Judging a Book by Its Cover

The Kiss of Night by K. S. BrooksI’m constantly looking at book covers as part of my “job” here at Indies Unlimited.  I run into authors posting their covers in groups all the time, asking for input. So I see a LOT of covers. And most of them all have the same issues.

What I find most ironic is that the same people keep posting book covers with the same problems.  I don’t get that.  Please allow me to make something perfectly clear. And I’m not just making this up to be difficult or bossy or right. I’m speaking from experience. I enjoy providing my own cover art to my small Indie publisher – and because of that, I’ve taken some lumps. But I’ve also learned some important things about book covers. I share this knowledge freely, to help my fellow Indie authors. Book covers are important. We all want to make a good first impression. Book sales count on it.

Since people don’t want to listen to my advice, I’m going to start telling them to do the exact OPPOSITE of what should be done. Heh. So there. If I’m going to take the time to type something, and it’s going to be ignored, then I shall at least take advantage of the opportunity to be amused by it. So, with that in mind, here are my tips for getting your book cover noticed.

#1 – Black type on a dark background works great, as does white type on a light background, and so on. I think titles should be camouflaged so that the reader has a challenge – what could be more fun? In fact, don’t be shy. Go all the way. Make the type and the background the SAME color. That’ll fix them!

#2 – I see you’ve featured your name across the cover in a huge, bright-colored font. It looms over your title. Interesting. And it’s your first book, you say? So you have no name recognition? Hmmm. Okay, then. My thoughts? Screw the title. Turn that book sideways and make your name as big as possible. That pesky title is just in the way! Be rid of it.

#3 – Let me get this straight: the title of your book is Jody Goes to Hollywood, Book 1: the Zombies Who Kept Their Souls and Now Fight Crime and Eat Twizzlers Instead of Flesh Series? Honestly? That makes my head hurt. But why stop there? Throw a few more keywords in there, will you? Because, that title is not nearly complicated or long enough. Forget the keywords, you should probably just add the entire first paragraph of the book. That’ll get attention, I’m sure.

#4 – Naked people on the cover? Huh. Wow. What exactly is he doing to her? Oh…okay, then. Will you be selling that in a brown paper wrapper by any chance? Oh, right, eBook. Then I say go for it! Maybe you should add more people. Why not? Go for the gusto! It’ll be like a train wreck – you know people can’t help but look.

#5 – When I shrink your cover down into a thumbnail, I feel like I’m looking at Monet’s version of “The Blob.” I really can’t make out the title or your name, or the image… But that’s okay! Too bad you went to all that work, if you’d just used a camouflage pattern and no type, it would have been equally as effective. No, don’t worry about it, no one wants to be able to read your title when the cover is in thumbnail size. I mean, who besides every shopper on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble or any other online store is going to see your book in thumbnail size? Nah, don’t worry yourself with it!

So those shall now be my templated responses to people if they ask for my opinions on their cover designs. I would love to see my input implemented by the masses. Then my legible book covers will hopefully get more attention and make more sales. Heh. And you didn’t think there was a method to my madness. Not only am I vindictive, I’m strategic. Now where are those Twizzlers? That zombie book made me hungry.

Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist, photographer, and photo-journalist, author of over 30 titles, and executive director and administrator of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is currently a photo-journalist and chief copy editor for two NE Washington newspapers.  She teaches self-publishing and writing topics for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page.

53 thoughts on “Judging a Book by Its Cover”

  1. Check my book cover on my blog. I think I did it right. My title, "The Many Loves of Vampire Zork in the Thousand Year Rule of the Earthling Off-spring on Planet Zorkian", is in blood red on a black background with my name vertically on the outer edge to catch the reader's eye, though I used my full name, Richard Thomas Bylina, Esquire, to impress the readers. Because it is about his many loves. I did a collage of 100 women I'd like to sleep with and put them in the bottom right corner with a veiled drop of blood over the collage. Just need some positive feedback.

  2. The reverse psychology might just work. I'm actually thinking differently about it already, because I was amused rather than advised. If everyone is as perverse as me, then you may have hit on a great idea for a new book. 🙂

  3. Well, I am smart enough to be amused and advised. Actually, I loved it. You made a rather boring subject molto fun & interesting & at the same time it is impossible to miss the message. Thanks.

  4. I remember once being told that I should make my name bigger on my books. I told them that when I was so famous my name alone would sell a book like Stephen King or Nora Roberts, then I would. Until then I needed a good cover and a title that hinted at what the book was about, not my name in big letters. My ego isn't THAT big…yet.

