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.
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.
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!