Books laid out in a grid, including The Catcher in the Rye and A Pair of Silk Stockings.

Creating a Cover That Sells

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By Marc Histand | A 4-minute read

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It’s common to say that one should “never judge a book by its cover.” While that expression is true metaphorically, the literal translation of this expression is inaccurate when it comes to your book’s cover. The cover of your masterpiece is the first impression the reader will have of your book, so it is unwise to overlook the importance of a clean, professional-looking cover.

Now, let’s take a deep dive now into what makes a quality, professional-looking cover.

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Keep it simple

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If you take a look at what’s out there, you’ll notice that the most popular books currently being sold have quite minimalist designs. In the current market, shoppers and readers alike are looking for something to quickly capture their attention, so make your cover simple but eye-catching. Take a look at the book covers below. You’ll note that there are only one or two background images on these best-sellers.

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Catch your reader’s eye

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Most purchases made today are made online, so remember, you only have a small jpeg image on your book’s listing to sell it. This does not mean making the title the SOLE focus of your cover, but more ensuring it’s not lost in the background imagery. So, ensure your title pops as much as possible.

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Be sure to recognize that the text on the cover must match the tone and overall theme of the book

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Again, it’s not just about that background image. Remember that true crime, noir, and other similar genres will not be picked up if the text on the cover looks overly cartoony. There’s a line between bold & foreboding and cartoony & childish. Consider using a thinner, bold font instead of a wide font to demonstrate the book’s tone right off the bat.

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Full spread covers are your friend

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Just like I’m sure you love your condiments spread all the way across your toast, your readers want the same for your book! Think of the book’s setting. Rolling plains? Scenes set at sunset? Fantastical wonderland? These all make excellent full cover spreads, and don’t worry about the text on the back cover. You can throw a light color behind all that text and fade it out so you can see both the text and the background.

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Know your audience

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Obviously, if you are a non-fiction writer, your covers are going to look much different over a fiction book, but we can get more specific than that! Keep in mind age and other demographics when creating your cover art. Should your cover lean more feminine? Masculine? Is this intended for scholars or education professionals in general? These are helpful clues in setting your design. Remember, your cover isn’t for you, it’s for your audience.

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Always correct your background

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Your gut will tell you in some cases that just a picture on the front cover and some text on the back will suffice as a finished product. Think… how can this be improved? Well, first determine if the main image can be a full spread at least across the front cover. Not possible? No problem, just be sure to choose a background color other than white. Not only do white books appear dirty and damaged more quickly, but they also look like an unfinished product. Even finding a light grey or off-white substitute can be all that’s needed to make your book look finished. Ensure your reader knows the effort put into your book.

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Determine if it’s something you’d display

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The best part of a reader purchasing your book is the referral afterward. If they like what they see, they’ll most definitely refer your work to a friend or family member. Be sure that your finished cover is something you’d display proudly on your coffee table or bookshelf. Be the conversation starter of a party and you’ll make more sales!

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Your back cover is important too

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Last but not least, your back cover can be just as impactful as your front cover, so be sure to stray away from some common pitfalls.

  1. Use your elevator pitch, not your synopsis! Many believe that the best way to head up the text on the back cover is with the straight-forward synopsis of the book, however at times those can be a bit dry, so zhuzh up the back cover to catch your reader’s attention as best as possible by instead using your 30-second elevator pitch. Every book should have one anyway, so use this as an opportunity to force yourself to create it. The elevator pitch should be impactful and exciting no matter the genre you’re publishing.
  2. Are you a recognized authority on the subject? If the answer to this question is “no” or, if the book fiction and you’re relatively new to the publishing scene, be sure that your bio is NOT on the back cover. While this may sound super negative, the fact is that the reader in this case cares about your story first and foremost, so swap that bio out for some 5-star quality reviews instead. Don’t worry, you can always put your bio and beautiful picture on the very last page of your book. That way when you publish the next one, the reader will not only be excited about the story but to read your next masterpiece.
  3. Is this not the first book in the series? If not, be sure to add those prior works to the back cover. Just a nod will do and it should not take up more than a couple of lines of real estate on your back cover, but be sure to clarify to the reader wherever possible that this is not the first work in a series and they should start with another title.

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So, you thought creating the book would be the hard part and now I’m sure your head is spinning! That’s okay. Take the development of your cover step-by-step and remember the first point in this blog post. Keep. It. Simple. Readers are bombarded day in and day out by complex ideas, ads, promotions, and the like so give their minds a chance to breathe and take in the simple beauty of your newest creation. You’ll land those sales over and over again as long as your cover is simple, clear, and concise.

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