Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cover Design Calypso, Part II

by:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of Booknook.biz, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 500 authors and imprints. 

Some months back—heavens, in April—I wrote a post on my own website (www.booknook.biz) entitled “Cover Design Calypso,” in which I discussed “what makes a great book cover?” 
At the time, I likened it both to pornography (“I can’t define a great cover but I know it when I see it”) and to frozen dinners (“People buy frozen dinners based not upon the actual content of the bag or box or TV-Dinner-Tray, but, rather, based upon which company has put the best picture on the cover of the box.”)  In other words, as painful as it is to those of us who believe that the words rule the book and its world, the truth is that covers, absolutely, irrefutably and indisputably, sell books--particularly eBooks. 

So, having accepted that shocking truth, how do we mine for great cover design? 
It’s been my experience that authors, in general, envision their book covers as if they are watching a movie in an IMAX theater…a grand rolling epic, sprawled across a massive screen, with THX sound, telling the awesomeness contained within.  Or, even when considering space, thinking of it on an 8½x11” sheet of paper.  But the reality is that 99% of the viewing (and buying!) public will only see your book cover the same size that it is displayed on Amazon.com, (or Barnes & Noble) which is a whopping 88x135px (1.2 inches by 1.88 inches), or on the book page itself, a whopping 160x240px (1.75 inches by 2.5 inches).  That’s not a lot of real estate in which to grab someone’s attention and hold it. 

So, what to do?  Remember THIS:  one, single, strong central element.  Don’t make a cover too busy, and don’t try to tell your entire story on its tiny little face—that’s what the book is for, to tell the tale.  When you find yourself thinking, “I want a vampire and a heroine with a bloody neck and a knife and the magic cup and an amulet and a wolfpack in the background and…” JUST SAY NO.   A cover is supposed to catch the eye; to pique curiosity; to impart a feeling.  It needs to reach out to people and make them want to pick up that book (literally or metaphysically) and read it.  If you need to remind yourself what BAD cover design is, roll on over to Fixabook and check out both good and bad covers.  If that doesn’t convince you, simply tootle around Amazon.com, and find one—just ONE—busy cover that you love.  Can’t do it?  Remember that when your next cover comes around. 
Seth Godin, chatting it up at The Domino Project, has issuedbooks that have no title text whatsoever on the covers—neither title nor author name, although the spines have both—and argues that there are compelling reasons not to have either.  Of course, not everyone has the clout—or the hubris—to simply put their last name on the spine as a tell-all/signature/branding.  I don’t love his cover, myself; but Godin’s a guru, and what he says does carry weight.  Will your next book have text on its cover?

Lastly, on the topic of covers, just for fun:  this is a hoot.  I laughed my patooties off.    That's it for today, gang!


  1. Thanks for the excellent advice on book cover art. It's the first thing that draw a reader's eyes and therefore terribly important.

  2. Great post. Creating covers is the hardest part of writing/publishing for me, and I just went through it for my newest Jackson story. I'm with you though on the single-element idea. I didn't do that with two of my standalones, and I wish I had. Overall, I think my graphic artist and I are getting better, and our last cover is the best yet. I'll post it on my own blog sometime today.

  3. Great post, Hitch!

    I admit two things: first, even on my Kindle, I am totally disappointed when a cover doesn't transfer; and second, I'm thinking about Fire so I can see them in color.

    Interesting to watch the scroll of covers working in the sidebar next to your words.

    L.J., I'll be looking for your cover!

  4. Fantastic post, Hitch. As much as readers hate to admit it, we do judge books by their covers.

    Love the video!!!!

  5. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover--but it doesn't hurt to have a damn good one. Probably the most important thing to me--besides writing a good book--are my covers. I spend a lot of time working with my graphic artist, making sure it's the best it can be. I want it to pop at the reader, pull them in, but like you said, not overwhelm them.

  6. Kimberly just rebooted this post today, over a year later.

    Have to say, I had the most fun after reading by simply watching the slide show titled OUR BOOKS in the right-hand sidebar, and thinking "which of these would I buy, based only on the cover?"

    Of course, I've already purchased some of these, so it influenced my thinking. But I did seem to gravitate toward those with a strong title font (often shadowed) and a single, compelling centered image. Peg Brantley's THE MISSINGS is a great example, tho by no means the only one. (Yes, I bought The Missings!)


    1. Thanks, Jim. Although I had a vague idea of what I wanted on the cover for THE MISSINGS, the credit goes to Patty G. Henderson who did all of the work, with a side wink to Andrew E. Kaufman who added his two cents when I asked him.

      Above and beyond the cover, I hope you got a few hours of entertainment from my book.


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