book on my phone, the height of the cover is about one inch.

If you are a well-known author, shouting your name on that valuable bit of electronic real estate is your best bet. When former president Bill Clinton and mega-seller James Patterson linked up for last year’s top-10-selling book, they included both names in large CAPS. The title, also in capital letters is prominent – but the President portion of the title is the most prominent—in case we forgot Clinton was president?

This cover included a version of the US flag, the Capitol dome (not the White House) and a generic man. I didn’t read it, but Goodreads reports 78 editions and over 57,000 ratings, so a lot of people have.

For designing the cover for False Bottom, the sixth Seamus McCree novel, I needed to keep the trends of big title, big name, and simple graphics in mind. Here’s another recent example from one of my favorite authors, Barry Eisler. Title: BIG. Author name: BIG. Graphics: minimal but giving the sense of a group of people running.

One thing book cover designers need to keep in mind is any series branding. That’s a problem for me since the Seamus McCree series covers have been designed by several different people.

 Holy moly, what a mess: Titles range from single color to two colors and include white, yellow, red, and gray. Author name is at least consistent with James M. Jackson, but color is white or black. How do I reflect recent book cover trends and keep within the eclectic style? Should I start fresh and redesign the entire series? The time and effort and sales don’t justify a total rework.

My first draft (left) pulled the title colors from Book 5, added one graphic, played with the word Bottom. A somewhat boring background color. By the third draft (right), I had darkened the image and added texture (from a photograph of light shimmering on a lake!) 

Death runs through this book and I thought the cover might remind people of wood—a coffin to go with the Celtic cross grave monument? The monument came from a picture I took at the Gettysburg Battlefield and represented the Irish Brigade—an historical fact I liked, and it tied into Seamus’s Irish roots and a continuing character, the Happy Reaper, who sports a Celtic cross tattoo.

Comments from the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime Marketing subgroup included muddled, confusing, what genre? Everyone agreed they could read the title, but most didn’t like (or understand) the symbolism of the title reaching toward the ground.

By draft five (left) I had returned the title placement to horizontal, emphasized FALSE, and used a color border at the bottom to make the author name more prominent. I replaced the single-color textured background with fog and trees, shrank the Celtic cross and also eliminated much of the decoration on it (the regimental dog was asleep on the base of the cross in the original).

I sat with that version of the cover for several months before I considered how it would work with a print book. The colored bar at the bottom would need to wrap around the spine and back. I could place the Wolf’s Echo logo in that color on the spine, but the color would run through bar code, making it look wonky. I could increase the height of the band to solve the problem, but that didn’t feel right.

And so I played around with other ideas, and here is the current thumbnail (right). 

For those who like print, you’ll see something that looks like the version below. The back will include a teaser of the story (some of the hardest 100 words to write) and a short blurb from a wonderful author.

Would the cover make you curious enough to pick up the book and read it’s blurb?

A version of this blog first appeared on Writers Who Kill.

1 comment:

  1. I have no artistic talent. These are just my off-the-cuff reactions, so take them for what they're worth. I don't care for version 5 at all. Something about that solid red line at the bottom made this look sort of low brow. Strangely enough, your last version which is very similar is my favorite. I'm not sure why. I like the colors and background of the third draft. I like the coloring of the titles in book 2, 3, and 4.