Don’t Trust Mom When It Comes to Book Cover Design

March 26, 2013

By Tamara Dever, TLC Graphics

A book’s cover and spine have a great deal to do with whether potential buyers investigate further.  A good cover design can be critical to your book’s sales success.

This is true even for those not planning to sell in traditional bookstores.

Every aspect of creating your book affects your company’s success. Cover and interior design go way beyond aesthetics. Design is a tried and true sales tool. It’s a means of conveying information and a way to get the attention of buyers. When used properly, it not only reflects, but elevates your message.

Make the First Look Count

A book’s front cover (and sometimes its spine) serves as its billboard, begging for you to pick it up. If it does its job, the buyer will flip the book over to quickly peruse the back. IF he’s still interested, he’ll do a “flip” through the interior. If that interior is not inviting and readable, he’s going to put it back and buy your competition. Done. Buh-bye! You just lost a sale. The same decision-making process applies to those shopping from online stores as well. With sales flyers, advertisements, and catalogs, the decision is usually based on a tiny front cover and short blurb, so your front cover had better be amazing!

Example book cover

The first cover is difficult to read, has a subdued color palette, and uses a photo that is less than engaging.

Distributors, reviewers, and buyers see your cover and form an opinion about the quality of your writing based on what they first see. Joe Distributor thinks, “I see you cared enough to spend time and money on a great cover design, perhaps you care about quality overall.” Reviewers are inundated with huge stacks of titles every day and use cover quality as the first stage of deciding which books to even consider opening. Think of the cover as clothing on a job candidate. It must present a professional attitude, appropriate for its content and audience. If you don’t care enough to dress your book well, is it really fair to ask someone to assume the book has been written well?

What is Cover Design?

A book’s cover consists of the front, spine, and back. If it has a jacket, it will also have flaps and the hard case of the book itself. The front cover must grab someone’s attention within 10 seconds. That’s asking a lot of something around 6″x9″ without sound or motion! Because of this, its creator must be resourceful with each element of the cover. A good design employs the creative use of type, imagery, color, size, and space together to grab a potential reader’s attention. It’s an art form celebrated throughout the ages and not one for the weekend hobbyist with a computer and some clip art. I don’t say this to be rude, but with your best interest in mind. Good book designers are in it for your success and have studied and created for years. If your book’s design fails, so do they and their reputation is shot.

Have you seen poorly-designed covers? Those stereotypical “self-published” covers? Please, don’t let your book become one of those! I know it’s tempting to spend just a couple hundred dollars for a finished cover, but…Don’t do it! Do you really want the agony of finding out that your book hasn’t been produced properly and nobody wants to distribute it, promote it, buy it? Do you really want to then spend more time and another $1,500–$3,000 to get it done right the second time? Didn’t think so. Trust me, it happens all of the time and breaks our hearts.

Designed for Books

Because your cover is so important, you’ll want to be sure you work with an experienced designer who specializes in covers. That designer should work with you and your PR team to ensure the final product reflects the writing properly and will reach out to its intended audience in a professional way.

Just as engineers specialize in different fields such as “electrical” or “mechanical” design, graphic artists usually have more experience with one kind of project than another. Be sure to work with someone who specializes in cover design. While most graphic designers could help you with at least some aspects of book design, one who specializes in book design will be able to guide you through the whole process and provide the experience and knowledge that can help you avoid hassles and save you both time and money.

Book cover design example

We were asked to update the cover and interior of this book for its tenth anniversary edition and the design surely reflects the book’s move into a new decade.

A Word About Your Mother

And your friends. And your colleagues. Don’t trust them! OK, trust them a little. What will they likely say when you show them your initial cover choices? “Wow, they’re beautiful! I couldn’t possibly choose just one. I’m so excited for you!” Yup, that’s what usually happens. What do you need them to say? Something like, “I’ve looked at your choices and prefer #2. It grabbed my attention right away. The background’s tone makes the title and author easier to read than the other options. The title and circle elements pop out and have great contrast. I would also like to see what #5 looks like without the corners.” Now that’s feedback! What to make of this? Because your friends and family may represent potential buyer and they love you, by all means get their opinions. Because you need to know what will sell, augment (or start) your brand, and show that you are a respectable author, trust the publishing experts when making your final decision.

Making a Grand Appearance

In all, you’ll get better sales results and the respect you deserve with a good cover and a good cover becomes a sure thing when you hire a carefully-selected, experienced book designer paired with a great PR team who, together, have your best interest at heart.


About the author: Tamara Dever is the owner and founder of TLC Graphics, a book design firm providing full service support to small publishers and their clients. Begun in 1997, the business has grown from design studio to a complete publishing development firm, winning numerous national and regional awards including two ForeWord Magazine’s Top Ten Book of the Year awards. Join Tamara for her session, Power of Book Design, at IBPA Publishing University.

One response to “Don’t Trust Mom When It Comes to Book Cover Design”

  1. Eli Vega says:

    Excellent advice! I just finished writing a how-to Photography book called Right Brain Photography. I just need to do some minor layout fine-tuning. I am in the process of looking for a cover designer, printer, and book distributors.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise and experience.

    Eli Vega

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