Your book cover is your biggest marketing asset. It can make or break your book. Even if your Amazon ads are stellar, your marketing campaign will fail if your cover is bad.
Authors must learn to create a book cover that will contribute to a book’s success.
What is the purpose of a book cover?
Why isn’t it sufficient to use black text on a white page for a book cover. What is the book cover supposed to accomplish?
The book cover must do the following:
- Communicate the genre of the book.
- Incite curiosity.
- Sell the book.
The ultimate purpose of the book cover is to convince someone to buy it. The purpose of the first line of a novel is to hook the reader into the first paragraph. The first paragraph should hook the reader into reading the rest of the story. But the book cover is the first hook that will convince them to pick it up or click.
A book cover is more like a Cheerios package than a piece of art like the Mona Lisa. You won’t see a Cheerios box on the wall at an art museum because it’s not art. It’s more functional. You don’t frame the box of Cheerios because it is designed to make you pull it off the shelf.
Cover design is a combination of graphic design, art, and package design.
If the Cheerios box incites you to turn the box over and read more, it’s successful. While it’s hard to determine whether art is successful, you can say whether a book cover is successful or not. Your book cover should cause someone to pick it up and turn it over to read more.
Invest your time, energy, and money planning for your book cover and hire a professional to design it. Don’t skimp or try to save money on your cover design or editing. If you don’t have the money for those things, get a job and make some money so you can hire a professional to help you. If you want your book to look professional, you need to spend money on your cover and editing.
Components Every Book Cover Needs to Look Legit (Front, Back & Spine)
Component #1: Title & Subtitle
The title and subtitle of the book need to be readable. Sometimes the typography is so cool, creative, and fancy that you have to study it to read it.
Subtitles are more prominent in nonfiction, but some novels have subtitles. James L. Rubart’s first title was Rooms: A Novel. A book called Rooms might be mistaken as a book about interior design. The subtitle helps readers understand the genre.
Component #2 Author Name
Use only your name, without credentials like “Ph.D.,” on the cover. If this is your first book, I highly recommend you think carefully about your author name. Once you choose an author name, it’s difficult to change and could hurt you in the long term. We’ve recorded two episodes that will help you choose your author name.
- Major Mistakes You Might Be Making with Your Author Name
- Classic Branding Blunders Authors Make and How to Avoid Them.
Component #3: Back Cover Copy (Blurb)
These are the words that will cause a consumer to open the book or, if they’re online, to read a bit of the preview. The first line of your back cover copy is just like the cover and the first line of your book in that it has to hook your readers.
The rest of the blurb should be 90-170 words. These words are critical because they must draw people in.
Component #4 Author Headshot
Nearly every book cover needs a photo of the author because people like to see who they’re reading.
However, there are exceptions. If you feel your audience will be biased against you because of who you are or how you look, you may want to omit the headshot.
For example, it’s commonly believed that women don’t want to read romance novels written by men. Often, male romance authors won’t include their photo on the cover, and they may use initials instead of their names.
The same is true for women writing fantasy. There was once a belief that fantasy readers didn’t want to read books written by women. J.K. Rowling used her initials instead of her name to obscure her gender. She just happens to be the most successful novelist ever, so I think she’s done a bit to dispel that myth.
In general, you should include a good headshot on the back cover because it makes you more relatable, and people are more likely to read your book.
To find out how to get a professional author photo, listen to our episode on 7 Tips for Bestselling Author Portraits.
Component #5: Author Bio
Use your short bio on the back cover of your book. People want to see your photo and learn a bit about you in your bio before they spend hours reading your book. Your bio will give them a tiny peek at your credentials, personality, and voice. Listen to Episode 79 to find out How to Write a Crazy Cool Author Bio.
If you’re self-publishing, you may not realize the following components need to be included.
Component #6: ISBN Number & Barcode
List the ISBN number on the back cover, and use that number to generate a bar code. Some websites charge a fee for generating barcodes, and some do it for free. From a point-of-sale-scanner perspective, there is no difference. They both scan the same.
When the ISBN and barcode are missing from the back cover, people subconsciously notice it’s gone. The missing elements often make a book look self-published. Readers may not be able to articulate it, but they know something is different.
Component #7: Publishing House Logo
Another subconscious irritant is a missing publishing house logo. It’s typically located in the bottom left corner of the back cover. If you’re independently publishing, go to your county courthouse and get what’s called an Assumed Name or a DBA (Doing Business As). After you pay the nominal fee, you will be a business with a business name.
