Every author should be involved with the front and back covers of their books. This is true whether you self-publish your book, or you’re working with a trade publisher.
Authors who fail to be involved with the content and design of the book’s front and rear covers are usually disappointed with the way their covers turn out.
Book covers are point of purchase marketing materials that prospective buyers view at the point of sale, i.e., in a bookstore or online using the popular Search Inside or Look Inside features that allow visitors to view front and back covers at comfortable size online.
But, I’m not a designer!
Contrary to what your printer or publisher may tell you, there’s no mystery to effective book cover design. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to make a significant contribution to your book cover.
It’s important to remember you don’t need to know how to do something in order to be able to evaluate whether or not the contents and design of your book cover are appropriate for your book and your market.
Even if you can’t draw a straight line, there are numerous things you can do to ensure your book gets the best cover possible.
Playing a proactive role in your book’s cover
Here are some real world tips for making sure your book gets the best cover possible, based on some of the hard lessons I’ve learned during my writing career as well as talking to other authors (most of whom have had their share of cover frustrations).
- Get it in writing. Your involvement with your book cover should start at the contract stage. If you’re dealing with a trade publisher, it’s essential that your publishing contract guarantees you the right of approval for your book’s cover. Often, publishers will say they routinely “work with their authors,” but this often doesn’t work out in practice. Protect yourself by insisting on your right to approve not only the cover artwork, but also the working comps, or rough layouts, of early versions of the cover.
- Get an early start. Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a trade publisher, you should get involved with your book’s cover as early as possible. This involves obtaining the names and contact information of the individuals who will be working on your cover, (i.e., the publisher’s publicist, their in-house art director or creative director, etc.) and establishing communication with them.
- Analyze the covers of competing books. Search online for the covers of competing books. You can search at Amazon.com and the websites of the various authors. Or, save time by searching at Google Images. Search for “(Name-of-Title)+Cover.” Use a screen capture program like TechSmith’s Snagit to assemble the images side by side at consistent size in a Word document or PowerPoint file. Create a PDF and share it with your editor and others who will be involved with your book’s cover.
- Learn what to look for. Educate yourself about the basics of book cover design by visiting the blogs and web sites of book designers. Learn the building blocks of book covers, and analyze book covers from the basis of logic and function, rather than aesthetics. Ask yourself questions like, Do the text and graphics work together to communicate what the book’s about? and Are the title and subtitle easy to read? Does the cover project an appropriate mood?
- Pay as much attention to the back cover as the front cover. Avoid over-emphasizing the front cover at the expense of the back cover. The front cover of a book is a “billboard” intended to attract the attention of prospective bookstore buyers or web visitors skimming a page, but the back cover does the heavy lifting by building upon the promise of the title by providing more information about the benefits the book offers readers, the author’s qualifications, and testimonials from early readers.
- Prepare your own back cover copy. Locate two or three back covers that you feel do an exceptional job of selling the book’s contents. To find out how many words were used on your “ideal” back covers, recreate the back cover in Word using Text Boxes as containers for entering the headline, paragraph, list of bullet points, testimonials, and other text elements. Format the text as close in size as possible. Save your work. Then, make a Save As… copy. Replace the original text with words appropriate for your book. This will keep you from writing more text than can fit on the cover. Offer this as starting point for the designers to work with.
- Refuse to be intimidated. As an outside author, your involvement may not be initially welcomed with open arms. But, if you provide proactive input, like studies of competing titles and sample well-written marketing copy for the back cover, it will become obvious that you’re not competing with the designers because your comments and suggestions are strategic and marketing oriented not aesthetic or opinion. Soon, your ideas will be sought and your copy suggestions appreciated.
Your involvement in the design of your book cover will go much smoother when your actions reflect empathy to the publisher’s overworked graphic design staff. In the beginning, as an author and non-designer, you obviously be viewed as an “outsider.” However, as you convince them you’re interested in helping them by providing marketing oriented input, you can soon find your self on their team…and your book cover will benefit!
Book publishing is a team sport. Unfortunately, often the “publishing team” views the author as an opponent–a member of the opposing team. Your challenge is to get asked to join their team so your knowledge of your book, your market, and your competition can be matched with their knowledge of design and today’s advanced software programs.
Roger C. Parker shares ideas for planning, writing, promoting, & profiting from branding building books in his daily writing tips blog. His latest book is #BOOK TITLE Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, & Event Titles.