The biggest and most frequent misstep made by self publishers is not researching current marketing trends before selecting a cover for their book. They might have written the Book of the Year but no one is going to look at it if its cover isn’t telling the right story, or worse telling too much of it. As writers we get a very firm idea in our heads about what our protagonists look like so we often try and recreate that image when it comes to designing the cover. Unfortunately how you see your character isn’t necessarily going to be how a reader sees them and this can be a major turn off. Knowing what your genre is and listening to your designer might just be the thing that plucks your book out of obscurity.
Why We Love That Face
It’s a fact humans will always be drawn to other humans. We search out faces instinctively so having a person on your book can have its advantages. The temptation is there because not only are we attracted to them but also it can convey a relationship, depending on what they are doing. This is why you see men and women on Romance covers looking at each other longingly. When H.M Ward was a guest on this blog we learnt about her personal experiences designing covers for her Romance novels. She shared about making her covers identifiable to Romance genre readers and not to cater to her own creative preference. After she did this her sales jumped so dramatically she now frequently sits in the New York Times Best Sellers Lists.
Aside from Romance you will see characters on the covers of a lot of Fantasy or Speculative Fiction. The practical reason being that many characters are sub-human and a character with a unique appearance is memorable to readers. Young Adult novels use characters on covers frequently but once again be careful of the genre trends. Lauren Kate’s Fallen cover has her main character, Lucinda Price, in a suitable gothic back drop to represent its paranormal fantasy themes.
In contrast Veronica Roth’s Insurgent relies on symbolism to showcase her Dystopian fantasy novel. Both are Young Adult, fall under a fantasy sub-heading and are using what works best to represent that particular category. Knowing where your book sits in the genre gene pool should always be intrinsic to your cover decision making process.
Keeping the Mystery Alive
Even though we are attracted to bodies, readers hate having ideas imposed onto them. A character on your book cover can cement that appearance in your audience’s mind and take away the experience of imagining them. This annoys many readers as the appeal of reading is to immerse yourself in your own imagination. If your book is about a place or a particular concept having a character on your cover will send a confused message about the story. Symbolism in cover design is powerful because it isn’t marketed at a particular audience demographic.
Take a look at the Game of Thrones covers.The original cover is very fantasy driven with castles and characters while the recent covers have only a simple sword. This isn’t only because of a change in genrepreferences in recent years but also due to the success of the TV Series. It appeals to many (even sworn fantasy haters) and this is important when thinking about your own book.
Another example of this is Chick Lit author Rachel Schurig’s Three Girls series. She changed her covers in 2012 to a simple design and let the candy box colours, shoes and book specific icons appeal to her audience. Moving to a characterless cover helped her Three Girls series become a best seller with a passionate fan base. A little mystery goes a long way with readers and a well-designed iconic cover can have a universal audience, opening up your marketing possibilities.
Benefits of a Good Design and Changing Your Mind
Having a good cover designer takes out the guesswork and headache of your cover designing challenges. You are a writer, your art is important to you and you want to give it its best chance. A cover designer has done the research and has the qualifications to give you good advice when it comes to marketing your work. Don’t know where your book fits in the sub-genres? A good designer will, they will also know what’s trending and probably have five ideas on how to market it within reading the first paragraph of your novel. The other sign of a good designer is compromise because this is a symbiotic process. They know how significant this moment is to you, that is why you will be sent different concepts, its so that you can have input into your cover creation.
Always remember self-publishing is a business, if your cover is not working you can always change it until you find something that does. Sometimes like H.M Ward and Rachel Schurig you can fall in love with the original designs but even the most beautiful covers can struggle to sell books. The important thing is that they both did something about it; they went back to the drawing board until they found something that worked. Remember, you have a finite number of seconds to get your reader’s attention and having a strong, memorable design can help you find your audience every time.