Good covers help sell books; bad ones almost never do. I say “almost” because you might find a cover are so utterly awful, amateurish or dumb that you’re tempted to buy it to see if the writing is just as bad. This is like hitting your head with a variety of hard objects to see which generates the worst headache. Don’t let your cover be one of them.
No matter what kind of book you’re writing, a bad cover can sabotage all your hard work. If you can’t think of a good illustration, a nifty font, or a way to typographically promote your idea, just use plain bold text on a color background. It might not be sexy, but at least it won’t completely suck. And people will be able to read the title!
Consider the Gummy Baby cover above. I have not read it, nor do I intend to, but readers of gruesome short stories featuring young children might like it. (Get your copy here.) I’m posting it simply to point out some of the issues one can run into when designing a cover.
Let’s start with the overwhelming background image and the photo overlay of lips and a tongue. Even assuming the mouth addition is a good idea (which I doubt), you’d be hard pressed to see it in the thumbnail version. The title also disappears amid the candy even though it’s big enough to stand out. The color is just… wrong. The blurb likewise dissolves in the confectionery madness as it does on a full-size rendering. Last of all, the author’s name is nearly invisible in a thumbnail, and doesn’t do much better full-scale. The one message we can’t escape is that this story has something to do with gummy bears. Yuck.
A good book cover should deliver a message, but it ought to be one that puts an idea in a reader’s head, and more specifically, an intriguing idea. You do, after all, want to sell what’s inside, so why make the wrapper appear toxic?
Consider the cover for Isis: The Beauty Myth (buy it here). I’m going to crawl out on a limb here and guess the cover illustration was not done by a professional artist. Conventional wisdom suggests that a pretty face, which I’m guessing is the goal here, ought to include a nose, two eyes, and maybe even an ear. Isis here, despite a charming, albeit massive, pair of ruby lips, appears to be missing some of the aforementioned standard equipment. Maybe that’s the whole point of the story; I don’t know. I haven’t read this one either, and with this cover, I’ve no intention of doing so, which is sad because it might be a great story.
If I were re-designing this, I’d focus on the title font, enlarge it and find a compelling image to go with it. I’d also beef up the size of the author’s name so it’s not lost in the shuffle.
Next up is the cover for Bigfoot Bob (available here). Bob Smith is Bigfoot Bob, and I’m guessing the hirsute fellow on the cover is the author rather than one of the critters he’s after (or possibly a lost member of ZZ Top).
The large black box which, thankfully, obscures Bob’s nether regions tells readers exactly what this wannabe blockbuster is about. Unfortunately, it’s done in a font and color scheme that’s barely legible here let alone in a thumbnail, which is all most readers will see. Likewise, the image suggests this is what a bigfoot looks like rather than a bigfoot hunter. Why Bob hunts in the nude is a question for another day. This cover needs a makeover in the worst way. Sorry Bob. You, too, bigfoot.
Zipping right along, we find the cover for Dead End in The Pyrenees (get your copy here). I’ve got to say I love the background photo. I just wish the designer hadn’t quit right there. Would it have killed him or her to center the title? Or use a photo of a real Volkswagon instead of something from a freebie clip art collection? Or, at the very least, make the author’s name big enough to read, and in a font that doesn’t get buried in the background?
What’s also interesting to note (from the Amazon sales page): this is the fourth book in a series. I have no idea if the first three covers were similarly mangled, but I suspect so. There’s potential here, but all of it has been overlooked and/or misinterpreted. I also note that “Author Way” is the publisher. Evidently, they don’t know squat about covers either, or they’d never have let this one sneak by. My guess is they were done the instant they got paid.
It’s not that hard to come up with a good cover, even on your own. You can pay a designer to build one or use any of the cover construction tools available on the internet. I will revisit this issue soon with a list of things to keep in mind if you opt to design your own.