It’s been said that you only have 7 seconds to make a strong first impression. In this digital age of purchasing books, that means your cover has to do its job—because 7 seconds (or less) is about how long it will take a reader to decide if they are going to click through to your book description or if they will scroll on past.
Your cover has to effectively represent not only your author brand, but your story’s brand as well.
Research Other Covers
It’s easy to be tempted to skip this step, or at the least to do just a partial search. At first it’s fun to look at page after page of covers. Then it starts to get a little daunting, kind of boring, and next thing you know you stop after only looking at the top 100 books on the Amazon list. Don’t get me wrong—that’s a good place to start, however you’ll find some great information by looking a little further. You don’t want to spend days doing this kind of research, but make sure you have a really good feel for not only the general trend of covers in your genre, but also what you like and don’t like.
Decide Your Path
If you’ve done your due diligence in the research part, then you should have a pretty good idea of any trends for your genre. You then need to decide if it’s best for you to follow that same trend, or to blaze a new trail. There’s really no right or wrong answer here—just what works best for you and best represents your brand. For example, some say that romance covers need to have people on them (preferably half-naked, thank you very much). But there are some very successful romance novels that don’t follow this ‘standard’. You can be successful with either path.
DIY or Professional
Another consideration you will have to make is if you want to design the cover yourself or pay someone to do it. Again, there is no right or wrong answer to this. I will say that if you design your own cover and it screams DIY, then you might want to consider hiring a professional if your intention is to sell a lot of books. Bottom line, if you are considering designing your own covers then you need to do your homework on what works and what doesn't. I'd recommend spending some time over on The Book Designer before you get started. If you go professional, again you need to do your research. Look at several designers (both in and out of your price range), check out their portfolio, and take the time to select the designer that's right for you (and your budget).
A Couple Watch-outs
When it comes to covers, there are two areas where I suggest you think before doing. I mean really think. And possibly ask some opinions of trusted fellow authors in your network, and possibly even some trusted readers.
One is ‘borrowing’ the brand of a popular author—or as I call it the bait and hook. One that comes to mind is Nicholas Sparks. His covers all have the same formula (unless it’s the movie tie-in): his name and book title in a box on an image. This is easy to replicate, and I’ve seen a lot of other authors do just that. The strategy is that on first glance, readers will think it’s a Nicholas Sparks book, so they will click on it to check it out and half your battle is over. I’m sure this works really well. The challenge is that it may irk some people and you could lose readers in the process. Some people don’t like to be deceived and they don’t like copycats. However, you might gain readers using this technique. My advice is to think about your brand, and decide if using a 'bait and hook' strategy will help or hinder the overall message you are trying to establish.
The other watch-out is using a popular image for your cover. I know it’s near impossible these days to ensure that no other book will use the same image you chose for your cover. And as with the previous watch-out, it’s clear that there are some instances where authors intentionally use an image (or the same models) as a popular book in their genre. The challenge is that it could be distracting for readers. Take the three covers below. When I saw the second book with that image I thought, “Wait, didn’t that book have a different title?” I searched and discovered it was two different books. Then when I saw the third cover with the image, it basically didn’t grab my attention other than a passing thought of, “Oh, it’s that image again.”
Now I want to end this post with what I consider a positive example—my fellow Across the Board author, Amy Jarecki. There are two primary reasons for this:
1) She does a good job of representing her brand in her covers (and in her promotions)
2) Today is the release day for her latest book, A HighlandKnight’s Desire, and we want to celebrate!
If you don’t already know, Amy writes Scottish historical romance novels. With this genre, Amy’s covers actually have to represent four specific brand messages:
- Author Brand
- Scottish Historical
- Series Brand
I’ve copied below the first book in each of Amy’s novel series. You can see that while her name changes slightly for each series, it’s still has the same ‘feel’ to keep consistent with her brand. The font of the novel title for each series is also unique, yet they still complement each other. And of course, there is the bare-chested model in a kilt. This tells me in no uncertain terms that I’m looking at a Scottish historical romance cover! It’s not to say that all of Amy’s covers will have to follow this formula, but it’s clear she knows the importance of her covers representing her brand.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t have the same kind of party for Amy as we did for my release yesterday, well the answer is because Amy already has a fantastic party planned! If you want to see how amazing she is at carrying her brand through to her social media presence, RSVP to her A Highland Knight’s Desire Release Party! Really, you should check it out. She inspires me!
Congrats on your latest release, Amy!!