Good Cover Design—Part 1

example Katharine Ashe's My Lady, My Lord

example Katharine Ashe’s My Lady, My Lord

Given the surge of self-publishing in recent years, more and more authors are taking their covers into their own hands. Whether you purchase a graphics program and learn the skills to do it yourself, or hire a professional book designer like me, the fact is, the author has far more control than ever before. With that control, however, also comes the burden of getting it right. Never fear, by keeping in mind a few basic principles, you, or you in conjunction with your designer, will be able to create a cover that helps you sell. Today’s post will focus on Genre, Keeping it Simple, and Instant Readability.

[Before we get started, please note that I am not distinguishing here between self-pubbed examples and traditionally published ones in this post. I use the author's name for simplicity, and my focus is simply Good Design. In some cases, yes, the design decisions were made by the authors, in others, kudos go to the publisher's design (and perhaps marketing) departments.]

Genre: Reader’s don’t just need a HEA in a romance, first they’ve got to know it IS a romance, and better yet, what sub-genre of romance it is. Just like it’s okay to try something a little different to garner attention (see the cover I did with Katharine Ashe for My Lady, My Lord with it’s unusual grayscale image)—at the same time you must give readers what they expect. Typical in historicals, we used an embracing couple, added more hair, period clothing, and of course, some swashy type. Your setting is a big key to depicting genre. Think Marie Force’s The Fatal Series. She fades a nighttime cityscape and a couple together, with a dark feel: obviously a romantic suspense. Bella Andre uses a couple and setting in a similar way in The Sullivans series—yet through color and choice of art, the feel is completely different. Voila, a contemporary romance. Small town contemporaries, often show a couple posed on quaint main street or square, likewise, the backdrop for a western will use lush fields, a charming barn, or a dusty landscape. Likely, you know what the conventions and expectations of your genre are—but if you need a visual reminder go to an online book retailer and pull up a specific genre via keywords or the authors you are most similar to for comparison.

examples from Marie Force's Fatal Series and Bella Andre's The Sullivan's Series

examples from Marie Force’s Fatal Series and Bella Andre’s The Sullivan’s Series

Keep it Simple (or Less is More): You want to hint more at your genre, voice, and style, than knock people over the head with every little detail of your story. There’s a Roman statue that figures prominently in My Lady, My Lord—did we show it on the cover? Nope. At the stage of deciding whether to buy the book or not, the readers don’t care, or even need to know. Additionally, remember that many readers will invariably fill in the visual details themselves as they read. I believe this is one reason that the tightly cropped images (picture the Avon historicals, like Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X) so many of which feature the back of a woman her dress half undone, or often a partial face shot, either because she’s turned or she’s strategically cropped. Personally, I love these, because my imagination always paints a different picture than the cover does—and ack, the annoyance if the text says she’s got green eyes, but the cover shows blue. Likewise, you don’t need the cowboy, the barn, the fields, the saloon, and the dust! One will do. And shy away from getting specific. Horses in the background or a small house on a hill, will give the impression of your genre. Trust me, you don’t want to get into creating eaves, or painting a Palomino! As long as it’s clear what kind of tale it is within your genre: humorous and sweet, dark and dangerous, serious and moving, you should be all set.

example: Eloisa James's Three Weeks with Lady X

example: Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X

Instant readability: With the advent of online retailers, all book designs must consider online thumbnail viewing. This doesn’t mean that the type has to be gigantic or the color neon, but anything small or thin or weak is going to get lost. It also helps if the type is easy to read—I don’t mean boring, just easy to absorb at a glance. Maybe the typeface isn’t tooooo swashy, only has a hint of flair (this is one reason Katharine Ashe’s cover uses script initial caps, with the rest of her name roman.) Or if your book needs type that screams paranormal or historical—make sure it’s on a background that allows it to shine. Case in point: look again at how deftly both Bella Andre and Marie Force left space for the type to breathe. Big skirts (again, see the Katharine Ashe cover) leave a lot of solid backdrop for type to stand out, likewise of course, Eloisa James’s panel does the trick.

Please join me for Part Two next month (May 19), when I’ll cover Clear Branding, Basic Design Principles, Trusting your Gut, and Working with a Professional Cover Designer. Thanks for visiting The Violet Femmes!

