~Henry David Thoreau
As writers, our canvas is the paper or keyboard upon which we create our art, where we share our imagination with the world. Although many of us many never pick up a paint brush or chisel a slab of marble, art is, nonetheless, a part of the process of bringing our voice to our audience.
What would be great is if the content alone would be enough to make your book fly off the shelves and into the hands of a reader. We also need a catchy title, which is a huge part of the lure of the book. Beyond that, the cover art becomes an integral part of our work. Just how important is it? “The cover should always portray the content, intent and personality of the book,” says Sierra Yanush in her article “Judging Book Covers.” Having cover art that is that reflective seems like no small matter.
Often, authors aren’t given much choice on the cover design. There is logic to that, really. I, for one, am not a visual artist; I’m a writer. While I would love to have a say in the cover, the design process would not be my strong point. And honestly, the publishers often have more insight into the psychology and trends in cover art. They are professionals in this arena.
That being said, with small presses becoming big players in publishing and the increased acceptance of self publishing, writers now have more say and can even help with the design of their book’s covers. Finding yourself in that new role can be a bit daunting, but keeping a few things in mind, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task.
I interviewed Vonnie Winslow Crist, who is both an artist and an author. Her website and her blog are both wonderful representations of her work. Included in a long list of publications is her book River of Stars, which features her art, poetry, and short fiction. You can buy the book on Amazon or buy it here, where she “will donate $1 to Books for Boots, whose mission is ‘to help greviously wounded war heroes’ in VA hospitals, for each copy of River of Stars purchased from AuthorsBookshop.com.” Here is what she had to say about cover art.
BMIP: Can you give us one or two examples of what are good eye catchers when it comes to titles and lettering?
VWC: You’ve only got one chance to make a first impression, therefore you need to grab the eyes of the shopper (or library patron) and hold their attention long enough for them to read the title of your book. Store shelves are lined with books. Yours must stand out from the rest. But how? Answer: Color!
There are certain color combinations that our eyes are naturally drawn to. Black lettering on bright yellow is one. Others? Look at traffic signs. Certain color combinations attract the eyes and can be clearly read at great distances.
But how to find a color combination that works for you? Go to a bookstore. Don’t look at the covers; instead, study the book spines that line the shelves. You’ll naturally gravitate towards certain book spines. From studying those spines, you’ll discover which color combinations and lettering styles are the most legible.
Remember, the most eye catching color combination can’t correct a poorly chosen title. Titles should be content appropriate, as brief as possible, and catchy! A title that makes a reader curious enough to open the book is what every writer is looking for.
BMIP: Just because you like a picture, does it mean it’s a good fit for cover art? How does cover art differ from art you might choose for other projects?
VWC: The first goal of a book’s cover is to communicate to a potential reader what’s between the covers. The bright colors and bold images of a children’s book wouldn’t be a good fit for most romance novels. Just as dark silhouettes and bloody knives wouldn’t be the correct image for most self-help books. Step 1: The image selected must match the content.
The second goal is title and author name readability. A beautiful photograph or piece of artwork doesn’t necessarily make a great book cover if the artist hasn’t left “open space” for placing the text. Most good cover art has an area that’s free of images or complicated patterns on which to position the title and author’s name. Step 2: Make sure there’s a place to layout text.
The color of the lettering is another consideration at this point (see answer to question #1). If the cover art background is sky blue, then it’s best to pick a color that contrasts with it. Orange lettering with a black shadow or outline would “pop,” whereas white or pale yellow lettering would blend in. Also, the font should be easily read. It’s a good idea to skip the fancy fonts when choosing a style for your letters. And remember to make the lettering large enough to be legible from an arm’s length away. Step 3: Make the title and author’s name easily readable.
Lastly, get the opinions of others. Technical help is available from professionals, but every one of your friends and family members can tell you if an image interests them and what sort of book they think that image represents. Even the potential cover, including text, can be shown to friends. And don’t be defensive. If everyone you show the cover to has trouble reading the text or doesn’t get the message from the cover art that you’d hoped to convey—maybe it’s time to re-think your cover. Step 4: Show others the proposed cover and be prepared for both positive and negative responses.
BMIP: What advice do you offer to writers who need to help select cover art?
VWC: Visit a bookstore. Look at the covers of books. Make a list that clearly states which covers appeal to you and why. Then, make a list of which covers “turn you off” and why. And forget about the covers which aren’t strong enough to cause a reaction at all—if they’re as bland as elevator music, you’re not the only one who barely notices them.
By looking for common threads in the best covers, you’ll be able to list what attributes your cover needs. Maybe simple, uncluttered cover images are your cup of tea. Maybe a fabulous photograph surrounded by a thick, solid-color border on which to place text works for you. Maybe a dark mysterious image with bright, bold letters is appealing.
Once you have an idea which covers attract you, then you can begin the process of selecting the artwork or photography for your book. In conculsion, keep writing, believe in your book, and good luck with finding the perfect cover!
Here are a few more ideas and resources for you!
* According to the article “You Can Tell a Book By It’s Cover” by Helen Rumbelow, “Studies show that a book on a three-for-two table has about one and a half seconds to catch a reader’s eye. If it is picked up, it is on average glanced at for only three to four seconds.”
* Ask for what you want or make suggestions if your cover doesn’t quite suit the material. You may not get what you request, but you certainly won’t if you don’t say anything. As long as you are respectful and flexible, professionals in the field are usually willing to have a dialogue.
* If you’re trying to design a cover on your own and are buying images, make sure you buy the right royalties to use them. There are websites online that help you create what you want.
* There are lots of great professionals to help with this process. Ask for recommendations. And think of this as an investment. Yes, if you are self publishing, you will be putting out more money initially to get your book out, but remember that a great cover will help sell your books and help you earn that money back.
* The tiny space on the spine? The art and lettering matter there! That’s what people often see first on a book shelf.
* Want to read a few more resources? Here area a few more good articles to help you.
“The Art Speaks Volumes”
“Designing Eye-Catching Book Covers”
What covers have you seen that are visually appealing (regardless of the story)? Have you ever picked up or bought a book because you liked the cover art?