Judge a Book By Its Cover

How many times have you heard the old adage:

Never judge a book by its cover.

Well today, my lovelies, I’m here to tell you that if you’re an author that’s a load of bantha poodoo.  Everyone will judge your book by its cover.  Granted what’s in between that cover should be the gold bomb diggety, but repel potential readers you will if you don’t put at least one-quarter the energy you put into writing the book into creating the cover.

litandscribbles gold diggety jae

Your work should explode into awesomeness every time the reader opens it.

This doesn’t mean you need to design the cover yourself, and unless you’re a graphic designer or artist, please hand that task off to someone else.

I do graphic design among other things for a living.  No, I’m not the greatest graphic designer in the world.  That title belongs to Paul Rand or Milton Glaser.  But I do know horrible when I see it, and unfortunately I see a lot of that in self-pub covers.

But all is not lost!  You can have a good cover, possibly even a great cover if you only take into consideration a few things when pulling it together.
Remember, your book cover is your initial sales pitch to your readers.

These tips will apply mostly to self-pubbers but traditional route authors will also want to take note.  Both of you may work with a designer, and the more direction you can give them the better your cover will likely turn out.

Let’s begin at the core.


As I said previously, your book cover is your initial sales pitch to a potential reader.  You want it to be eye-catching, alluring, intriguing—but to the right audience.  Let’s start with two books as examples: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Twilight.

These are both well-designed book covers, brought to you thanks to the $$$ the publishing houses had to pay a good designer.  But why are they good covers?  What do they convey?  Even if you’re not consciously thinking it, when you look at a cover, it’s sending you all sorts of messages.  Let’s start with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you can see what I mean.

diary of a wimpy kidBright, vibrant colors.  This tells us this book is probably for kids, but also promises to be something fun.  It’s fashioned like a real diary with modifications, re-emphasizing this will be the journal entries of some kid.  The font itself looks more hand-written, like a comic.  And you have a picture from the comics inside, torn out and taped on the front, probably the way a kid would design this book.  Then we get a picture of the kid himself, and yep, he does look wimpy—all hunched over and frowning.

TwilightNow compare that with Twilight.  Black background, light or white text.  The arms are pale.  The only color they do use is red, like blood, but still quite muted.  If you knew nothing about Twilight, looking at this cover you would still know it’s a story about something dark.  The apple suggests temptation.  The title has a sort of fantastical/magic look to it.  Some kind of dark temptation involving something magical.  These are things we notice and process—probably subconsciously for most of us.

But let’s take it one step further so you can understand the big difference between these two approaches.  If we were to switch them up, you can easily see why choosing the appropriate colors and moods for your book cover conveys a lot about what kind of story you’ve got.

diary of a vampy kid

moldy cheese jeff kinney

I hope you’re beginning to see how different designs make things funny or creepy or whatever you’re intending.  You’ve just got to put the right elements together (or rather the designer does) and you can have an intriguing cover that tells you something about the book.  It honestly doesn’t even have to be that complex.

outliers malcolm gladwellTake this book cover for example.  Simple, but effective.  It’s white, kind of sterile, like it’s all business.  It has some beads on it, one is separate, closer to the title Outliers—purposely conveying the concept of being an outlier.  Granted this particular design it probably more suited to non-fiction, but my point is you can have a good design that isn’t as complex as one of the American covers for the Harry Potter series.

This makes for a good introduction to book covers, and hopefully you’re beginning to understand a little better what kind of thought should go into your cover—whether you’re doing it yourself or not.  You’ve got to think about who your biggest audience is, what kind of story you’ve got and the best way to convey that, and most importantly of all the cover should be something that says, “I put more than 5 seconds worth of thought into this cover.

This is turning into a longer post than I had anticipated, so let’s continue in the following sections:

I’ll share some examples of self-pub authors who did it right, and do my best to recreate some of the less than good covers I’ve seen floating around the Twitterverse.  See you tomorrow with Colors, Fonts, & Photos!

12 thoughts on “Judge a Book By Its Cover

  1. Great post, and so true! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a book because it had an awesome cover. Those are some great examples, too. If you have time, you should check out “The Shifter” by Janice Hardy’s cover. I love it. It also helps that the book is a fun read, too. 🙂

    • Oooh, just looked at it. It is indeed an effective cover. It’s both simple and complex at the same time (an illustration). It’s using the cool colors of night indicating both something hidden or intriguing and ties it back into something magical emphasized by power coming out of those hands. The city too, I think is a subconscious throwback to Arabian Nights, once again bringing us back to magic. The font too helps emphasize the idea of “Shifter” since it’s the same in the middle and altered on the edges, as though it’s “shifting.” They chose a gold or yellow color for the title as a contrast which I also appreciated. She has a good designer. It helps when you go traditional publishing route though.

      But hopefully this re-emphasizes my point to self-pub authors that they should hire this part of their project out.

      I’m guessing that’s why you two, like me, are going to stick with trying for traditional pub. Even if I went self-pub I certainly wouldn’t do all the design myself—even as a graphic designer. The book cover is far too important! Thanks for pointing out “The Shifter” to me. 😀

      • That’s definitely part of the reason we’re looking into traditional publishing first. Although it would be nice someday to illustrate book covers, I don’t want to do all the graphic design that goes into it. I think that’s something else that a lot of writers don’t realize is that there are often more than one artist working on quite a few of these book covers.

  2. That gold bomb diggity drawing is the best drawing ever! I wish a golden bomb would explode words on readers everytime they opened my book too. How cool would that be?

    Now that I’ve got that out of my system, we can continue with a proper comment. Ahem…sorry. What I like about his post is your insight with the color schemes and layout of these two covers. You’ve provided us with some of the logic behind the design and what makes for an eye grabbing cover. Great introduction, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

    I love the covers of Seanan McGuire’s October Day Series of books. I asked her in an interview how much input she had in creating them and she confessed it was very little. The publisher handled most everything. They did a wonderful job and she was pleased. We should all be so lucky.

    You get the first golden bomb diggety award because you’re talented and awesome and you came up with that fantastic picture! What the award is, I don’t know. But you’ve earned it. 😉 Ahem…sorry, again.

    • Hmmm… I really like how they were able to make all the books look like the same series and yet be different enough from each other. I think Twilight did this effectively as well. I never read past book one, but I can immediately identify any of the other books from the series. That’s how I think series should be designed, so that when you see another book you know instinctively that it belongs to that same series—or at the very least you know it’s one of that author’s books.

      I like the font they chose, suggesting something breaking down. Seems to fit with what I read from the descriptions. She looks almost Indiana Jones-esque, like she’s uncovering some great mystery. I think self-pub can be as professional as this and many self-pub authors are, but when I scoured the Twitterverse for good examples… I certainly did encounter more than enough bad ones…

      Links for anyone who cares: http://seananmcguire.com/toby.php

  3. It’s kind of crazy how much psychology can go into just the picking of a color. You need to send the right message to make sure your readers are getting the most out of everything you are presenting. Great post!

  4. Definitely excited to read your break down of book covers! I’ve been reading a lot lately that authors aren’t really concerned with their book covers and let someone handle all the work for them.
    That freaks me out!!!

      • Oh I definitely want to leave it up to the professionals! But I don’t want to completely leave it up to them, you know? Its a big impact and if I don’t like it at all….. not gonna go so well.

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