        1. Good one, Arline! But let's not stop there. Let's add special effects from Photoshop to those out of focus images to make them really interesting! 😀

  5. Problem: My new book, "The Return of the Revenge of the Curse of the Son of the Bride of Frankenstein versus Wolfman and Dracula In a Tag-Team Steel Cage Death Match to the Death (This Time, It's Personal) part II of the Eternal Monsters and their Undead Offspring Series" is partially obscuring the cover image. What should I do?

    1. Eliminate the cover image. With a title like that, no one cares about the image anyway. I hope you've made sure your font is so detailed that it's completely illegible, and in blood red on a blood red background. It sounds utterly fab!

        1. I like that idea. Quite morose. Perhaps the font could be a drippy tip of thing that runs from the top line down into the rest of the title so it all looks smudged and impossible to read. You're really onto something there!

  6. He he. Loved the reverse psychology. It does work on kids like "don't clean your room". Book covers are very important is the advise I have read many times on many sources. It's purpose is to hook a reader so they might take a closer look. Then the hook is further embedded by the blurb and pitch telling briefly what the story line is and what genre it falls into. But the golden ticket is the 4or5 star reviews you get if deemed worthy. All of these things a blockbuster requires unless your quest is annonimity.

  7. Oh, and you forgot one thing. The image on the cover should not in any way give the reader an impression of what the book might be about. Like the title, it's unimportant. It's much more effective to go with an enigmatic image that readers will understand AFTER they've read the book.

      1. Oh. I thought you wanted your steak over cooked. A burnt steak might make an interesting cover if the book is about, say, outer space or something completely irrelevant to the cover graphic. 😉

  8. Funny! You got a lot of my pet peeves, but you missed black and white covers (because the outside has to match the inside, right?), too many colors (but rainbows are so pretty!), difficult to read and/or multiple fonts, pretty landscape scenes with one or two people that say nothing about the story (drug companies use them, so they must work) and pictures of the author's own relatives (usually kids) or pets (at least Grandma will buy a copy).

    Interestingly, my blog post from yesterday was also about book covers, but I wrote about GOOD ones. I don't have the guts to write about bad ones. People might recognize themselves. Although the truly clueless probably would not.

    1. I agree with all of those as well, Shevi. And I'd add to your list the hand-drawn covers which look like they were crafted by a blind-folded toddler set loose with crayons. Those are so charming, right? *cough*

        1. Your cover is beautiful, David, and the tones work well because it's non-fiction – it lends a seriousness to it. For fiction, however, there should be color on it somewhere or there's no way it'll grab attention. Some black & white covers look photocopied.

  9. Aw crap. I went to all the trouble of photographing a half-naked muscled man for the cover of Body on the Stage because it's about a hunky man on the stage – and now you say I have it all wrong? Perhaps if I add a rainbow and a unicorn, slightly out-of-focus, it'll be OK. Thanks for the timely tip!

    1. My pleasure, Bev! And don't forget to make your name REALLY big and your title illegible. I've won book cover contests, you know. 🙂

  10. Oops! My book cover is all brown grey and sludgy and as for the contents…… Well at least the title type face is about the right size and there is no naked torso.

  11. Great pointers. I especially thought the one about putting your name in HUGE letters was funny. I'm a humble author and want readers to see the title of the book rather than my name. I recently had another author mention that I should make my name bigger on my covers. I told him that I don't like my name big- too presumptuous. Maybe one day if/when I'm really famous (chuckles).

  12. This is my first visit here and I can already tell I'm going to love it! Excellent "backhanded" advice on covers to say the least. I learned so much just from reading the first article I came across. I do have one tiny suggestion however, speaking as an avid reader that has yet to scrape together the necessary coinage to upgrade from a mere Kindle to the super-deluxe-uber improved-guaranteed not to be obsolete until the day after you buy it- Kindle Fire.

    I always appreciate it as the reader when I see a cover in glorious Kindle black & white and the image is such a pastiche of similar hues that it translates into what looks like the latest episode in the ever growing series, "Mudslide Aftermaths: A Love Story." Although I didn't set out to collect the entire set, I've managed to amass several dozen titles where it seems the authors saved a bit of cash by sharing the same smeared cover pictures. It's so exciting because it makes the contents of every book a "mystery" thereby eliminating the nuisance of actual genre selection.

    1. Bruce, thanks for stopping in. I love your comments. If everyone used the same cover images, we could just do like a "pot luck" with books – how exciting would that be for readers?! 😀

  13. I'm guilty of some of this admittedly, but it is a very amusing, sarcastic, and witty article, yet very informative. Ha, ha! Good one!

  14. I was curious, because I saw a link to this blog on a fellow writer/artist's Facebook page, so I popped on over to see what the post was about! Your blog is hilariously well-written, and I've learned so much reading this post as well as several others! Thank you so much for your insights into the book cover art-side of indie publishing!

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