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21 Comments

  1. Thanks for this info. I love covers and will check for more of your advice.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Shirley! I’ll send out a blast when Part 2 comes out. : )

      Reply
  2. Great post with excellent advice! Thanks for sharing your expertise, Jenna!

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Most welcome! So much of it’s common sense–but it’s so easy to get carried away, especially with all the cool techniques you can do these days. Thank you, Nancy!

      Reply
  3. Awesome! I love how you wrote this post! Very very crucial and informative to those who are thinking about self-publishing and self made covers!

    Reply
  4. Reblogged this on doingsomereading and commented:
    Super love these covers!!! And great advice on how to create a good book cover.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Thanks for stopping by, ki pha and good luck with your endeavors! So happy it was helpful and you are a total doll for reblogging this–thanks!

      Reply
  5. Great post, Jenna. I love Katherine’s cover. I agree with the less is more concept. Too busy of a cover is distracting.Great information, especially in a time when self-publishing is hot. It’s also helpful for those of us traditionally published, especially if the author has some input as to their design. Looking forward to your next post.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Hi Maria! Thanks! I meant to say that actually: that even if you are traditionally published, it can’t hurt to have more insight into what your in-house designer is doing and why, what works and why, and yes–as you said–especially if you are an author who has input.

      Reply
  6. Hi Jenna, First of all, that Katherine Ashe cover is gorgeous. Love love LOVE it! There’s so much to think about regarding cover design. Nice to have a friend with such a good eye and terrific talent. I’m learned so much from this post!!! Best, Michele

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      So glad you learned from the post, Michele! And thank you for the raves on the KA cover. She has great taste, and was willing to do something a little different, which all combined to leave us both just thrilled with the end result! There IS a lot to think about. Happy to field any questions here, too! ; )

      Reply
  7. Great post, Jenna! I’m always interested in anything about author branding and I look forward to your next post. Beautiful cover for Katharine Ashe too!

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Thanks, Tina! The branding stuff is fascinating, isn’t it? I’m watching and learning from the pros, myself!

      Reply
  8. Diana Quincy

     /  April 22, 2014

    Hi Jenna – Perfect timing on this post! I’m about to start work on my first self-published work and I’m quickly realizing getting the right cover is more complicated than it looks! I see what you mean about the mix of fonts on Katherine Ashe’s name – it certainly gives it a little extra visual kick. I’m looking forward to learning more with Part 2 of this post.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Good luck to you, Diana, with your first self-pub! From everything I’ve heard, hybrid is a great situation to be in and you are lucky to have that trad-experience behind you as you start this. Happy to offer cover advice if you’d like–though from what I know, you are in good hands!

      Reply
  9. Great post! How will I wait till next month for the next one? Good stuff. More! More! Needs it now. :)

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      So glad you found it worthwhile, Amy! And if you are anything like me, we’ll blink and a whole month will have flown by! ; ) Seriously though–if you have questions that are pressing, feel free to dm me on twitter & we’ll swap direct emails. Happy to help!

      Reply
  10. Hi Jenna,
    This is a really helpful post and is full of great information. I’ll be tweeting a link to it so other authors can benefit from your expertise. Cover designs are tricky and you outlined all the key points an author needs to consider in an easy to understand way. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

    PS – Your cover designs are both eye-catching and beautiful. If I decide to self publish, I will definitely be giving you a call.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 22, 2014

      Laurie–thank you so much for the tweets and the kudos! I know you have my design website info, so I’m thinking you are referring to that, but I keep feeling like I should clarify for everybody: the only cover I’ve shown here that I’ve worked on is the Katharine Ashe one. The others are not mine–but I chose them because they are so well known and such good examples of the topics! : ) Thanks again, Laurie!

      Reply
  11. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  April 23, 2014

    Nice post, Jenna. I love what you did with the Katharine Ashe cover. Thank you for giving us a look at covers through your designer’s / artist’s eye. All very helpful information.

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  April 24, 2014

      Thanks, RoseAnn! Glad you found it helpful. I sure had fun prepping this one!

      Reply

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