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Is Your Book Cover Design Stopping You From Being On The Bestseller List?

picture of books on a shelfWould you like to see your book on the bestseller list?

Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing the words “A New York Times Bestselling Author” gracing the cover of their next work?

While it is simply not possible for every author to gain “bestseller” status, even new authors’ books can carry the same quality and professionalism as those of established names in the business.

 

Bestselling Books Usually Have the Best Designs

 

As you walk through your local bookstore, you’ll see covers ranging from the bold type of John Grisham’s latest thriller to the frilly embellishments of Beverly Lewis’ newest Amish Romance.

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Each carries a level of quality that you immediately equate with professionalism in the content.

It is the combination of the author’s reputation, and the thought and craftsmanship used in the design that persuade you that “this book is for you.”

Let’s face it – if you saw the average, self-designed book sitting next to Karen Kingsbury’s latest, it would stand out, though not for the right reasons.

Self-designed books rarely assure book buyers that they are anything other than, well, self-designed.

 

In an uncertain book market, getting a potential reader to buy is harder than ever.

The book cover is the first impression, so it has to do the job of convincing the potential buyer that the message inside is worth their time.

If the cover portrays even a hint of “my nephew designed this for his school project,” nine times out of ten, the book will not receive a second glance.

While it is true that a well-designed book cover alone isn’t enough, I can tell you from experience, it certainly helps.

 

How to Compete with Bestsellers

 

It is possible to compete with the bestsellers.

What gives big name authors their edge (aside from the quite massive typographical name placement) is the fact that they alone do not decide how the book looks.

Any writer who has signed with a leading publisher knows this.

Authors are asked for their input, but in most cases, it is the publisher who has the final word on the cover design. This is because the publisher knows what makes a book’s design successful.

Again, this is not to minimize the importance of the book’s content, but the design (inside and out) must convince readers that their purchase is worth every cent spent.

 

Hire a Pro

 

If you are one of the fortunate few to have sold a book to an established publisher, it’s likely that you’ll end up with a top-class book cover, because your publisher will hire a qualified, experienced, book cover designer to handle the project.

But what if no publisher has yet shown interest in your work?

Your book will still need the professional look if it is to compete successfully with other titles in the market.

The solution, then, is for you to do the same. Ask around, search online resources, and track down a designer who specializes in book cover design.

 

Book Cover Design on a Budget

 

At this point, you’re probably wondering how expensive it will be to hire a professional book cover designer.

Because a book cover is arguably the most important part of your marketing effort for your book, paying a book jacket designer who knows the industry or niche you’re writing in is a worthwhile investment.

But there’s also hope for those on a serious shoestring budget.

Thanks to services like Elance and oDesk, it is easier than ever to find a talented, knowledgeable designer at a budget that suits you.

Services like these allow you to list your project and your budget, while designers from around the world place bids or “proposals”  describe their experience, portfolio, price, and approach to the job.

I cannot emphasize it enough: as far as possible, trade “general” graphic designers for a professional book cover designer who is aware of current trends in the publishing industry. It will mean spending more time, but the results will be well worth the extra effort you make.

 

Don’t Hijack Your Project

 

Let’s say you’ve found the perfect designer for your book.

Despite having successfully accomplished step one, you are still not guaranteed a winning book cover design.

Many professional designers, editors and marketers work with authors every day and end up with a finished product they are not proud to call their own.

How can this happen after hiring a pro?

This happens when a project gets “hijacked.”

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For example, an author may insist the designer change the font of the book’s title to “Comic Sans,” rather than working with the designer to understand the reasoning behind their typographical choice.

Or, the author may capitalize a word despite The Chicago Manual of Style suggesting otherwise.

Or, the author may ask for a cover that will sell well through Facebook ads, before even knowing whether they will find an audience on Facebook.

More often than not, “hijacked” projects render mediocre, at best.

What you need to do is partner with your designer. After all, how often do customers tell their mechanics how they want their brakes fixed?

 

You can have a book worthy of the time and care you’ve lavished to craft the finished manuscript.

 

All you need is to find a pro book designer conversant with book design trends in your genre, and work with them to have a book cover that’ll put your work on the same shelf as the bestsellers.

Have you tried to come up with the perfect cover design for your book? Share your tips and experience in the comments!

 

About the author

Thomas McGee has enjoyed working with publishers and authors on hundreds of book cover design projects. It is his joy to bring an author’s painstakingly-crafted works into market-targeted, stunning designs. Check out some of his work at Writely Designed and say hello on Twitter.

Image: Books on a shelf courtesy of Bigstockphoto

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20 thoughts on “Is Your Book Cover Design Stopping You From Being On The Bestseller List?

  • Flora Morris Brown

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for vital info on book cover design.

    Since I felt a twinge of guilt about possibly being one of those authors who could hijack their covers, I went over to visit your website right away.

    Reply
  • Thomas McGee

    Hi Flora,

    Thanks for your comment—I understand completely.

    I’ve written few short Ebooks, however, I can only imagine the time and effort it takes to complete a full-length manuscript.

