When we talk about book cover design, a lot of opinions are subjective, but there are definitely a few unwritten formulas to make covers more appealing and less “cheap” looking. As a graphic designer I get asked a lot… “what do you think of my book cover?” If you ask the question, you’re going to get an honest answer.
Book Cover Design – Does Your Cover Suck?
Let me start by saying it’s not easy giving people your professional, unbiased opinion, for a number of reasons. Think it’s easy to say “your cover kinda sucks” to someone? It’s not. It’s not easy to tell people their cover is 1) hard to read 2) using dated fonts 3) a bit cliche 4) using an image that’s been done before 5) using the wrong colors 6) a stock-photo-with-text-slapped-on nightmare (because let’s be honest – this is just really lazy design).
I try to be gentle when I’m not exactly in agreement with the design, image, font use or colors – especially if the cover was designed by the author. I tread carefully. And I’m honestly hesitant to comment on a cover even when asked, because when I do, the author tends to take it personally and they really shouldn’t. We’re here to market and sell books.
It’s a business thing. Not a personal one. You’re talking about marketing in a world with bookstagrammers and book bloggers who love to feature beautiful covers.
Believe me, I’ve had to tell myself the very same thing as I’ve designed and re-designed even my own covers. “That cover sucks. Redo it. Immediately.”
There have been things I have designed myself where I’m like, “ugh” three days later and re-do it. This is all part of the process of refining and defining your craft.
Art is subjective. Book covers are just as subjective. And you’re going to probably get varying opinions everywhere – both biased and unbiased.
Soliciting Book Cover Design Opinions
But here’s a few things you can do when soliciting my opinion or another graphic designer.
- Remember you’re asking the opinion of a graphic designer. They’re entitled to have one and express it if you’re asking for it.
- Prepare for the graphic designer truth. You may dislike what they have to say. That doesn’t mean they are wrong for expressing their opinion or having one.
- Do not bash them, their own work, or their opinion. You asked for their opinion, and they gave it. They’re not the ones under scrutiny, didn’t ask for your opinion, and didn’t ask for negativity being thrown at them as part of them giving their time to you.
- Thank the graphic designer for their time. Let them know you’ll take their opinion under advisement. You can take the opinion as-is, contemplate it, learn from it, or reject it privately. Maybe you need further clarification. Ask questions. Why would you recommend this over that?
- Do not blame the graphic designer or victimize yourself for the words they expressed regarding your cover. If all of a sudden you’re unable to write because their words are haunting you in your head, that’s not their fault. Expressing opinions is not a form of cruelty or intent to hurt you. Someone expressed their opinion in the mindset of trying to HELP you. And sometimes people confuse attempts to help with someone trying to hurt them.
- If they go above and beyond and create a concept for you to think about (like a mockup or another cover), don’t bash it just because you don’t think it’s the right angle for you. They’re truly trying to help. They took time out of their day to suggest something or express a creative idea.
- You will most definitely make yourself look less than professional if you haven’t done your image research first before using an image. And if you haven’t done your research ahead of time, and this is one of the opinions being expressed, then no one is to blame but yourself. This includes using a stock photo that’s been done before on another book cover, violating a copyright, or using an image that is “tired” or used or shared widely outside the book market. Trained graphic designers and professionals do research BEFORE they use any element for publication. It is time-consuming and a complete waste to use an image or concept already published and have to re-do the cover all over again.
- Remember it’s important to test covers and there’s nothing wrong with launching a new cover later. (Expensive, but perfectly fine). One great example of this is “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”. It’s an award-winning book but has received many cover updates and tweaks over the years since its original publication.
- Never assume they haven’t researched or read your genre. You don’t know what they’ve read. Just because you read so many books in that genre doesn’t mean that they haven’t, either. Graphic designers in particular in the book market watch what sells on a daily basis. And if sales aren’t happening for you, perhaps a bit more edgy or updated cover may be just the trick. Reading a lot of your genre does not make you an expert on book covers, nor does it make you an expert automatically in your genre. Because if you were an expert, you’d be ranking at the top of the charts consistently all the time, and wouldn’t be soliciting opinions.
You’re going to get varying opinions, some more biased than others, when you solicit opinions from a reader crowd or your authors friends. That’s a given.
But I think what’s important to remember is that trained graphic designers in the book market design to the genre and to what sells. That is what is going to be most helpful.
Ugly Book Cover Signs
I love this article from Derek Murphy from @CreativIndie who talks about getting opinions on book covers and why soliciting opinions can be unhelpful (sometimes).
Warning signs that you have an ugly cover:
- You have a lot of good reviews, but sales aren’t as good as you would like
- When you email people about your book and include the cover, they don’t respond (or you get a lot of rejection)
- When you ask people about your cover, they give feedback but you ignore it because “they just don’t get it”
It’s a difficult situation – what we really need is a “hot or not” style website for book cover design (I’ll probably make one this year).
But a book cover makes a huge impact on your sales, marketing, reviews and everything else. Don’t just pick the one you like. Often getting a designer to make exactly what you have in mind is a terrible idea – because you’ve mapped out a detailed “scene.” Or you’ve made book cover choices based on your opinions and not market testing or sales data.
Don’t assume you’re “right” about your book cover design – there is no right.
There are only more sales and less sales.
A BETTER COVER WILL SELL MORE BOOKS.
MORE SALES ARE GOOD FOR YOU, your book and your author platform.
So if you really want to sell more books, and want opinions, then follow the recommendations above, and be sure to check out Derek’s article, as well, because I think it’s helpful to remember. Book cover design happens with careful thought and consideration.
Your cover is not going to appeal to everyone, but it at least needs to be able to sell the book well. If it’s not achieving that on its own merit or on the regular, then it may need some help.
I often consider a book cover as an indication of the quality inside the book, and there are thousands more just like me that feel the same way. If you spend time and energy on a quality cover, that must mean there’s quality inside, as well.
What would sell well?
Just some things to think about when you’re doing a book cover! Happy writing, everyone.