Over the years working as a book cover designer, many authors have come to me with questions. So, I decided to put together the following 5 tips on book covers to help out independent authors.
My top pieces of advice are:
- Focus on the reader
- Define your book’s audience
- Keep it simple and objective
- Hire the right professional
- Free your Book Cover Designer
1) FOCUS ON THE READER
One of the biggest mistakes that authors make when requesting, analysing, or approving a cover for their book is forgetting about the reader and focusing on their own personal taste. In other words, writers are more worried about meeting their own expectations rather than the reader’s.
In fact, the entire process of creating a book cover should be focused on appealing to the reader, not satisfying the author’s own wishes.
Therefore, the cover designer and author should work together and join forces to please readers: the book’s potential buyers.
2) DEFINE YOUR BOOK’S AUDIENCE
So, you’ve understood that the book cover should be focused on your audience, right? Great! So now we need to carefully define exactly who this audience is.
Drop the overly simple idea that your book is aimed at everyone who is interested in the subject. The more precisely you define the “ideal reader” for your book, the better your chances of appealing to them.
Imagine that profile as an existing person. In marketing, we call this type of personification the consumer “persona”.
Create a persona that represents your reader. You can do this by defining the main characteristics of your book’s ideal reader. Establish their gender, age group, education level, social class, geographic location, reading habits, and type of profession. Also, list the main needs that this audience has in relation to your book’s topic. In addition, identify the wishes and ambitions of your audience, as well as the main obstacles they face in fulfilling these goals.
Example: My priority audience is women between 29 to 36 years old. They live in the the North-East region of Brazil. They belong to the upper- and upper-middle classes and have a university degree.
Monica has an independent profile. She’s a freelance professional, divorced, with two small children. She has great difficulty in balancing her professional and family life. Her hectic schedule has made her a highly practical and objective person. Even so, she doesn’t have the time to take proper care of her diet and health. She loves to spend time with her children in her free time. She is used to buying personal development books, as well as technical books related to her area of work.
By knowing the profile of your audience, your cover designer will be able to choose the ideal visual language for this specific reader. Thus, the cover created will captivate your reader in a much more engaging and relevant way.
3) Keep it simple and objective
The book cover is the primary commercial element of a publication. It’s not to be analysed slowly and calmly like a work of art. In fact, the cover is an element of quick perception to arouse the reader’s curiosity at first glance.
The book cover must be simple and objective to quickly stir curiosity and pique your reader’s interest. It should present very few elements: a strong visual and striking yet short texts.
Unfortunately, few publishers explain this to their authors. Many authors, excited by their work, want to put an entire visual narrative on the cover. They seek to represent, explain, or summarise the entire content of their book in the cover design. To do this, they use various images, as well as a large amount of text.
The result for the reader is an excess of visual and textual information. The sheer amount of information makes it difficult to interpret the book cover quickly. With so much information to decode, the chances of the brain simply ignoring this kind of cover are high.
It’s important for the author to understand that a book cover doesn’t serve to summarise, explain, or even anticipate much information about the work at hand: it serves to create an impact, arouse curiosity and attract the reader’s attention.
4) HIRE THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL
Unless you are producing a non-commercial book with exceptionally low circulation (e.g. distribution to only friends and family), you will need a professional book cover designer.
Even when they do hire a professional, I see many authors getting bad results because they are unaware of the criteria for choosing a cover designer.
Here are some tips:
- Always try to hire a graphic designer with good experience in the publishing market. This type of professional is known as an Editorial Designer. Remember: it will be of no use if the professional is good at creating brands, logos, brochures, and websites, but they can’t demonstrate a decent portfolio of book covers.
- Always analyse the professional’s background, experience, and book cover portfolio. Seek out competence, clear communication and excellent service. Analyse whether the cost is compatible with the professional’s level and experience.
- Most importantly: hire a book cover designer with sufficient experience working with the same kind of book that you are planning to publish. If you are going to publish a book about international politics, it’s useless to hire a designer who only has teenage novels in their portfolio.
5) FREE YOUR BOOK COVER DESIGNER!
Through pure lack of experience in the editorial area, many authors approach book cover designers with ready-made ideas:
“Look, Rubens, I want a blue cover with a large title. I want it to have a picture of an executive running, then behind him there should be a clock with the hands moving quickly”
“Rubens, I already have a cover that I created myself. Could you just make a few adjustments and/or improvements to make it look more professional?”
By presenting a professional book cover designer with a ready-made idea, the writer ends up limiting the designer’s ability to come up with a better solution: A cover with a commercially effective message to win over his readers.
The designer’s role is not to embellish your idea, but to create a complete cover concept which represents the author and their message in the most efficient manner possible for the book market.
An independent author possesses great knowledge about their own work, their content, and the topic they are dealing with in their book. However, authors must recognise that they generally know little about the publishing market, as well as the concepts of graphic design and visual language.
I’ll never forget an author that once came to me with a ready-made idea. As an experienced professional, it was clear to me that the idea was immature and rather obvious. It hadn’t even touched on the key concept that would have piqued the interest of his target audience: it was an idea that greatly underestimated the reader. When I asked him if he would be open to other suggestions, he simply replied:
“No, Rubens, this idea came to me in a dream, so I know it’s going to be perfect for my book”.
I couldn’t think of any counterarguments for that, so I thanked him and politely indicated another professional that might be able to help him.