    For this reason, I completely understand the desire to “hijack” a design. After all, it’s your painstakingly-created work which the book design is covering!

    The main point is to work together in order to arrive at a final product of which both the writer and designer can be proud.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  • Aneko

    That is really good advice. I’d go further, ANY input from the authour compromises the chances of design success. Even the act of choosing the designer based on ‘liking their style’ rather than ‘how successful have their previous projects been’

    Reply
    • Thomas McGee

      That’s actually a really good point. With the best book designers, there’s no “style” that you can identify him or her with. The seasoned ones have cultivated the habit of molding every aspect of the design around what fits the market and readership best. Thus, you don’t see a “trend” across his or her designs.

      It’s possible for a designer to interject personal tastes into a design and this can have the same damaging effects as if done by the author.

      Reply
  • Isabel Maynard

    Oh my God my book looks like that highjacked book cover yet a professional from a publishing designed it. Is that why it is not selling on Amazon? Should I pull it and resign?

    Reply
  • John Yeoman

    I agree totally, Thomas. A friend wrote a brilliant debut novel then ruined it with a self-designed cover done in Word. Red title against grey! It vanished on Kindle. One budget solution is to buy a pro cover from: http://selfpubbookcovers.com/ The cost is around $69 and you get exclusivity once it’s purchased. While not world-class designs, they’re a lot better than diy. And no, I get no commission!

    Reply
    • Thomas McGee

      Hi John,

      I had actually never heard of that resource before—sounds like a good resource! Totally agree with you, even if your budget is tight, having another individual undertake the job is always better than DIY.

      Reply
  • Susan Raber

    When I look through the YA shelves with my daughter, they are full of covers with beautiful long haired white girls looking either very exotic, very mopey, or both. Since it seems that all these designers went in the same direction with their covers, how can an author navigate their designer away from a particular trope on the cover? Or should they, since this seems to conform to reader’s expectations and encourage sales?

    Reply
    • Thomas McGee

      This is the “fine line” between fitting the market (maintaining a familiar look) while hitting readers with the unexpected. It is sometimes a daunting task.

      I know exactly what you mean about today’s YA fiction though. Sometimes I’m left thinking, “has it really become unthinkable for a main character to look anything but sad and depressed?”

      As a rule of thumb, the best thing for which to aim is to capture the main character’s personality in the photo used on the front. If the person has a mopey countenance in the story, then so be it. But making the character appear depressed or exotic just to “fit in” with other books, has the potential of misleading a reader into who the person on the front really is.

      Reply
  • Janet Church

    My BFF wrote a series of books picked up by one of the “Big 6″ and she had NO say in the cover design. so ot looks like it belongs on a marvel comic book. Her sales are terrible and it is a terrific book! A great disservice! So the statement about trusting publishers to ‘know what they’re doing is blatantly false and prejudicial. The only nephew getting the job was the editors!

    Reply
    • Thomas McGee

      This is a really tough situation. Unfortunately, there are times when even a traditional publisher ruins a perfectly good book design.

      It’s a little more rare to see a traditionally published book with a less-than-impressive design (mainly because it’s in the publisher’s best interest to sell more books) but it does happen.

      The biggest thing to emphasize here is research. It’s tough to say now, since the book has already been published, but going through other designs the publisher has produced and comparing them with the industry’s best is a good place to start. If they have a below-average collection of book designs, it may be worth looking elsewhere for a publishing solution.

      Reply
  • Lori Schafer

    I used a professional to design a book cover for me, and it stunk. I know I’m no artist, but even I could tell it was plain awful. This was so disappointing to me precisely because I KNEW the cover was too important for me to design myself, which is why I hired someone else to do it. Now I have to start from scratch with another designer – very frustrating.

    Reply
    • Thomas McGee

      This is a tough situation. I touched on it earlier but sometimes it helps to take a thorough look a designer’s portfolio and ensure that in addition to strong design skills, he or she has good knowledge and experience of the book market.

      Reply
  • Jack Cordwell

    In my ‘real’ life I’m a marketer – and let me tell you that it’s very difficult to learn how to provide creative feedback which will help the designer get to a better design without hijacking it. That, in and of itself, is a skill.

    You should never ask yourself if you like it because that’s not the real question. Instead, ask yourself, “Is this ON STRATEGY?” Does this appeal to the right audience? Does this convey the right emotional tone? Is the message that it delivers in alignment with the book’s content?

    And, most importantly if you intent to continue authoring books in the same genre, is this campaignable? Can I build my brand around elements of this cover, which my readers would recognize at a glance?

    Make it as easy as you can for your readers to find you on that shelf and show them what the book is about in a way that grabs them and doesn’t let go. It’s just that easy…

    Reply
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  • Den

    I usually do it all by myself. I am not good at Corel Drawl but I am quite confident with Photoshop. So, I have designed a few ebooks for promotional purpose and my experience as online markerter helped me market it well. Thanks for the great write-up by the way.

    Reply
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