If you are planning on self-publishing, you have probably been told a zillion times to ensure your cover is fabulous! And if you want to stand out from the crowd, you’d better do your homework. So here are a few tips to help you out:
Check out the opposition. Take a look at what is selling well in your particular genre or subject – what do the covers look like? Are there ‘unwritten’ rules for the covers of your type of book? For example, cozy mysteries and romance tend towards pastel shades and bright covers, often with cartoon-style illustrations, whereas thrillers and crime tend to have dark images, often quite abstract – a view of a street, or a blurry person. Trees and snow are more favourites. Real life drama and experiences will likely have realistic-looking photographic cover images; classical fiction might go for something arty or a pattern. But if your book is about car engines, then you want something that says, ‘this is where to go for a good engine strip-down, this gal knows her stuff’, so you would probably go for a close-up of an engine, or a particular part. Non-fiction is usually a lot more geared towards the specifics. Fiction is often more about an idea than a ‘thing’. Either way, try to choose an image that will blend in and yet stand out.
How many times have people said ‘great book, but in the story Jeff had blond hair but the cover shows a dark-haired male.’ Sometimes these things are out of our control, but if you have the last say, make sure your cover is relevant and accurate to your story or text. If the action takes place in a block of flats, don’t show a cosy country cottage on the front. Your cover can often explain or hint at the story, so be careful not to include visual spoilers!
Clarity is everything. It’s no good having a fabulous image that doesn’t translate into black and white (for less sophisticated devices), or is indecipherable as a thumbnail. If people have to screw up their faces or borrow Great Aunt Aggie’s lorgnette to figure out what they’re looking at, they probably won’t bother to inquire any further with your book. It’s got to look good in the tiny! Likewise, if creating your own image, make sure it is of sufficient size and quality for the platform you have chosen to publish on – it’s no good having a pic that is an adorable thumbnail but goes wishy-washy and out of shape when ‘stretched’ to full book-size. This can be an issue especially for print-on-demand paperbacks. Also check that the file size is compatible too. You don’t want a cover with too much empty space around the outside, where the image is too small.
Lastly, I know it seems obvious, but I have actually seen published books out there in the world and available to the public, with a typo right there on the cover! So please do check, and if your spelling is terrible, maybe get someone else to check too, especially if you have a tagline or byline in addition to your title and author name. Ditto book blurb and ‘about the author’ sections on the back cover if publishing an actual book. It’s no good trying to establish yourself as the world’s leading authority on anything if you can’t ensure at least your cover is perfect. I once applied for a job saying I had great skills and attention to detial. Don’t do that!
It goes without saying you should never snatch an image and use it if it’s copyrighted unless you have permission. There are plenty of great sites where you can download royalty-free images, often free-to-use, so make sure you only use those kinds of images. Some images are only for single or private use and do not cover large-scale usage.
Now I need to work on some book covers, it’s no easy task to choose the right image, and so easy to get carried away looking at beautiful pictures. Thank you, photographers of the world for your amazing images!