If you want your cover to look professional, create a simple logo for your business and use it on the back cover. It doesn’t have to be a stellar logo to look like a real publisher because publishing houses generally have terrible logos. People don’t usually care who the publisher is anyway. They just expect to see it on the back cover of the book.
Component #8: Price in US & Canada
Research your genre to find out how other books like yours are priced. If your price is much lower or higher than others in your genre, it may be off-putting to your readers.
A scam vanity press company called Tate Publishing used to charge authors so much to publish a book that authors would have to charge $19.99 for a paperback. Customers aren’t used to paying that much for a paperback, and most of the time, they don’t.
On the other hand, if you price your book at $8.99 and everyone else in your genre is priced at $15.99, your price will seem out of line. You can certainly discount your book, but you want that starting price to be close to similar books.
The price you choose is the number Amazon will draw a line through and then charge a lower price. A good rule of thumb is to find the bestselling book in your category that is the same size as yours and copy their price. You’ll also want to copy the Canadian price. In the US, we include the US and Canadian pricing on the back cover. If you’re in the UK, you may want to include the pound and the euro.
You can never charge more than the price you print on the back of the book. If you’re doing a book signing or speaking event, your attendees will expect to pay full price for your book.
I’ve seen authors make the mistake of placing a discounted price sticker on the front of the book when they’re signing books at an event. If you’re going to use a discount sticker, you need to put it on the back so people will at least pick up your book and turn it over to find out more. If your price is emblazoned on the front, people may decide not to buy it without even reading a word of your back cover copy.
In your back cover design, place the price directly above the bar code.
Component #9: Trust Badge (optional)
Trust Badges are stickers or emblems declaring awards the book has won, a bestseller status, or a large number of copies in print. If you have all three, choose one. Your book may not qualify for a trust badge yet, but that’s all right because trust badges are optional.
If you are New York Times bestseller, your publisher will put a sticker on the front of all your book covers saying so. In future printings, they’ll print the sticker on the book as an element of the design. Generally speaking, you’ll want to wait until you have 20,000 copies in print before you use that particular trust badge.
Component #10 Shelving Instructions (optional)
Independent authors commonly leave off the shelving instructions because they’re not thinking about brick-and-mortar bookstores shelving their books. Shelving instructions tell what genre the book belongs to. On traditionally published books, you’ll find them right above the price, which is above the barcode. As the name indicates, the shelving instructions tell the bookstore employee where the book belongs in the store.
Component #11 Endorsements (optional)
Endorsements work sometimes. Celebrity endorsements only influence certain readers. About 75% of the population doesn’t care about endorsements. Realize that endorsements work for readers who respect the endorser. If the reader hasn’t heard of the person who endorsed your book, their endorsement will have no positive or negative effect.
If you have several mediocre endorsements, you can include them in the front matter of your book.
Endorsements can be wonderful, but they’re not essential.
Pro Tips for a Good Cover that Pops
Tip #1: Keep the potential for a series in mind.
Ideally, the design can span across multiple books and look good on a shelf. If you plan to write sequels, consider the design of the spine. If they don’t look good standing next to each other, your bookstore sales will suffer, and people will be less likely to keep your books on their shelves at home.
Tip #2: Keep the thumbnail image in mind.
If you are self-published, 95% of your sales will be online. People will only see a one-inch-tall version of your book cover. If you can’t tell what the cover says or what the image is when the cover is displayed as a thumbnail, reconsider your design. If it looks good small, it will look good big.
Tip #3: Keep the design as simple as possible.
When you keep the design simple, the thumbnail and the cover’s actual size will be readable.
Good design is not adding until you can add no more. It is subtracting until you can subtract no more.
You don’t necessarily need an image or picture on your cover at all. Some cover designers can communicate a paragraph with a single word by using certain typography.
Tip #4: Keep the focus of the design process on your reader.
It doesn’t matter if you like your cover. It only matters if your target reader likes the cover. If you’re unsure which cover resonates with your reader, run a Facebook Ad to test both covers. Listen to episode 172 to learn How to Split Test Your Cover (or Title) Ideas with Facebook Ads.
Your cover is the most important piece of your marketing efforts. Take the time to understand and incorporate the necessary elements that will give your book the greatest chance for success in a competitive market.